Nationals Baseball: How do you solve a problem like Espinosa?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

How do you solve a problem like Espinosa?

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.


Anonymous said...

very good points made here. It's so disappointing too because he has so much talent but dude strikes out way too much.

DCNatty said...

I would let him strikeout until the All-Star break. If he doesnt show a slight improvement bench him for Lombo. Gettin on base is better then striking out on 3 pitches. He looked like a fool last night against Burnett. I doubt he'll ever see another fastball all year after that display. I was actually embarrassed for him. But i do agree with you on the fact they should let him sink or swim this year. As for it me or does it seem like hes gettin worse defensively? He cant catch ANY balls from the OF and he makes weak attempts at stopping wild Henry.

And in other news...Davey please stop putting Henry out there to close. He just melts in the 9th. Its a shame too considering the rest of the bullpen would have cruised to a save (excpet Perry - did they send that softtosser back down yet?)

Unknown said...

Any chance his increase in swing (and miss) at balls outside of the plate are part of some suggested increase in aggressiveness from Davey?

Until he learns to hit, or not swing at, low offspeed pitches he's going to struggle mightily.

Anonymous said...

You wasted A LOT of time looking up number and analyzing them when all that needs to be said it: "IT'S ONLY MAY. THERE IS A LOT OF FUCKING BASEBALL LEFT. WAIT UNTIL THE BREAK TO WORRY ABOUT PEOPLE STRUGGLING."

DCNatty said...

Apparently ANONYMOUS doesnt watch any baseball. Over a month of baseball has already been played...and ESPI looks lost at the plate. Add that to the 2nd half of last year when he was awful and its not good. not to mention its A LOT of F-ING ABs.

Todd Boss said...

120 plate apperances is a LOT of plate appearances. And Espinosa is getting worse by the day. 3 K's last night against a pitcher with an ERA in the 5's; not exactly impressive.

I think 6 weeks is more than enough time and that he needs to return to Syracuse. Lombardozzi is hitting the hot bat, is also a switch hitter and can instantly replace him at 2nd base. Let Espinosa sort out his swing in lesser pressure in AAA.

If this team had all its big bats around and could "afford" to let its #8 hitter continue to hit .159, then I'd say let him work it out in the majors. With Werth out, Morse nowhere to be seen and large stretches missed thusfar from Zim and LaRoche this team desperately needs offense. Now isn't the time to sit the hot hitting Lombardozzi; now is the time to find a way to keep him in the lineup.

Todd Boss said...

Also, may be time to consider ending his switch hitting days. Not that you can glean much from his splits in 2012, but his 2011 and prior splits are pretty distinctive. He just cannot hit left handed.

Anonymous said...

regarding him hitting just right handed...I've been thinking that for a while now. If dude can't hit, doesn't it make it extra hard to maintain two swings. I say concentrate on one, maybe you'll find something.

Harper said...

Anon - You can strike out alot, but not that much.

DCNatty - I think half a year is fair. You can certainly slump for that long but usually that's gonna be more than just bad luck

As for Ramos - I'm not sure if fans are now looking for it or if he's really regressing. A little of both probably.

Chris Steve - possibly. the problem is correlating it with the increase in walks and pitches seen. Some things are saying more aggressive, some more patient.

Anon - it's not really a lot of time when you know where to look. And yes it's only May but we're stating to drift out of the "Bad start" time frame into the "Uh oh" one. Given that this issue of low average and tons of Ks was always seen as possible for Danny (as opposed to something out of the ordinary) it's worth discussing

DC Natty - Honestly neither the average or the K's bother me much ut if you go back to July of last year you're looking at 7 homers in the last 4+ months of baseball. Danny can't hit that way. Sept looked decent but since it didn't carry over the question of how Danny will really hit is up in the air.

Todd/Anon - Lombo is fine but do you really think more of him than Espinosa or is this grsping at straws. Looking at the minor league numbers I'd rather give Danny a long leash then yank him for someone that'll probably hit an empty .280.

As for hitting lefty... I'm not sure. In both 08 and 09 he was better from the left side of the plate. It's true he Ks way more from the left side but I think we have to hold out on if he definitively HITS better as a righty

Crump said...

