The 2011 MLB season has been full of surprises. Now nearly a hundred games into the season, players that were derided heavily such as Melky Cabrera, Emelio Bonifacio and others are making a lot of people look silly--including this writer. So it should be no surprise that the leader board for shortstops this season is full of surprises. Jose Reyes is at the top, which is no surprise considering the season he is having (though that season is a surprise). Troy Tulowitzki is second, which is no surprise as he is the best shortstop in baseball. It's the three and five positions in the list that are startling. Sitting at third is Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers. What!? Sitting fourth is Asdrubal Cabrera which isn't really a surprise. But fifth? That would be Yunel Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Let's start with Yunel Escobar, a player that was traded from the Atlanta Braves last year in a deal that was considered addition by subtraction. There seemed to be almost a player revolt concerning Escobar last season in Atlanta and the team seemed relieved to be rid of him. And perhaps they were right. Escobar has all kinds of talent, but last year combined with both the Braves and the Blue Jays, managed just a .653 OPS. And his fielding just seemed to tank. It's as if he didn't have it any more.
But maybe last season should have been the surprise because Escobar was very good the two seasons prior to 2010. And perhaps "very good" is an understatement. According to Fangraphs, his play was worth $16.4 million in 2008 and $20 million in 2009. To fall to a season worth $8.5 million last season was shocking. But Escobar seems to be in a better place this season and his season is already worth $15.5 million with sixty games to go.
While it would be easy to editorialize and talk about his personality, effort and the like, that would be foolishness without a deeper knowledge about the man and his life. This writer has no such knowledge and like Dragnet, we'll stick to the facts. And the facts are that Yunel Escobar has been one of the best shortstops in baseball this season. His fielding has rebounded and he is having a terrific season at the plate.
Escobar is much more disciplined at the plate. He only swings at 20 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. That's in the Lance Berkman category and he is on pace to earn the highest number of walks in his career. His .377 OBP is a testament to that patience. Plus, his 28 extra base hits already tops his 23 of last season, a season where he finished with a puny .317 slugging percentage. This season's slugging is a much more respectable .437. And Escobar's batting average is much more in line with his career norm compared to last year.
Yes, the Blue Jays got a steal when they acquired Yunel Escobar. The Braves may have lost a headache, but Toronto's risk has been rewarded.
Jhonny Peralta has been amazing. This writer wasn't the only one across this land that thought the Tigers were crazy for trading for Peralta and installing him as their every day shortstop. Yeah, crazy like a fox. Peralta is just one more example that we writers often don't know what we are talking about. Peralta's fielding hasn't even been the liability that we all chipped him for.
But Peralta at the plate has been the greatest surprise. His slugging percentage is the highest of his career and only his 2005 season comes close. Naturally, his ISO is the highest it has been for Peralta since 2005 and again, his wOBA is his best ever. Last season, Peralta finished with a .703 OPS. His numbers across the board were poor. How poor? He scored a -5.8 batting runs above average (or in his case, below) last year. That number is a positive 20.4 this season. Last season, he finished with a score of -5.7 base running runs above average (or again, below). This year, he's still in negative territory, but it's better. And to round out the stats, last year, he finished with a -3.8 runs above average for his fielding. This season he is in the positive numbers at 0.4.
Peralta's play was worth only $3.3 million in 2010 and that was coming off a 2009 season where he was worth only $4.7 million. All the more astounding that his play is already worth north of $16 million this year. The only knock on his game is that he's still not the most patient of hitters. His walk percentage is the lowest of his career at 6.9 percent. But this writer thinks the Tigers won't complain when his OPS is at .915!
Yes, this season has been a season of surprises. Jhonny Peralta has been one of the chief surprises of them all. As for Yunel Escobar, perhaps the only surprise is that he was so bad last year when this year is much more indicative of the kind of player he has been in the majors since he first arrived from Cuba.