Tampa Bay Rays: Will Yunel Escobar prove to be weak link?

By Richard Churchill
Tampa Bay Rays Yunel Escobar
Derick Hingle-US Presswire

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when it comes to statistics, that rings true 100 percent of the time.

Well, Yunel Escobar‘s numbers tell me that this season — in which the Tampa Bay Rays should fight all the way for a division title — that he is a weak link.

Having not hit for a .260 AVG in three out of the past four seasons, including a miserable 2012 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Escobar’s stock has dropped significantly. His 2011 numbers were swiftly forgotten by the end of last season, which saw on-field controversy leading to a suspension.

While that may have been the final straw for Toronto, it wasn’t as though they felt they were trading away a key piece to their infield. In fact, during his stand out hitting year of 2011, his defensive numbers took a significant plunge, with a stunningly average 1.6 UZR, sandwiched between two consecutive 4.6 UZR seasons.

With those problems in mind, you can add a regression in plate discipline to the list. As an up-and-coming Atlanta Brave, Escobar’s 1.00 BB/K rate was impressive, but with a 50 percent drop in three years, as well as a relatively similar drop in the percentage of balls swung at inside the strike zone, Escobar’s confidence seems to be affecting his concentration.

As Escobar has struggled to bring both aspects of the shortstop game together, the Rays have a right to be nervous over his play. In a lineup that can feasibly compliment one of the more elite rotations in the league, he may fail to meet the grade.

That said, Joe Maddon isn’t one to make a rash decision lightly, and by bringing in Escobar to play shortstop his desired position over third base (his projected position with the Miami Marlins), Maddon may have massaged the confidence of the Cuban National Team veteran somewhat back into shape.

A run of good form in an equally strong lineup would doubtlessly do the Rays’ new shortstop the world of good, yet while baseball remains as much a mental game as it is physical, Escobar remains susceptible to overwhelming mediocrity.

It is important to stress that while I believe Escobar is slated to have a poor season in Tampa Bay, I have absolutely no desire to see him fail. As the excellent Rodney Coe of RantSports.com wrote last week, ‘ home is where the heart is [and]…if the saying is true, then Tampa Bay Rays’ Yunel Escobar has finally found a home.’

Along with Rays’ fans everywhere, I hope that is the case.

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