Coming into the season the Nats felt pretty secure offensively at 6 positions. That's not to say they were happy at 6 positions. Desmond at short and whoever you consider the "other" OF, were basically fill-ins, hopefully average bats that would good enough for 2012. The other two positions, C and 2B, were going to be covered by a couple of young players that were heading into their 2nd year. If they developed further the offense may in fact be pretty good. If instead they crashed, the offense would likely fall along with them. Wilson Ramos has disappointed a little bit so far, not hitting anything in the air (66.1% GB rate!) has killed his power but the average is still there and the patience has improved enough that Ramos isn't on most fans radar. Danny Espinosa is another matter.
Danny's standard line is one that will grab attention right away. .186 1 HR 13RBI. Anytime you hit below .200 that is going to attract attention. Whle that isn't good, that isn't so much the issue. For one thing, he's been a little unlucky with BABIP and wlll likely float back a little over .200 sometime soon. For another, average was never going to be Danny's strong suit. No, you liked Espinosa because he had patience and power, and if he could hit even .230, like last year, that was enough to make his bat useful. His patience is fine, (despite hitting .70 points lower than Desmond, they almost get on base the same amount) but his power is nowhere to be seen. He currently ranks 177th out of 185 major leagers in isoSLG, with a .049. Basically he's one of the weakest hitters playing everyday.
Whats wrong? What stands out most is the increase in strikeout rate. He's up to 31.1%, which is basically once every three times up. But a high K rate isn't usually a problem for sluggers. You find a pitch you think you can smash and you try to smash it. That can work fine (look at Adam Dunn - no really look at him, he's back to normal) but when he is hitting the ball Danny is not smashing it. He's hitting over 50% of his hits on the ground and less than 30% in the air. Sure he's gotten unlucky on his HR/FB rate but his pop-up rate is low too. The typical Danny Espinosa hit in the air is a lazy fly ball.
He is being pitched to differently, which is to be expected in his second year. Teams now have a book on Danny and it is throwing him less straight fastballs and more breaking stuff. But it's not a huge difference. Instead what we are seeing is Dany swinging more and more at pitches outside the strike zone (29.6% to 36.3%) and hitting them at a worse rate (61.6% to 55.8%). He's gone from swinging and missing at pitching outside the strike zone at an 11.4% rate to a 16.1% rate. or if you prefer once every 8.7 swings or so to once every 6.2 swings.
Unfortunately now we're getting into advanced analysis area. Not necessarily tougher analysis, just involving a lot more time and effort. The stuff teams should be doing not this blogger. What you want to say is he's lost strike zone judgement because of that increase in swings and misses outside the zone. But his walk-rate says the opposite. His strike zone judgement seems fine. It could be that he's simply trying to get walked more often. That might give us these results. Then again it could be that, early in the count he's fine, but he's consistently chasing the third strike out of the zone. That might explain the increase in swings and misses outside of the zone but a high walk rate. We know the problem, but we still don't know the root of it.
Getting out of the why, we now move to the what as in what to do about Danny. If you send him down you leave the Nats with Desmond and Lombardozzi - two flawed hitters at best. Ian might give you pop, but has no patience, Lombardozzi might get on base through a single or walk, but won't give you the XBH you need. From what I've heard neither is the fielder Danny should be. Do you bring up a Josh Johnson or Jeff Kobernus, neither of who have a minor league career that shows they'd be any better than what's up here already? There's no good solutions here.
If I were making the decisions, I would have Danny keep taking his hacks in the majors. I'm not one to see the benefit of sending players down. I think if they can make it, they'll make it. If circumstances were different and there were some players worth giving everyday at bats to out there, you might go that route. Every game this year could be important. But those players don't exist, at least not in the majors or upper minors for the Nats. So let Danny try to work things out and if he hasn't by mid-season maybe you look to deal. Or maybe you don't and you hope Rendon might be back and tearing it up by then... maybe? No?
Much like the Nats hitched their wagon to Ian Desmond a couple years ago, they did the same with Ramos and Espinosa this year. It's time to ride it out and see where they take you. Better to do it this year than next, when Bryce has a year behind him, they might have better luck with injuries, and hopefully Rizzo will have made that last move to fill the OF hole.