Let’s get this out of the way now, it’s still April and everything that’s happened so far this season can quickly reverse itself just as much as any trend so far is likely to hold up for the next five months. At the moment two of the three most valuable shortstops in baseball are the Blue Jays’ Yunel Escobar and the Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera. There’s a whole mess of similarities between the two players career paths and offensive numbers and are easy to see visually thanks to the FanGraphs‘ player comparison graphs.
There is one big difference between the two, age, Cabrera is 25 but Yunel is three years older and will be 28 this season. They both made their big league debuts in 2007 and have been full-time players since. Although in Cabrera’s case he’s struggled to stay healthy more so than Escobar has. Over the last three seasons Escobar has averaged 137 games per year and Cabrera has played an average of only 114 games. Their overall production, in terms of wOBA, has been almost identical the last two seasons and have taken similar ups and downs as well.
Both broke in with above average offensive production in ’07 as Escobar had a .367 wOBA in 355 plate appearances and Cabrera had a .340 wOBA in just 186 trips to the plate. They then both slipped up a bit in 2008 and met up on the chart in 2009 with almost identical wOBAs of .354 for Cabrera and .357 for Escobar. Last season saw both of them fall all the way down to .301 wOBAs in trying seasons were in Escobar was traded from the Braves to the Blue Jays and Cabrera missed 65 games, mostly due to injury.
Escobar has always had the better on-base percentage between the two, but even with Cabrera having just a .326 OBP last season, both of them have never had a below average OBP in any of their four seasons coming into 2011. The ups and downs mirror each other almost perfectly again with OBP as with wOBA. It might seem obvious that if they had similar wOBAs they would also have similar OBPs and the same thing is being pointed to twice, but look and read on and you’ll see they ultimately wind up getting those above average on-base percentages in different ways.
For the first two seasons of their careers, 2007-2008, Escobar had the higher batting average hitting .326 and .288 to Cabrera’s .283 and .259. They switched though in 2009 as Escobar hit .299 but Cabrera had his best season to date, average wise, and hit .308. Both slipped in 2010 but where Escobar was only able to hit .256, Cabrera held up his average a little better in his off year and hit .276. Escobar has still had the higher on-base percentage the past two year because of his better walk rates. It wasn’t the case early in their careers however, the 21 and 22 year old Cabrera drew more walks than the 24 and 25 year old Escobar back in 2007-2008.
Since then Cabrera’s walk rate dipped below average in ’09 and didn’t bounce back in 2010, Escobar on the other hand seems to have settled in nicely as a player who will always walk at an above average rate.
The last aspect of their hitting that is quite similar is their isolated power numbers over their careers. They’ve been almost identical year in and year out, neither has ever had above average power or hit more than fourteen homers in any season. Between their combined 3,810 plate appearances the two have just 66 homers. For every 600 plate appearances on their careers, Cabrera has hit 8 homers to 9.4 for Escobar and Cabrera has averaged 32.2 doubles to 26.2 for Escobar.
There is nothing to read into these similarities other than it being a coincidence and they both happen to play shortstop and both happen to have broken into the majors in 2007 and both just happened to have career worst offensive seasons in 2010. If anything, it does bode well for Cabrera and the Indians, as he’s been almost just as good an offensive player as Escobar at a younger age at a position where above average offensive production is hard to come by. Cabrera is just now entering his theoretical prime years of production and if he can stay healthy he could be one of baseball’s top offensive shortstops for years to come.
Escobar isn’t exactly an old man either, he’s just 28 and right in his prime and the Blue Jays will happily take a couple more seasons like the ones he had with the Braves from 2007-2009. Their both off to great starts and it’ll be interesting to see how much longer the two can share similar levels of production.
All the graphs and stats that were used were from FanGraphs. They have all sorts of stuff like this to play around with and make articles like this possible.