Getting on Top of Yunel Escobar’s Slow Start | The Process Report

Getting on Top of Yunel Escobar’s Slow Start

Andrew Friedman acquired Yunel Escobar this winter to solidify the Rays’ shortstop position after years of pursuit.  A week into the Escobar Era, Friedman’s hand-picked selection has provided the team with a steady hand defensively. A poor start at the plate however, has some growing anxious.

Traditionally, this is the part where you are supposed to preach patience, and bring up things like sample size nine games into a 162-game season. But it’s hard to fault the fan base having no appetite for more empty at-bats from the position following the past two seasons.  Besides, Escobar’s struggles appear to be more than just a small-sample mirage.

Thus far, Escobar has made 27 outs in 30 at-bats. Of those 27 outs, 20 have come via strikeout or ground ball. The strikeouts have been mostly swinging, while the ground balls have come nearly exclusively to his pull side.

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The strikeout problem appears to be a product of plate discipline—or lack there of—and pitch recognition. Seven of Escobar’s eight strikeouts have come against breaking balls located on the outer half of the plate. In half of those at-bats, he has expanded beyond the strike zone and whiffed on a would-be ball. Until he stops swinging at these pitches, opposing pitchers will—and should—continue to load up on the outside with soft stuff.

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Ground ball outs are another issue. To this point, Escobar has made 12 outs on the ground with 11 coming to the left side of the infield. Unlike the strikeouts, these outs have been generated mostly by fastballs located up and in the strike zone.

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Good hitters have the ability to get their hands inside of these pitches, and quickly lower the head of the bat to lift the ball with authority. Escobar has shown the bat speed to turn on these pitches, getting the barrel on the ball with relative ease. In fact, perhaps too quickly causing early, weak contact. He has also been unable to get under the ball. Instead, he has been chopping pitches into the ground for easy outs.

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Looking at Escobar’s mechanics for a minute, the correction may be a minor adjustment in regards to his hands and/or elbow placement. As shown above, the 30-year-old starts his stance with his hands held high around his neck. As he continues through his swing, his hands and elbow remain raised with his back elbow tucked in around the letters instead of near his belt. The result more often than not has been him getting on top of the ball and rolling it over to the left side.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of a ground out to shortstop (left) and a double down the left-field line (right). Note where the ball is in relation to the bat and how the back elbow is a just a tiny bit lower in the image on the right.

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The difference between a 6-3 putout and an extra-base hit could be as simple as Escobar dropping his hands a bit and dipping his elbow closer to his waistline. This would allow his bat to get lower a tick faster. He may also want to keep his bat back a split second more to elimitate being “early” as he comes through the zone. Rather than getting on top of the ball and drilling it into the ground, he may be able to get elevation and use his bat speed, along with his surprising strength, to drive the ball into the alleys. Thus giving fans something to cheer about on both sides of the ball.

Data and charts courtest of ESPN Stats & Info.

Hat Tip to R.J. Anderson and Keith Law for their input.



One Comment

  1. […] also notched his third double of the season. Upon a quick examination of Escobar’s swing, I mentioned by lowering his hands and staying back on the ball, he may be able to get under the ball and drive […]

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