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.