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Yunel Escobar may have 'attitude problems' but he also has a track record of being a very good player

Jul 15, 2010, 1:46 PM EDT

Yunel Escobar made his big-league debut in 2007. Since then a total of 27 players have accumulated at least 1,000 plate appearances while seeing at least two-thirds of their starts at shortstop. Here’s how he ranks among those 27 shortstops in OPS:

Hanley Ramirez      .935
Troy Tulowitzki     .849
Derek Jeter         .813
Jimmy Rollins       .796
Jose Reyes          .787
YUNEL ESCOBAR       .771
Miguel Tejada       .760
Stephen Drew        .760
Rafael Furcal       .758
J.J. Hardy          .751

Escobar has the sixth-highest OPS among all shortstops during that time, behind only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes. If you’re curious the man he was traded for, Alex Gonzalez, ranks 14th with a .737 OPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not suggesting that trades should be analyzed by OPS (you should read Matthew Pouliot’s in-depth analysis of the deal). However, what I am suggesting is that most of the mainstream analysis of the Escobar-for-Gonzalez swap yesterday didn’t really go beyond “Escobar had a bad first half” and “the Braves were sick of his attitude” while guys like Jon Heyman of SI.com and Buster Olney of ESPN.com deemed it a huge win for Atlanta.
Perhaps that type of shallow analysis shouldn’t be surprising at this point, because it’s prevalence is one of the driving forces behind why blogs and non-mainstream baseball outlets have thrived so much recently. Still, it seems odd that so many people are willing to take Escobar’s “attitude problem” as gospel and focus on three months of poor play while brushing aside the fact that he’s been one of the half-dozen best-hitting shortstops in all of baseball during his four-year career.
He’s also six years younger than Gonzalez, every bit as good defensively, and under team control for three more seasons. I think the Blue Jays did well to get a 27-year-old shortstop with an outstanding glove and track record of good hitting for a 33-year-old shortstop they signed for $3 million this offseason, but I’m open to the notion that the trade makes some sense for the Braves too. However, calling the trade a steal for Atlanta because Escobar rubbed people the wrong way in a career-worst first half ignores the previous three years of his career and 10 years of Gonzalez’s career.

  1. nps6724 - Jul 15, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    As a Braves fan, I always liked Esco. But this deal was all about getting rid of his attitude and still getting a starting SS in return. Even if Esco goes back to being good and Gonzo regresses to his norms, his norms are still better than what Esco did in the 1st half without the attitude so the Braves still have a net gain. I think it’ll hurt Atlanta in the near future because I think Esco will return to that .771 OPS area, but I think they’re doing whatever they need to (within the realm of possibility) to win this year for Bobby (and Chipper and Wags).

    I don’t see it as a steal for either team.

  2. Sinatra - Jul 15, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    I’m an Atlanta fan and I didn’t like this trade one bit… To ignore his first three yrs is ridiculous but to use the “chemistry” angle when you’re in first place? The bottom line is they’re in first place and got an inferior player… An inferior older player

  3. Jonny5 - Jul 15, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    One bad apple can turn a whole basket bad.

  4. ttowntom - Jul 15, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    Yunel leads the league in defensive runs saved and double plays turned. He was recently rated the #1 defensive player in all baseball at ANY position. Even with his substandard 3 months offensively, he still has an on-base percentage 30 points higher than Gonzalez. Gonzo, however, is hitting uncharacteristically high, in a park that’s much more hitter friendly than Turner Field. Will he post the same numbers in Atlanta, or just return to his usual career numbers? This is an absolutely HORRIBLE trade for Atlanta, and one we will regret for years.

  5. Ace2000 - Jul 15, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    I can certainly see why Braves fans are not thrilled with this, but if its any consolation, Gonzo is an extremely solid player in his own right. As a Boston fan, I can tell you he was easily my favorite through all the years of post-Nomar revolving doors at shortstop. I really believe he’s one of those guys who’s a little better than the numbers show, if you watch him work on a daily basis. He just always seems to be making plays when it matters, and coming up with timely hitting. Reliable.

  6. nps6724 - Jul 15, 2010 at 3:17 PM

    Gonzalez is hitting better on the road this year (.836 away OPS, .751 home OPS).

    As for Esco’s DPs, while he is very good at the turn, but he also had 2 good sinkerballers in Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe pitching. Hudson has had 21 DPs turned behind him, 17 involving the SS (13 for Esco, 4 for Infante) and Lowe has had 22 DPs turned behind him, 19 involving the SS (15 for Esco, 4 for Infante).

    And he doesn’t lead the league in DPs for SSs according to ESPN.com (http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/fielding/_/position/ss/sort/doublePlays/order/true) — Alex Gonzalez does with 67 to Esco’s 62.

  7. braves10fan - Jul 15, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    As a braves fan im happy with the trade. Yunel was just starting to wear on me with his crappy offensive and his lackadaisical throwing. He almost got Troy Glaus(someone who is producing offensively) seriously injured.

  8. walk - Jul 15, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    In the same game yunel made the throw to glaus that got him ran over he made two more poor throws. Both were lollypop throws that got prado spiked at second. I honestly was starting to think the guy must have been a regular on the short bus in school. He also made some great defensive plays to his credit but i am seriously glad to see him gone. He was likely at any time to make an outstanding play and equally like to take out one of his own team mates with a sloppy play, usually a poor throw.

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