|Yunel Escobar rounds third after grand slam|
homerun July 18 against Baltimore. Image from
Toronto Sun (via Reuters).
I am always a little skeptical when pundits and scouts say that all a struggling player needs is “a change of scenery.” Yet, with limited access to actual major league clubhouses, there is little insight I can give into how a certain player is fairing on the field because of the situation around him.
Sometimes a change of scenery is really what is needed to offer a boost of moral and productivity. Think about it: Have you ever left a job just to go somewhere else to do the same exact job and been much happier for it?
My guess is that you probably have and, at least initially, you thought that the move was the best possible thing that you could have done for yourself. Yet, one of the simplest and oldest clichés applies to the change of scenery notion of productivity.
Wherever you go, there you are.
A mere hop from one spot on the map to another is not going to change the fundamental characteristics of your personality. Yes, it may offer a temporary blip of energy and purpose, but after a while you find that you are doing the exact same things that you did not like (or others did not like about you) in the place that you left. Without fundamental character growth and maturity, a will to engage life in a professional manner, you are bound to regress back to the level of productivity that had become your statistical norm. If being complacent or angry or easy-going is in your nature, a brand new location is not going to fundamentally change that characteristic.
Given that this is a fantasy baseball article and the MLB trade deadline is ten days away, you may see what I am getting at here.
I am speaking specifically of Blue Jays’ shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was traded from the Braves to Toronto for Alex Gonzalez on July 14. I will circle back to Escobar shortly.
Think about some of the prominent trades in the last couple of years. The biggest and most pertinent name in this discussion would have to be pitcher Cliff Lee, currently with the Rangers after having been shipped from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle and finally to Texas since last year’s trade deadline. Lee, regarded as one of the most professional players in baseball, has not changed a bit in the maelstrom of moves since leaving the Indians. In that period he has pitched 201.1 innings with an absurd 10.05 strikeout to walk ratio (171/17) with a 15-8 record and nine complete games. In going from Seattle to Austin earlier this month he just kept on chugging along, going nine innings in both of his first two starts with his new team. Clearly this is not a player affected by environment.
Now let’s go back and look at the trade that sent Manny Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles in 2008. Ramirez, who was regressing due to age despite still being a very productive hitter, found new life down the stretch for the Dodgers hitting .396/.489/.743 for a ridiculous 1.232 OPS with 17 homeruns and 53 RBI in 229 plate appearances. His line before leaving the Red Sox that year was .299/.398/.529, an OPS of .926 with 20 homeruns and 68 RBI. That is a rather large statistical jump as he produced nearly as many homeruns and RBI with the Dodgers as he did with the Red Sox in nearly half the plate appearances. His OPS+ split between the two was 136 in Boston to 221 in Los Angeles (with 100 being considered average on a percentage scale).
Since that torrid stretch, Ramirez has regressed back to his career means. Take into account the alleged lack of performance enhancing drugs and his age he has not really changed as a hitter. His 155 OPS+ in 2009 and his 152 mark in so far in 2010 (in limited playing time due to suspension and an increasing injury rate) are right in line with his career OPS+ of 155.
Granted, there was no way that Ramirez could have sustained his 2008 performance with the Dodgers but it does go to show the temporary benefits of change of scenery can do for a player. In the end though, Manny is still Manny, no matter where he is playing.
Now for Escobar. This is a talented shortstop who, at the age of 27, should be approaching his prime production period of his career. His career slash line of .293/.370/.408 is respectable if a little light on the slugging side (.414 is about league average slugging) and he has a career 107 OPS+ over 450 games and 1867 plate appearances. That makes him seven percent better than a league average shortstop. His 2009 breakout, which was to be expected of a player entering his third year in The Show, of .299/.377/.436 is perhaps a touch higher than his expected overall performance over the course of his career but does offer a decent guideline into what type of player he can be – a slightly better than league-average middle infielder with a propensity for streakiness depending on his mood.
The Braves could not wait to get Escobar out of Atlanta and gave him up for a shortstop with a career OPS+ of 81 (which is, oddly enough, Escobar’s 2010 OPS+) and a couple middling prospects. For a business-like team trying to win in manager Bobby Cox’s last season, his lack of professionalism and poor fielding as a consequence were a poison on the field and in the clubhouse.
It should then come as no surprise that Escobar has been on fire in his first couple of games in Toronto going 8 for 17 with four runs, two homeruns and seven RBI. Contrast that to his run production in Atlanta (28 runs, zero homeruns and 19 RBI in 301 plate appearances) and it is clear that the change of location has lit a temporary fire under Escobar.
Before Blue Jays fans and fantasy owners get too excited though, remember that this cannot last. Escobar is at an age where he is not a likely candidate for any remarkable statistical breakout and eventually he will be what he has been all along . . . decent but not outstanding.
Ultimately it will come down to Yunel being Yunel, no matter what city he plays in.
Dan Rowinski is a Fantasy Columnist for Rotoinfo.com. If you have any questions or comments feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at Dan_Rowinski.