Nationals Baseball: Espinosa - the bottom third key

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Espinosa - the bottom third key

So going through those questions the next one is about Danny Espinosa. Is his season coming to a crashing halt?

It may not be something that you've noticed. There have been bigger issues, like first base, centerfield, and Bryce, to focus on. Danny is not asked to do much so slumps from him are more tolerable. Danny is known as a defense first player so what he does at the plate overall is less important. Yet with Nats trying to plug two holes with one rookie and creative shifting, the end result is a decent Danny may be the difference between a decent lineup and one where a good starter can downshift for three batters.

How bad has Danny been? Well his July was abysmal .193 / .283 / .341 and his August has been arguably worse .227 / .320 / .273.  Since the All-Star break, admittedly a short time frame, Espinosa ranks 159 out of 169 qualified batters in OPS.*

Now normally we'd start going through fancy stats right now trying to explain such a fall but the truth is, with Danny this isn't an aberration. His 2014 (.219 / .283 / .351) was just as bad. As was his 2nd half of 2015 (.206 / .259 / .346). As was his April (.185 / .316 / .246) and May (.208 / .283 / .376) of this year. The exception is not Danny performing poorly. The exception is Danny performing well.

What is Danny's main problem? It's striking out. When things are going very poorly for him he doesn't make contact at all. That 2014 season had him striking out at a staggering 33.5% rate. This July had him striking out 36% of the time. These are untenable numbers. If you are putting the ball in play about 2/3rd of the time a decently lucky BABIP of .333 would only get you to a .222 average.

Of course Danny isn't Ben Revere. He doesn't rely on average. He relies on power and a bit of patience. If he can have them both going on - well even a .230 average is passable. But he's only had it going on like that once this year. In June, when he was hitting well too. Thus his All-Star month  of .309 / .418 / .704. Otherwise both have been more off than on and that's been the case for much of his post injury 2013 career as well. I looked at the months** for Danny and saw where his BB% or ISO were over about the average for the time frame (ISO .160, BB% 7.5%). There were six times out of 13 where he hit with better than average power, and five times out of 13 where he walked more than average. The rough effect, if you assume random distribution***,  is that about one month out of the year he'll do both, and for the most part he needs to do both.

All this is pointing out the same thing, though. Danny is not a good offensive player. Not at this point in his career (maybe not ever). But what about his defense? It's still very good according to the metrics. Shortstop is a position loaded with talent and Danny still ranks in the Top 10 according the fangraphs Def stat, and that feels right to me. Defensive stats can be fluky but Danny was nearly this good last year. He was around this good in 2013 and 2012. This isn't a fluke - he's a top defensive shortstop and that means a lot.

I'm not advocating sitting Danny. I'm just clarifying who he is and what that means. Danny is a great defensive shortstop who's secondary offensive skills (power and patience) are good enough to make him an interesting bat at the bottom of a line-up. But he can fully tank and in fact probably should be expected to for at least a third of a season. Still he offers about as much offensively as a consistent slap-hitting no patience .280 SS who fans would more likely accept. For a season, Danny is a decent player to have as your starting shortstop. For a shorter period of time though - things can get very dicey. This terrible second half? It could easily last all the way to the end of the year. His most likely finish to 2016 from here on out is "not good"

And I think that should be ok. That Nats shouldn't need him to be good. They should have decent bats in most of the other positions so they can have this great D, interesting bat guy starting. The problem isn't with Danny, or probably more accurately, the problem with Danny is a problem you solve last. The problem is the first base / center field issue. 

Of course if Murphy and Ramos keep fighting it out for an MVP, you can probably suck up those issues and Danny as well, but that's a question for an upcoming day.  See I can be positive! We'll talk about Murphy and Ramos!

*You know who ranks 168th? bryce.

**disregards August 2016, Sept 2015 (did not play enough) and groups 2nd half of 2014 into a psuedo-month

*** might seem silly - if he's hitting well he should be more likely to do everything well at same time, but it didn't really seem to hold.

22 comments:

Mythra said...

