Escobar and Cain

Alcides Escobar didn’t hit at all in 2010. Lorenzo Cain hit better than expected once he reached the big leagues. In both instances, I think we can say that their 2010 performances were among the chief reasons they were traded to Kansas City over the weekend. If Escobar had hit like he was expected to, Milwaukee would have been loath to give him up. If Cain hadn’t hit .300 upon reaching the majors, his stock probably wouldn’t have been high enough to make him a main piece in a trade for Zack Greinke.

However, a look beyond their slash lines shows that Escobar and Cain weren’t all that different offensively last year. Escobar’s walk rate was marginally better, but that difference is just the intentional walks he was issued as an occasional benefactor of the eighth spot in an NL line-up. Escobar struck out a little less, but their contact rates were basically the same. Neither showed much power, as they combined for a whopping five home runs.

The difference in their batting lines is almost entirely due to their rate of hitting singles. In some cases, this is a skill, as some players are simply better singles hitters than others. In this case, however, it looks a lot more like luck.

The main cause of Escobar’s pitiful 2010 slash line? His .613 batting average on line drives, second worst in baseball among full time players – only Carlos Lee (.612) had a worse outcome on line drives. Of the 93 balls he hit hard enough to be judged liners, he only ended up with 57 hits. The league average is around .725 in most years, and the year-to-year correlation in BA on line drives is a minuscule .015, as the results appear to be mostly random. If Escobar had gotten hits on 72.5 percent of his line drives, he’d have ended up with an extra 10 base hits, and his average would have been .255 instead of .235.

Cain is exactly the opposite. He got better than expected results on his line drives, coming out with 19 hits on 24 liners, a .792 average. If we adjust his BA on LD down to .725 as well, his batting average would drop from .306 to .293. If we accept that hitters don’t have much control over whether they get hits on line drives, which both the numbers and our experiences should agree with, the 70-point gap in batting average between Escobar and Cain gets cut nearly in half.

There’s even more bad news for those hoping for Cain to repeat his 2010 line again, however. He had a .340 batting average on ground balls last year, which was also among the highest in baseball. He is fast, so we’d expect him to do better on grounders than average, but no one has been able to sustain a .340 average on ground balls for any length of time.

The highest BA on GBs from 2002 to 2010 is Ichiro Suzuki, not surprisingly, but he comes in at just .311. Matt Holliday is the only other guy to hit .300 on grounders, as he hit exactly that. It continues to fall off quickly from there. For instance, Chone Figgins has the fifth-highest average on grounders since ’02, but has hit just .272, not that far from the .245 league average. While fast guys can eek out more infield hits, and thus improve their average on grounders, it doesn’t seem like they can do it often enough to push themselves that far away from the pack.

With significant improvement, Cain is in for a pretty big step back offensively in 2011. Escobar is almost certainly going to see his numbers improve, and probably by a significant margin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Escobar had a better slash line than Cain next year, in fact. Both will need to add either walks or power to their repertoire if they want to become stars, but if you’re going to bet on either of the two position players that KC acquired this weekend, bet on Escobar. Their 2010 slash lines don’t reflect their real abilities.

We hoped you liked reading Escobar and Cain by Dave Cameron!

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Daniel
Guest
Daniel

I think if Cain and Escobar can both hit near .280/.330/.380 with plus speed and defense, the Royals will be very happy.

They’ve got plenty of power coming on the corners with Moustakas and Hosmer – with Will Meyers right on their heels. Butler looks like a perenntial .310/.370/.475 type of hitter which will fit right in as well.

I say all of that to make the point I believe the Royals are more interested in Cain and Escobar for their speed and defense to support their remarkable pitching prospects. As long as they can get on base well enough to make use of their speed they’ll be very good complementary players to the others already on their way.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

If the pair do hit merely .280/.330/.380 with speed and defense, then the Royals should have never traded for them. A SS or CF who can do that are pretty easy to come by off the scrap heap, and trading your best piece (one of the more desirable pieces in all of baseball) should bring you more then scrap-heap players, you know.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

When I say plus speed and defense, I mean PLUS. Escobar was not so long ago the highest rated SS prospect for his defense and offensive abilities. His talent is far above ‘scrap level’ quality. I’d argue the same for Cain.

.280/.330/.380 is the baseline I’d use to gauge their worth. I think both can and should eventually hit better with time. I’ve seen long term projections for both around .300/.350/.400.

Sandy Kazmir
Member
Sandy Kazmir

A .280/.330/.380ish type SS just brought back four prospects from the Padres. Not sure where your scrap heap is located, but +5 defense at the two most important defensive positions with league average (for the position) offense isn’t exactly a dime-a-dozen.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest

If they are so easy to find, would you like to give us a list of plus fielding SS’s and CF’s who might provide at least that much offense who might be available this offseason or next? I bet you can’t think of very many!

wobatus
Guest
wobatus

Let’s see, Span had a worse line than that and was a 2.9 WAR cf. Scuataro about that line, sub o uzr and not all that fast and he was above replacement too at 2.2. In fact, Yunel Escobar had a much worse triple slash and he was above 2 as well.

I don’t think Escobar is getting to that line anyway, but he could still be above a 2 war without it.

chuckb
Guest
chuckb

Could you please send one of those “dime a dozen” shortstops from your scrap heap to the Cardinals? Thanks.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

Daniel,

Okay, but that better be one huge “PLUS” then, lol. I just see .280/.330/.380 as a sure-fire lightning-rod for dissatisfaction from the fans since that will be their tangible evidence from the trade of one of the top trade pieces you can find, you know. And if you could have gotten one stud blue-chip from another club, plus signed someone off the FA market who could post a line like that at SS, then… Defending lines like that from the pieces you got will be tough.

