Nationals Baseball: They'll win tonight too

Friday, June 21, 2013

They'll win tonight too

Or else the curse of untuck isn't real and that would be silly.

Defending Danny Espinosa

Recently Danny Espinosa has been sent down to the minors officially and I just want to reiterate, after reading comments and even columns that seem to suggest otherwise, that Danny Espinosa is not a terrible baseball player. He's not someone that normally would have an issue with major leag ue pitching. He doesn't strike out too much to play in the majors. He is not someone who's "offensive production steadily dwindled" (Sorry Kill-Gore)

He is a good player that got injured and for whatever reason is not getting surgery.

Let's just look at the facts here. Here are Danny Espinosa's minor league stats. Low average, good patience, good pop especially for the age/level combination. Yes, a lot of strikeouts which made you wonder, will he be able to keep up that average in the major leagues, or will major league pitching overwhelm him? A .210 average won't cut it but a .240 probably would. Cut to the majors

First call-up, it was a bit what you feared. The pop was there but the .214 average was just too low.  You needed to see how he did with more time.

First full season - .236 / .323 / .414.  The average picked up a bit and while he wasn't a star he was certainly a player you should keep playing. He was already worth starting and he could get better.

Second season after a slow start Danny picked up his game and was hitting .258 / .324 / .420 when he jammed his shoulder.  That right there is an above average hitting year. Better than the previous year by a touch. It is a tiny bit disappointing that he didn't break out but you'll take steady minor improvement. Plus he was so good in other areas (mainly defense, but a solid baserunner) and 2nd base was such a weak position that Danny was in the Top 5 2nd basemen in overall.

You read that right. As of Sept 8th, 2012 Danny Espinosa was likely somewhere around the 4th most valuable 2nd baseman in the major leagues. Even discounting defense entirely it is likely he was in the Top 10. 

Then he jammed his shoulder. He said he had no strength in it. But yet he kept wanting to play and the team kept putting him out there
Sept 8th on. : .171 / .247 / .271
Playoffs : .067 / .176 / .067*

Look familiar? 
2013 : .158 / .193 / .272 

So what happened? Does he finally get surgery? Nope. He gets sent down. Great.

Now a couple things could be happening here. Danny can't be forced to get surgery so maybe he's refusing it and the minor league assignment is punitive in a way (also necessary since he can't hit right now). But if this is the case why are they trying to change his swing mechanics? And why is Danny still not having surgery? It's one thing to say "I don't want to give up my spot to have surgery. I might lose it". It's another to say "OK, I lost my spot regardless, but I still don't want to have surgery because I need to work my way back ASAP". That's a little more stupid. It's not like he's making progress. He's doing terribly right now. Next is "OK I'm out of the majors but if I have surgery now, I might be too old to get another chance". It doesn't make much sense to me.

Of course the alternative, that no one on the team actually believes he's injured, makes even less sense. Do they think it's a swing thing that amazingly happened at the same time as when he injured his shoulder? What a goddamn coincidence. The numbers above are pretty irrefutable. 

I don't blame Danny for this. Players are going to want to play unless the actually physically can't. It's their nature. It's up to the team to pull them when they need to be pulled (I think you guys know of a QB that this might apply to). But at this point Danny has been pulled so the onus is back on him. He needs to get surgery. He needs to think about not 2013, not even 2014, but 2015 when he'll still be a cheap commodity and LaRoche will likely be gone. Zimm to first, Rendon to third... 2nd base opens up again.

Defending Storen... sort of

Rob Neyer in a recent column says that Drew Storen would make a good acquisition for a team needing a closer.  I don't necessarily disagree with a lot of his points, (so now being an established closer isn't enough for these guys? You have to be an established closer for a good team? What's next - "Kimbrel is ok but I want Brian Wilson. That guy saved games for a WS winner!") but he is way too dismissive of this year's performance. In particular he's too dismissive of Storen's HR/FB rate.

2011 : 11.1%
2012 :  0%
2013 :  13.8%

Obviously that 0% year is a fluke.  He does give up more than his share of home runs. At the same time he has pitched worse this year and given up more flyballs. So the homers are an issue. Also in 2011 he was great but he had a high-end LOB rate that made his performance look at bit better than it was.

Storen is a good pitcher right now. Good, not great.  Honestly he would be a fine pick-up for someone looking for a closer, but not because he's a special talent right now, because nearly anyone can be a decent closer if given the chance.  If you are looking for a great arm in the pen though, picking up Storen only makes sense right now if you are betting that his issues are all mental and that you can manage around that. Otherwise you just got yourself another ok arm.  

*It's a little talked about fact that in a series decided by a couple of close games the Nats failure to realize/accept Danny was injured and unable to hit as he normally would may have been a scale tipper.


Sirc said...

I think the reason that Danny was sent to AAA, and has been working with coaches on his swing, is because he isn't going to have shoulder surgery until all other options are exhausted.

I think that the Nats braintrust knew that a while back, but thought that something would give before late May.

Shoulder surgery is different than other joints for athletes. It's a longer rehab, with fewer success stories. So yes, I think that Danny was or is scared of losing his spot while on a 6 month to one year rehab. He's probably more scared now with the Kid hitting 500 in his spot.

It's funny, but I when I first read about Danny's injury I couldn't imagine a replacement scenario that could work out for a contending team. A year minus a core guy, one with a unique skill set within the Nationals' system. But here we are, and I had forgotten that this is almost always how guys break into the majors. Werth and Morse were both hurt at the same time last year, so we got Bryce ahead of schedule. Now it is Rendon's turn.

