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Alcides Escobar's Inside Hacking

A few weeks after signing catcher Salvador Perez to a long-term extension, the Royals have locked up another up-the-middle starter through at least his arbitration years. Kansas City and Alcides Escobar agreed on a four-year deal that guarantees the gifted glove man at least $10.5 million and could be worth a total of $21.75 million if the Royals exercise options for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Escobar, 25, came to K.C. from Milwaukee in the December 2010 Zack Greinke swap and is the quintessential "all glove, no bat" player. He's sublime at shortstop, rating as between a +2 run (Total Zone) a +6 run (Ultimate Zone Rating) fielder, depending upon your metric of choice. But at the plate? Even by the modest standards of his position, Escobar is a lightweight: he's got a career 72 OPS+, while MLB shortstops have averaged around a 92 OPS+ in recent years.

At a lithe 6-1, 185 pounds and with a career .377 minor league slugging percentage, Escobar is never going to become a power hitter. But if he's going to at least avoid becoming an uber out-maker, he'll have to tighten his strike zone. Escobar has lunged at over 33% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28% league average over the past four years. He's especially prone to hacking at pitches thrown in on the hands. Take a look at his swing rate by pitch location, and then the league average for righty hitters:

Escobar's swing rate by pitch location, 2008-11

Average swing rate by pitch location for RHBs, 2008-11

It's not like Escobar is succeeding when he tries to turn on pitches tossed near his knuckles, either. Look at his in-play average by pitch location, and then the average for righty batters:

Escobar's in-play average by pitch location, 2008-11

In-play average by pitch location for RHB, 2008-11

Escobar has batted .205 when chasing inside pitches, right around the league average.

Even with his low-power, hack-happy hitting, Escobar managed to be a passable starter last year (around 2 Wins Above Replacement by both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs) because his agility and arm at the diamond's premium defensive spot were that good. That seems to be his floor: A modern-day Mark Belanger whose fielding prowess makes up for his many quick trips back to the dugout. But to achieve more than that, Escobar must lay off the inside stuff.

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