Here’s a trivia question: Which Major League player has the longest active consecutive games streak?
The answer is Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar, who has played in 285 straight, every contest since 2015.
Now here’s another trivia question: Who ranks dead last among all qualified Major Leaguers in OPS, OPS+, wOBA, wRC+ and just about every other measure of offensive performance?
Alcides Escobar: Body of Adamantium. Bat of wet noodle. https://t.co/WJ3POumCE8
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) July 18, 2017
With the Royals in the thick of a playoff race—one game back of the second wild card spot, as of Friday—they continue to give loads of at-bats to the single worst hitter in baseball. Mercifully, Royals manager Ned Yost no longer bats Escobar leadoff, where he hit during the team’s postseason runs in 2014 and 2015, but the skipper has still granted his weakest bat 456 plate appearances this season, third most of anyone on the Kansas City roster.
If Escobar were just a regular weak hitter, this wouldn’t be a big deal. The all-glove, no-bat shortstop is time-honored baseball archetype, and it’s possible for a guy with an ugly slash line to help his team in other ways (we’ll get to Esky’s defense in a minute). But Escobar has been not just a poor bat—he’s been a historically poor bat.
Here is a list of the worst offensive seasons by a qualified player since World War II, sorted by wRC+, a sophisticated measure of batting output in which 100 is average:
Billy Hunter, 1953 — 29 wRC+
Matt Walbeck, 1994 — 33 wRC+
Clint Barmes, 2006 — 38 wRC+
Hal Lanier, 1968 — 38 wRC+
Neifi Perez, 2002 — 39 wRC+
Alcides Escobar, 2017 — 39 wRC+
Yes, the Royals shortstop is having one of the single worst offensive seasons by any player in the last seven decades, and a contending team is putting up with it.
Making matters worse, advanced metrics suggest Escobar’s defense isn’t what it used to be. The 30-year-old ranks fifth-to-last among qualified Major-League shortstops in defensive runs saved, and although he grades out better by some other measures, he’s clearly not the Gold-Glove winner he once was. Mix a putrid bat with a declining glove, and what do you get? A decidedly sub-replacement-level player, according to every calculation.
With Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Jason Vargas (also Escobar) set to hit free agency this winter, this is the final shot for the Royals’ title-winning core, and so far they’ve made the most of their last chance. After a terrible start to the season, Kansas City has played well for three months to put itself in contention for a playoff spot. The Royals were aggressive at the trade deadline and rightfully cast aside struggling franchise hero Alex Gordon (the second worst hitter in baseball this year) when it became clear they needed an upgrade in left field. But that might go to waste if Yost continues to play Escobar every day at shortstop.
It’s fair to ask whether the Royals have any better options at Escobar’s position. The only other person to man the position for KC this year is Ramon Torres, a utility-man with numbers almost as bad as Escobar’s. But that begs the question, why didn’t Kansas City snag, say, Tim Beckham or Eduardo Nunez at the trade deadline? Why haven’t the Royals at least tried giving Triple-A shortstops Torres or Dean Anna an extended shot in the Majors? Why isn’t Dayton Moore currently knocking down doors to find someone who can play a competent shortstop while hitting better than a pitcher?
Alcides Escobar was once a very solid player and a key contributor to beloved Royals teams. Now he’s the worst hitter in the Majors and a liability as an overall player. If Kansas City is serious about making the playoffs for what could be the final time in a while, he can’t be playing every single day.