The loop is back in Danny's left hand swing. When he's going good, the bat flies through the zone and he makes line drive contact. Watching the other night, he's back to the little uppercut swing that leaves a hole in his left handed swing. He's trying to muscle the ball out and getting a lot of '1-2-3-See Ya' ABs because of it. He needs to get back to the drag bunt, quick hands approach that he had in June. I won't ever expect him to go better than 1 for 4 in a game, but you rarely expect the #8 guy to be that kinda hitter anyways.

As long as he's at SS and getting guys out for whomever is on the mound, I'm comfortable with Danny. Not saying his 2017 roster spot is safe in the offseason, if there is a better bat available that plays good D at SS. Or if Difo and Turner push the issue this September and next spring.

PotomacFan said...

I would not be surprised to see the Nats add a centerfielder in the off-season, move Turner to SS, and move Danny back to a utility player role. Danny won't like it, but then, if he made more consistent contact this wouldn't happen. He's certainly had his chances.

On a different matter, is Michael A. Taylor now completely out of the Nationals plans for the future? When Zim went to the DL, the Nats called up Godwin. Have the Nats given up on MAT? I think so. He's available for trade in the off-season, presumably as part of a package -- because he really is nothing more than a replacement level, AAAA player.

Zimmerman11 said...

I had this conversation with my Mets friend yesterday. Neither of us think having Espy at SS in the NL is hurting this team. Neither of us expect Murph to be batting .350 when the season is over. Neither of us think Zimmerman is going to come back and play Messiah down the stretch... Both of us think this team will make a run in the postseason if and only if we see the return of BRYCE!

F.P. Santangelo, Fan Policeman said...

Look, this might be the greatest team I've ever seen in my life, so everyone just shut up and stop asking so many questions and making so many criticisms, or I will personally pull you over and cite you for being a bad fan!

Chas R said...

Despite all the Danny Haters out there, Harper is correct- he's really not part of the problem with the offense. The sucking chest wound at CF and 1B are the issues, and Bryce lately. TT helps with the CF/leadoff production, so 1B is the main problem that needs fixing. I was really surprised Rizzo didn't make a small move at the trade deadline to do some small fix there.

Jay said...

The vibe I am getting is that Espinosa is here to stay at SS. If anything, Turner is the CF of the future now. A fan asked Boswell about Espinosa in his chat yesterday. The response was pretty much - get over it. Danny is great defensively. He can hit for power. He is "one of the team's structural cornerstones". Considering that Bos seems to have the inside story on current Nats organizational think, I think it's safe to say Espinosa is the starting SS for the foreseeable future. Also, Rizzo did state that Espi is the "toughest SOB on the team". Anyway, I don't think Espi is going anywhere.

Also, I do agree with FP. The Nats have the second best record in the league. They just beat the Giants 2/3. Are playing great baseball. Have possible MVP and Cy Young winners on the roster. They've done all of this with only 1 month of Bryce. They have pretty much 3 #1 starters in the rotation, and now have a legitimate closer. The division race is pretty much over and it's not even mid-August yet. Yet all the buzz around the team has been lacking and if anything has been more negative than positive. Having said that, the crowd on Sunday was great.

Kevin Rusch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Rusch said...

Wouldn't it be great if Espinosa just needed LASIK?

Anyway, he's okay. Superb defense and a threat to homer. Good enough. The nats don't need ZIMM! back, they just need a productive, league-average 1b. And Bryce, well, might as well give him until September 20 to figure it out because they're not winning any trophies without him.

Josh Higham said...

Jay and FP have a point. Every single team in the playoff race has concerns about certain players and how they will impact a potential October run, but this is a wonderful team to watch. Jayson Werth is trying to set a Nats record for consecutive games on base, Turner and Rendon are ripping line drives all over the place. Ramos and Murphy can be the whole offense if we get a good performance from a starter. Danny and Zim's flaws, while significant, and the persistent presence of bryce, which we all hate, are not unendurable. I'm resolved to enjoy this thoroughly before the NFL and NBA get started, because there is a lot less to be happy about then.

Harper said...

