Summer loving, the Washington Nationals had a blast. Summer loving happened so fast.
In the midst of a shortstop crisis last summer, Alcides Escobar came out of nowhere and whisked the Nats off their feet for a summer fling where he turned back the #EskyMagic clock.
Escobar posted a solid .288/.340/.404 slash line in 75 games last year with 53 runs scored, 28 RBIs, and a 100 wRC+ that was the highest of his career, aside from four plate appearances in 2008 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
That was enough to earn him a one-year, $1 million contract a few days into the offseason.
Now, those summer dreams have been ripped at the seams.
The shortstop is starting to look like the player who was out of Major League Baseball for two and a half years before the Nationals acquired him from the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A affiliate.
In 61 plate appearances this year, Escobar is slashing a pitiful .123/.194/.140 with five runs and two RBIs, while his strikeout rate has nearly doubled from 16.0% in 2021 to 27.6% in 2022.
Remember that career-best wRC+ last year? It’s still a relatively small sample, but that’s now a career-worst 2. Yes, that’s right, two. It’s not missing a number in front of it. It’s the third-worst figure among qualifiers in MLB.
“It’s definitely concerning,” manager Dave Martinez said of Escobar’s struggles following Tuesday night’s loss to the Miami Marlins.
“He’s a veteran guy that was a Gold Glover at one time, but for me, it’s still early.
“The big thing for me is his defense. The hitting — you go through stretches like this, especially early in the year, but his defense — I look for him to make all the routine plays, catch the balls, and he’s made some mistakes out on defense.
“But he’s a veteran, and I know he’s frustrated right now, with his hitting.”
At the very least last year, the Nationals were able to lean on Escobar as a veteran on defense at shortstop. In this campaign, Escobar has regressed on defense, a lot.
Statcast’s Out Above Average is relatively kind to Escobar, rating him at just -1 OOA, rating him 23rd out of 34 qualifiers at the position.
Defensive Runs Saved, however, rates him as one of the worst defenders in the league at this point with a -5 DRS, the worst among all qualifiers at any position, according to FanGraphs.
Defensive metrics may be a bit volatile, especially this early in the season, but they would seem to back up the eye test that Escobar has been more of a liability than an asset in the field.
There was another possible defensive miscue on Tuesday when Escobar seemed to get to a softly hit blooper which would’ve ended the inning, but it ended up flicking off his glove into the outfield, allowing another run to score and chase Josiah Gray from the game.
“When I went out there to make the pitching change, he was down that he didn’t catch that ball,” Martinez explained.
“I’ll talk to him, I’ll try to pep him up and keep him going, but we need him to play good defense. We really need him to play good defense.”
That might be even more of a concern given his supposedly reliable defense was the main reason he got the nod as the team’s starting shortstop during Spring Training.
All the while, the man he beat out as the starting shortstop down in West Palm Beach, Luis García, is letting his play at Triple-A do all the talking.
Tell me more, tell me more.
García is flat-out raking so far. With a dominant .360/.407/.613 slash line through 17 games, including a 4-for-4 game last night where the young infielder hit a pair of home runs, one of which turned out to be the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Yes, he has made four errors already — for reference, in the same number of games, Escobar has made just one, despite his substandard play at shortstop — but all four were made in the first five games of the minor league season, and he’s been error-free since then.
“He made some errors the first part of the series at Toledo,” Rochester manager, Matt LeCroy, told Federal Baseball’s David Driver earlier this week.
“He has worked hard every day since. He has basically had a pretty clean series at home and then on the road; he played mostly at second in Spring Training...
“Hopefully he can continue to progress defensive and have great at-bats and hope we will see him in Washington. He keeps getting better and better at short; he has played sparingly at second. That is our job – to make sure he is doing his routines.”
That’s not to say that will be the end of García’s hiccups on defense. He’s still only 21-years-old for another few weeks and might be outgrowing the position a bit.
However, if it wasn’t clear going into the season that the Nationals weren’t going to be competitive this season, perhaps the team’s 6-13 start is a quick reality check that this team should be focusing on the future on the field.
There’s only so much more for García to prove in Triple-A at this point. The Nationals may as well see what he can do at the major league level, and if there are still to be bumps in the field along the way, so be it, especially at a level where he can get the best help possible to correct them.
Maybe the front office will hold out for a bit longer, maybe not. But the trends with García, Escobar, and the 2022 Nationals become clearer by the day, and it doesn’t look good for the veteran.
Last summer was a pleasant surprise for Escobar and the Nationals as he defied expectations. This season, that summer fling don’t mean a thing, and the end may be nigh...