It happens to all teams. The strange thing is that it keeps happening at the positions where the Nats have a top prospect to plug in, and that said prospects produce.

Chaz R said...

I do feel bad for Danny. There is something terribly wrong here. I am surprised that Davey hasn't figured it out and either fixed it himself or influenced the fixing, given his experience and relationship with Danny.

Harper, are you suggesting Storen might be a piece Rizzo could sue the strengthen Haren's spot in the rotation?

BlueLoneWolf said...

All you can say is that at least it brought Rendon up to the the majors. And he's proving that he deserves a spot on the team's roster. It's going to clog things for a bit, but at least the Nats have a good bat now in their order. Granted I doubt that Rendon keeps his ridiculous pace, but right now he's what the team needs.

Erich said...

Great points on Danny. He is an injured player. I still think that he has a place on the team post surgery or at the very least as part of a trade to another team.

@ Sirc:

Where's our catching prospect!? Not quite a perfect call up process.

Harper said...

Sirc - I suppose that is most likely, although I hope that means Danny demanded swing work because if you think its an injury thing you don't want to mess with a swing that works.

I also hope he realizes that there is a spot for him... eventually. And hell, it's not like Desmond or especially Zimm are iron men. A spot could open up next year.

TO be fair about the spot thing with Rendon, it could have been Danny or Zimm or LaRoche or Espy - they would have worked him in somehow the way he was hitting.

Chaz - He could be an important piece but he'd need to put together an impressive June/July and have the pen around him come together so you could trade him. Right now he'd be just one of a couple ok pieces.

BLW - He is what the team needs - a guy that isn't getting out 80% of the time. Just don't get too excited yet. It's only been 20 games and it's a lot of singles.

Sirc - with Oakland.

Sirc said...

Not a perfect call up process, no. But the 2 highest rated guys in the Nats system the past 2 years had the guys ahead of them on the big league club go down with injuries. That's a hell of a coincidence, no?

Erich said...

I'm just being cynical about it. It has been nice to have both Rendon and Harper come up and contribute.

Nattydread said...

What puzzles me is that 90% of us fans saw Espy's poor performance and related it to the injury. The "best brain trust in baseball" waited until the team was 7 back to make a move...

This is where Rizzo/DJohnson confuse the hell out of me. We're just interested fans. Getting those extra wins should be much more important to them.

JonQuest said...

Rendon has a history of injuries. We all hope he's past that, but the biggest knock on him has been durability.

Lombo has done nothing to cement himself on the team as the supersub or quality backup for second.

Put those two things together and I think it makes some sense why Espi is doing whatever he can to hit again without surgery.

Harper said...

ND - No clue. I'm guessing there is some medical staff recommendation at play, plus the idea that Lombo (who can we admit now is not very good) was first in line to replace him.

jQ - So espy fears an open spot coming up with him on the bench? Like they'd have to go out and replace leaving him with definitely no home? That's some down the line thinking there.

Mythical Monkey said...

I think you're right about Espinosa -- it's the shoulder injury.

He is, by the way, a case of classic irony: he was so worried about losing his job and being sent to the minors that he made a series of decisions that pretty much guaranteed that he'd lose his job and get sent to the minors.

It's one thing to play with fear and arrogance, as Crash Davis said, but it's another to play with paranoia and denial. Espinosa has taken some healthy traits and turned them up to 11.

As for Drew Storen, I can't imagine why the Nats would want to trade him unless (a) they get an above-market offer, or (b) he's become a sulking, clubhouse cancer. Haven't heard any indication that either is the case. Just because he might make a fine closer elsewhere or with the Nats in the future is no particular reason not to keep using him as a set-up man in the present.

Anonymous said...

Agree 1,000,000 percent on what you say about Espinosa. Precisely spot on!

However, there's another aspect of this. I'm not sure Espinosa has ever had any kind of serious injury that required surgery? He may not trust surgery or surgeons no matter how renowned.

Do I blame him? Hell no. BUT, if he wants to be a major league ball player and better yet with his potential a bonafide potential superstar? His physical attributes have to be a lot better than the average guy on the street. This injury appears to have placed him with that average guy on the street IMO.

Its hard to see into the future but if he looks at LaRoche he'll see a guy that improved dramatically after the surgery. And this is a player who is not even close to the talented physical specimen that Espinosa is. He hunts instead of working out like a maniac the way Danny does in the offseason.

bdrube said...

Maybe we'll eventually find out that Danny is a member or some weird religious sect that doesn't believe in modern medicine or something. Because otherwise it makes no sense even for him personally.

Had he had the surgery in the offseason, being on DL to start the season would have allowed him to continue to accrue MLB service time (and the BIG raises that go along with it even for mediocre players), which he is no is now no longer doing and may no do again for quite some time.

DezoPenguin said...

Espinosa's situation certainly is a mystery, with why he's not having surgery done, but it's certainly hurting the Nationals to lose out of having one of the NL's top second basemen. Rendon's hitting, thank Heaven, but his glovework isn't up to Danny's standard and it's eerily similar to last year when Morse and Werth were both out and we had to call up Harper to play alongside Ankiel and Bernie/Lombo in the outfield.

As for Storen, hey, if the Red Sox or Tigers or someone decide to go into full-on panic mode and overpay for him to go be their closer, I'd certainly listen, but I'm not shopping him, either.

Anonymous said...

Espinosa certainly isn't someone the organization should let go. Sending him down was the right thing, but once he heals, even hitting .230 his defense makes him a valuable back up at a minimum. He also has some pop in the bat which to date Rendon doesn't seem to have.