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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Jays: #34 Kelvim Escobar

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Kelvim Escobar #47

Kelvim Jose Escobar | SP/RP | 1997-2003

Kelvim Escobar, born April 11, 1976, in LaGuaira, Venezuela, was signed by the Blue Jays as an amateur free agent when he was 16 in 1992 by former Jay super scout Epy Guerrero. Latin American players aren’t subject to the draft, but signing them as a free agent as young as 16 seems a bit much. Despite less than great control, Kelvim moved quickly through the Jays minor league system, he was one of their top-ranked prospects (Baseball American had him #67 in their top 100 prospects) and in 1997 he was called up to the majors to work in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, and for the second half of the season, he became the Jays’ closer getting 14 saves with 3 blown saves as a rookie. He had a low ERA (2.90) even though he walked too many, 18 in 31 innings of work. He had great ‘stuff’ striking out 36.

The Jays had Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams, Chris Carpenter, Robert Person, and Juan Guzman all wanting spots in the rotation, so the bullpen really was the only place for him.

Before the 1998 season, GM Gord Ash signed free agent Randy Myers to a three year $18 million contract to be the closer. To say it didn’t work out is an understatement. Randy had a 4.46 ERA in August when he was traded to the Padres to finish out the season and retire. Escobar was moved in and out of the rotation, starting 10 games and relieving in 12 others. He ended up with a 3.73 ERA, lowered his walk rate some (35 walks in 79.2 innings), and struck out 72.

In 1999 Kelvim became a full-time starter for the season. Despite a 5.69 ERA, he had a pretty good record of 14-11—his walk rate 81 in 174 innings, and he gave up 19 home runs. His strikeout rate dropped that season too.

2000 saw Kelvim bouncing back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen making 24 starts and 19 relief appearances. He ended up with a 10-15 record and 2 saves. Once again, he had an ERA above 5 and gave up even more walks, 85 and more home runs, (26) in about the same number of innings (180).

2001 Escobar pitched more out of the bullpen, though he still made 10 starts. He brought down his ERA to 3.50, and his strikeout rate went up, 121 in 126 innings. So before the 2002 season, JP traded Billy Koch for Eric Hinske, and Kelvim became closer. He earned 38 saves, but when you give up 10 home runs and 44 walks in 78 innings, it is tough to keep the closer job.

So in 2002, he returned to the swingman role: 26 starts and 15 relief appearances for a 13 and 9 record. A strikeout rate of almost 8/9 innings helped keep his ERA at 4.29 despite walking 3.9/9 innings and having a WHIP of 1.481.

After 2002 he signed a big contract with the Angels and had success (in-between injuries). He was a 43-35 record there over four seasons. His best year was 2007, when he was 18-7 with a 3.40 ERA. Unfortunately, in March of 2008, Escobar found he had a tear in his right shoulder that needed season-ending surgery. He made it back for one start in 2009, and that was his MLB career. After the season the Mets signed him, but he didn’t make it through spring training. Kelvim attempted a come back with the Brewers in 2013, but a ‘nerve impingement’ in his right hand ended that early in spring training.

The Jays couldn’t figure out if Kelvim should have been a starter or a reliever. He had a power arm but also threw six different pitches. His problem always was control, so the Jays always figured if he was in the bullpen, he’d be more a two-pitch pitcher and maybe find the strike zone. They would then see the number of quality pitches Kelvim can throw they’d figure he would be best as a starter.

As a Blue Jay, Escobar had a 58-55 record, a 4.58 ERA, 58 saves, in 301 games, 101 starts over seven seasons. Career he was 101-91, 4.15 ERA in 411 games, 202 starts in 12 seasons.

Kelvim looks to have so much potential, but I always thought he was a bit of a disappointment back in those Jays years. With the Angels....well, they stopped moving him in and out of the rotation. They just made him a starter and left him there. His highest ERA in five seasons with the Angels was 3.93. They figured out how to keep him in the strike zone. With the Jays he walked 4.2/9 innings, with the Angels that dropped to 3.0.

Kelvim Escobar’s place among Blue Jay career pitching leaders (500 innings or more in some categories):

bWAR: 14th

Wins: 10th, 58

Hits/9 innings: 20th, 8.968

Strikeouts/9 innings: 8th, 7.887

Games: 15th, 301Saves: 7th, 58

Innings: 11th, 849Strikeouts: 8th, 744

Games Started: 18th, 101

Walks Allowed: 8th, 395