Sandy Kazmir,

You mean a 28 Year Old Reliever with a career 1.53 WHIP and 4.05 xFIP and 27 Year Old Reliever with a career 1.95 WHIP and 4.02 xFIP? That constitutes “four prospects” now, does it? Because I am having a hard time even finding one…

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

to everyone else,

Over the last 3 seasons, 29 SS with 800+ PA have posted a .690+ OPS, while 44 (of 52) CF did it. And thats players with 2+ years worth of ABs, so doesnt include all those capable but without the playing time to show it. In fact, KC just signed two OFers that posted 690+ OPS over the last two seasons; to laughable responses from the fans.

wobatus,
A 2.0 WAR is league average. If they are to provide that line (which isnt a sure thing at all) then they might be able to end up league average? So Grienke was traded for two guys who might, if they are lucky, end up being about league average? Is that the argument?

phoenix2042
Member
phoenix2042

@joey O: they may hit at the MLB average, but they play above average defense at the most important and difficult defensive positions (sans catcher). so they may hit average, but their defense will be well above average, putting their WAR above 2, probably closer to 3. so if you get them both plus the two pitchers, which will probably get like 1 WAR each, you get AT LEAST 6 WAR if escobar and cain are 2 WAR players and you can get up to 8 WAR if they are 3 WAR players. now greinke is probably good for 5-7 WAR a year, which is about what these guys are worth, but he gets paid a lot more than the league minimum prospects are getting.

now i’m saying this is a great deal for the royals, because it’s not. i am just saying that it’s not terrible as you think. they could have done much much better and gotten jesus montero or justin smoak or maybe ike davis or something from another team and it would have been a much much better deal. but the return they got is OK in terms of WAR, even though it could have been a slam dunk for the royals.

phoenix2042
Member
phoenix2042

NOT* saying in the second paragraph lol

Crumpled Stiltskin
Guest
Crumpled Stiltskin

But Greinke takes up only one roster spot. Prospects for stars rarely work out, especially when teams go for major leaguers, because teams are only willing to trade away major leaguers they don’t see having a high upside. And it’s really the upside and getting a prospect to fulfill it that gets you value. If Kansas City thought the Maximum value of these players was to have four players who return the same WAR that Greinke can provide by himself than they made a mistake. They need Escobar to reach his absolute peak potential offensively at .350-.360 obp and .420-.450 slg, with his defense, or they need the starting pitcher they got to hit his. Because really, Kansas City should have been looking for a trade, but they were under no pressure to take any deal right now, and in trading a star pitcher with a reasonable contract, they should be able to get back a future star.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

phoenix2042,

Here is the issue as I see it. First, as bad as Betancourt is, someone would have given them a reliever. And sure that reliever may not have the upside of Jeffress, but someone with a more secure (albeit lower) performance range would have at least probably been semi-comparable. I would set those two aside as a Betancourt/Jeffress stand-alone trade that the Royals clearly won on and factor the rest from there.

That leaves us with Escobar, Cain and Odorizzi for Greinke – and it also gives us our issues. Cain is just too easily replaced on the FA market for little or no money spent. I mean really, you can sign a guy like Reed Johnson or Fred Johnson and get similar production to Cains likely upside. Because of it, you really dont add any value from his inclusion in the package; KC merely bought high on a guy with gigantic questions and little real value. He represents a value they could have easily gotten through other means with no real value surrendered.

Now Escobar is a little bit harder to easily replace then Cain. You can get a guy like Hairston each season, but he will cost a little money and not have the theoretical upside of AE. And while Odorizzi has potential, his high-mid rotation ceiling isnt extremely valuable either. But it brings us to the forgotten aspect of the move – the draft picks. Can you honestly say Escobar + Odorizzi > 2 years of Greinke + 2 1st rounders?

It can be argued that the Royals may have broken about even overall. But when you are trading one of the most desirable trade chips in the game with the 2 years of service and 2 DPs attached, “arguably even” shouldnt even be in consideration. So it isnt a laughably horrible trade, they might have gotten rough on-field value in return. But yes, it should have been much closer to a slam dunk. They should have focused much, much less on what they perceived they eventually might be in need of and instead focused on the best actual value they could get.

As you said, “they could have done much much better” – and that will always be the issue here.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

*Fred Lewis up there in the “Fred Johnson” place

EricZ
Guest
EricZ

@JoeyO

Cain is much better defender who is younger, cheaper and has more upside than Fred Lewis or Reed Johnson. Your analysis discounts his defense too much. Those two aren’t premier CF defenders, they are below league average. Cain has a chance to be well above average

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO

EricZ,

Yeah, but he cant hit a lick without a 400 BAbip. The improvement with the bat Johnson or Lewis represent would balance out the defensive difference. As far as “cheaper” – not true, those two will likely get league minimum or at least something around it. As far as age – doesnt matter, its on field production and cost we are worried about here. And Cain is just extremely easily to replace on a cost and production level.

JH
Guest
JH

“If Kansas City thought the Maximum value of these players was to have four players who return the same WAR that Greinke can provide by himself than they made a mistake.”

That would be true if the players going and coming back were under control for the same number years at the same price. Neither of those things are true, though.