Sunday, March 8, 2015

Scouting Report: Yunel Escobar

In yet another sign that Spring Training results don’t have much meaning, the Nationals’ MVP of the first weekend of games have been Tyler Moore and Dan Uggla. But it’s now under 30 days to Opening Day against the Mets, and we are on to our second to last Scouting Report: newcomer Yunel Escobar.

In a new development, Escobar was diagnosed with an oblique strain this weekend. That is certainly a little troubling for the presumptive starting second baseman. Oblique strains can have big effects on hitting abilities and have a habit of being difficult to really beat without a lot of rest. As it stands, the Nats are diagnosing only a week of down time and he will be back healthy.

Last year, pitchers attacked Escobar with fastballs early. Lefties threw him over 60% fastball/sinkers on the first pitch and when Escobar was up in the count. Righties were a little more careful to start the at bat, throwing 55% fastballs on the first pitch, but up to 62% when Escobar was up in the count. Once lefties got ahead of Yunel, they really attacked him with sliders, somewhat surprising given the success right handed hitters historically have against sliders coming from left handed hitters. When Escobar was up in the count, left handers threw him only 3% sliders. Once pitchers got ahead, though, that slider usage jumped all the way to 15%. Right handers clearly think Escobar struggles with the slider as he was thrown sliders nearly 20% of the time, in all types of counts.

When facing fastballs from right handed pitchers, Escobar saw a lot of pitches in the strike zone:

There is some clustering of fastballs inside and outside the zone, but the vast majority of pitches are right in the strike zone. Pitchers are not too worried about working the ball outside of the zone. This is partially due to Escobar’s lack of power (ISO scores only around .100 the last few years) and partially due to his good plate discipline. There is a reason the analytically inclined Rays targeted him in a trade from the Blue Jays after all.

When facing left handed pitchers, we see a similar story:

There are some pitches outside of the zone away, but the majority of the clusters are right in the zone. Pitchers didn’t seem to hesitate to throw a fastball right at Escobar.

One disturbing trend is how right handers used their breaking pitches against Escobar. Take a look at breaking balls thrown to Escobar in the first half of 2014:


A lot of strikes obviously, again something I would attribute to his solid plate discipline as well as his lack of power. There is still a solid yellow grouping of pitches right on the corner or low and away, so pitchers were working both in the zone and out of the zone.

Compare that heat map to this one that shows the breaking balls from right handed pitchers in the second half of 2014:

A similar shape of clustering, but it shifts up and into the zone much more than the heat map of the pitches in the first half. Pitchers were less worried about putting their curveballs or sliders in the zone against Escobar in the second half of the season. This could be because Escobar was struggling to make contact on these pitches or pitchers realized that Escobar wasn’t doing much with these pitches when he did make contact. Something to keep in mind, though, there was some reporting last year and after Escobar was traded to the Nationals that he had some lingering injury issues that were impacting his defense. There is a chance that these injuries also impacted his offensive abilities and pitchers started to take advantage of that in the second half of the year.

Left handers showed similar tendencies with their breaking balls as you can see in this heat map of sliders and curveballs thrown to Escobar in 2014 from lefties:

Naturally, some breaking balls ended up out of the zone, but a sizeable chunk of them are right in the zone, challenging Escobar to do something with them.

So in summary, pitchers throw their fastballs right at Escobar, partially because he does a good job at laying off of fastballs outside of the zone and partially because he is not much of a threat to take a fastball in the zone and deposit it in the outfield bleachers. When going to the breaking ball, pitchers will still keep the ball in the zone, not showing much fear in attacking Escobar straight away. Lefties are likely to throw the slider once they get ahead in the count while righties love to go to the slider in all counts against Escobar.

With only one Scouting Report left, be sure to catch up on the rest of the series on Denard Span,Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Wilson Ramos, and Jayson Werth.

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