Yunel Escobar is having a very good season, hitting .303/.380/.445 while rating slightly below average defensively according to Ultimate Zone Rating, which makes him one of the half-dozen most valuable shortstops in all of baseball as a 26-year-old.
However, he continues to frustrate manager Bobby Cox and the Braves with what Mark Bowman of MLB.com portrays as “a lackadaisical” attitude and “mental lapses.” Over the weekend he was benched mid-game for the second time this season, and here’s how Bowman described the scene:
Escobar moved gingerly out of the box when he grounded out to end the first inning. His slow approach might have prevented him from taking advantage of Chase Utley’s errant throw, which slightly pulled Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard off the bag.
Cox inserted Omar Infante to play shortstop before the start of the third inning. He said his decision to wait an inning was based on his desire to allow Infante to get loose. “I didn’t want to put anybody in just off the bench on the third out not loose,” Cox said.
Escobar’s name has been attached to various trade rumors for the past year or so, and if the Braves are truly tiring of his act there should be no shortage of teams lining up to take him off their hands. Among all big-league shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances during the past three seasons, here’s how Escobar ranks in batting average, on-base percentage, and adjusted OPS+:
AVG OBP OPS+ Hanley Ramirez .327 Hanley Ramirez .400 Hanley Ramirez 148 Derek Jeter .317 Derek Jeter .383 Derek Jeter 117 Cristian Guzman .306 YUNEL ESCOBAR .376 YUNEL ESCOBAR 112 YUNEL ESCOBAR .303 Jose Reyes .356 Troy Tulowitzki 110 Miguel Tejada .293 Troy Tulowitzki .356 Jose Reyes 109
Couple things. First, Hanley Ramirez is really good. Second, since his 2007 debut Escobar has hit .303 with a .376 on-base percentage and .429 slugging percentage. During that same time Derek Jeter has hit .317 with a .383 on-base percentage and .442 slugging percentage. Escobar is also a decade younger than Jeter, won’t even be eligible for salary arbitration until 2011, and is under team control for another four seasons.
He’s a 26-year-old career .303 hitter with a .376 OBP who’s averaged 12 homers and 31 doubles per 150 games, draws plenty of walks while rarely striking out, has sure hands and decent range at shortstop, and won’t be a free agent until after 2013. All of which is why when it comes to long-term, team-building assets there aren’t five more valuable shortstops in baseball, annoying but ultimately mild transgressions included.