Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar has been zigging while everyone is zagging.
Escobar is having a career season with a slash line of .293/.346/.563 going into Tuesday. His most impressive feat is 33 doubles, which puts him at a pace to break Justin Morneau’s Twins record of 47 and threaten the MLB record of 67 set by Earl Webb in 1931.
Instead of trying to employ a slight uppercut, Escobar said he has focused on having his swing stay down as it comes through the zone in an attempt to make more hard contact. He’s still lifting the ball — his launch angle is a career-high 20.1 percent — but he has been able to achieve that while trying to swing down on the ball.
“I’ve been working on that especially with the ball coming in high, especially balls coming in at the top,” Escobar said. “J-Row [hitting coach James Rowson] told me — every time, trust your hands. Go through the ball and swing hard.”
As a result, Escobar is hitting the ball harder than he has at any point in his career. His average exit velocity is 88 miles per hour and his hard-hit percentage is 32.4, both career highs. Escobar posted similar numbers last season, but his batting average of balls in play was just .279, tied for a career low. This season, he is at .349, a career high. It suggests Escobar’s numbers might come down to earth a bit, but there’s no denying the impact he has had on the Twins so far.
“He’s got a really powerful lower half,” Rowson said. “He creates a lot of torque, so those balls that he hits, the balls get up off his bat.”
Escobar’s swing has also helped him combat pitches up in the zone. Hitters who have an uppercut swing tend to be vulnerable to missing high fastballs, but Escobar has done some damage up in the zone thanks to his level swing. Escobar has feasted from the left side of the plate — 27 of his doubles have come from that side. When he hits left handed on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone and on the outer third of the plate, Escobar has an average exit velocity of 95.7 miles per hour on contact — the highest of any zone.
Escobar also has done well hitting breaking pitches, especially curve balls, which he is slugging .667, more than doubling his previous career high against that pitch (.302).
“It’s the culmination of him seeing balls better, getting an idea of how guys are attacking him,” Rowson said.
Added Escobar: “I’m not trying to think at the plate. If you’re thinking too much you’re not going to hit it.”
The less Escobar has been thinking, the better it has worked out for him.