Jay - I don't think Tre is necessarily the CF of the future. Danny is good enough and cheap so he'll play SS in 2017. It's not usually an easy position to fill and it's a bad FA class coming up. After that they'll cut him and see where the field lies. If there is a SS they can grab that's fine - Trea will stay in CF. If not they'll shift Trea back to the IF and grab an OF. They have flexibility if they plan it this way.

About the buzz - positive buzz comes from a number of places - you can be new to the scene, you can be unexpectedly good, you can be a team rising, you can be a winner looking to repeat, you can be doing something special. The Nats aren't really any of those. They are a good but not particularly young team, expected to do well, playing very well but not crazy good, who you've seen in the playoffs twice before rather recently and who have lost both times. They are anti-buzz. It also hurts that while MIA/NYM are no worse that STL/PIT the former two teams have not been perennial playoff contenders. By being compared to them, the Nats division win is less interesting.

The Nats will likely cruise to the division title, but not the best record in the NL, will play SF in the playoffs and the story will be if Dusty (losing manager in four straight playoff series, 3-7 overall) and the Nats (losing team in two straight appearences) can help each other get over that hump. If they don't - well you got the story. If they do - it probably morphs into "Trying to get Dusty his title" with an outside chance of "Dual revenge?" if the Nats get the Cardinals in the CS.

Robot said...

You're selling Danny short by failing to mention his impressive HBP rate. I can't be bothered to look up the numbers, but it's usually among the top in the league.

NotBobby said...

@Robot

But that cuts both ways. HBP boosts OBP, but jnvites injury, both DL type and the type that "gamers" like Espi play through but hurt their numbers.

JE34 said...

Was at the game last night. Indians fans a little more annoying than I expected, but on the whole not bad (a far cry from Mets and Phils). Saw someone in a Rick Vaughn #99. Good times.

Scherzer had the the place buzzing right away... shame he got no help. Granted Trevor Bauer was dealing, and a guy who hides the ball that well in his delivery is someone you need a good number of reps against to figure out. But boy did Heisey look overmatched. That guy can't be a regular... come back soon, Bryce. The more capital letters, the better.

Sammy Kent said...

Scherzer pitches a no-no through six, then loses. Even though his bad pickoff throw led to the first run, there's no way to lay this stinker on him. Same old, same old. A bit better than average pitcher having a bit better than average stuff totally handcuffs the mighty Caseys. For the second straight game the only run is a solo dinger, and for the third straight game the Nationals score one big fat solitary run.

Then F.P. Santangelo has the audacity to talk down to the fans for not ignoring all the little red flags that show once again Rizzo has built a team that can win a division but won't last long in the post-season---if we actually do get that far. Yeah, you keep drinking that Kool-Aid, F.P. You aren't nearly as brilliant as you think you are. Twice we've been down this road, once with the best record in the NL, and once with the best record in all of baseball. And where did it get us? When you're in the playoffs, you're not facing fourth- and fifth-place pitching. You're facing first-place pitching. Every game. You better have some serious lumber in the bag because you can't win a 0-0 game no matter how many innings you play.

Anonymous said...

Espi's hot streak was one of the worst things to ever happen to this franchise. It covered up our offensive mess for a month, just before the deadline. Rizzo banked on the fact that we were okay, when we really have 2 pitcher level batters at the back of the lineup each night that KILLS offensive moentum. Add a rough pathc or two from one of the big boys (in this case Harper, Zimm, and now even Murphy this last seriezs) and its what we southerner's call "slim pickins..."

Froggy said...

Man, is Werth all washed up or what!

Froggy said...

We need more guys to suck like him.

Aussie Gus said...

Call it.

NotBobby said...

I see Ike David was just released by Yankees. Wonder if he could be a good piece to put at first with Zim. Then leave TT in CF. He will probably be grabbed before Nats can get him...

NotBobby said...

*Davis

Ben said...

Okay, the Astros are reportedly designating Calos Gomez for assignment. He was the trade deadline object of our desire back in 2014 (or was it just last year?), but has been Espi without the power or hot streak the last year or so. Who thinks it is worth taking a chance on him via waivers to try to sure up our hole at CF?

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