Espinosa has gone from seeing 2 spot pitches, in front of a semi-slumping Zimm, to 7 spot pitches in front of an equally slumping Ramos (who's blocking abilities behind the plate are leaving much to be desired). He's barely seeing fastballs, let him stay at it until the break but sub in Lombardozzi a few times to see if there's any improvement.

Ramos on the other hand is seeing about the same because he's always in front of the pitcher. He should be somewhere around 6 or 7. I know it's early and he'll probably end up there at some point but I think Harper should be leading off and Desmond should be hitting 7th or 8th, I like Desmond's aggression but not as the lead-off. Harper is patient and sees more pitches, something a lead-off guy should be doing.

Anonymous said...

And DCNatty just proved that he doesn't know anything about baseball. Thank you for that.

We aren't even a fifth of the way through the season yet. IT IS STILL EARLY.

Anybody doubting Espinosa is an idiot, plain and simple.

Angels12 said...

I'm not a stat hound but I wonder what Espis numbers look like once the weather warms up a little in past years....also, the options Davey has to do anything with this lineup given the injuries (is it me or are injuries really that much greater in this day and age vs years past?) seems to justify letting him hit (or swing) through it

DCNatty said...

I hope you watched the game last night...Its just painful to watch him. And its probably because my expectations for him was to at least be avergae. I realize your point...its STILL EARLY. But if i was in Vegas, Id bet the house that hes sees AAA at some point this year. But like Angels said, hard to do with this many injuries.

And no i dont think there are any MORE injuries. I just think you notice them more when they happen to your team, when youre sitting in first and things are seemingly going well. Thats when they hurt that much more.

Anonymous said...

Its also extremely painful to watch Zimmerman try to hit right now. You think they'll see AAA time together?


DCNatty said...

ZMM?? you really dont watch the games. He sat out for 2 straight weeks and his first game back he smoked 2 balls that Espi could only dream of hitting. haha

Not sure why you have such a boner for Espi - but thats fine. If im proved wrong then ill be happy cause hell be helping them win some games hopefully. I just dont see him ever turning it around. My opinion. You dont have to let your panties get in a bunch over it. relax.

Maybe Anonymous is actually Espi?!?! go hit the cages instead of surfing the internet buddy.

in other news...somehow the Nats are still tied for 1st. The HORRIBLE Mets are making a charge. ESPN has an article about them being good. I think the article should really be about the Phillies being bad.

Harper said...

Crump - love to see Harper leadoff. other guys really don't care as long as they are not hitting.

Angels12 - Last year May and June were good, Jul and August were rough

Anon/DCNatty - I think one thing we have to think about too - what do the coaches think? Do they believe it's just a slump or something more? This is something I don't think I'm qualified to answer (and probably not you guys either, but who knows, one of you might be a swing coach). After a couple weeks or so that really has to drive the decision for the Nats. I'm assuming they don't think it's something he can't work out in the majors, but if he keeps struggling for another month it may be something they have to throw up their hands out and see if some time down will help.

Still I say you go half-year on every player unless he's just so unignorably terrible all around. I don't think Danny is there yet.

Anonymous said...

Every time he steps to the plate with men in scoring position I can't help but think, "oh great, another EspiNOOOOsa strikeout is about to happen"

blovy8 said...

I think it might be easier to work out his problems in the minors than continue to have poor results in the majors. He's already said he wouldn't be surprised to be sent down, he's a results-driven guy who works extremely hard at it. If he's on the bench it solves nothing for him. The question is which thing will do him the most good? If there were an obvious adjustment to be made, more uppercut, looking for certain pitches in certain counts and situations, having a plan, hitting the ball up the middle or the other way, looking at video - that would have all been tried by now.

Harper said...

Anon - that's pretty good. It's hard to work "K" into Danny's name since it lacks that hard sound. Danny Espinosa, seKond base? gah, that's terrible. Danny strike-n-out-a? Worse. got nothing.

blovy8 - and I think that will be why he's sent down (if he doesn't bounce back) - because they've run out of ideas.

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