Danny Espinosa: Same Old Trip it Was Back Then
It was just last season that this discussion focused around Ian Desmond and his place as a slightly below average major league short stop with the chance to be an average to above average short stop with some minor development. That certainly changed this past season as Desmond broke out and posted the highest fWAR for NL short stops. Danny Espinosa is in a bit of a different situation but is being treated the same by some around Natstown.
This morning I turned on my radio out of curiosity because a local sports talk host tweeted that he would be discussing the Nats make over. Now I don't believe the Nats need a make over. The team won 98 games and will see improvement from Harper, Strasburg, Storen, Werth, and Ramos playing fuller seasons, and even that is weird to say of a 98 win team. There should be some regression expected from guys like Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond who had career years, but most of the Nationals position players lost at least a month to injury. Health alone will make the Nationals a better team.
Plan A of this make over was to get rid of Danny Espinosa because he struck out too much. The average major league second baseman over 162 games will strike out 113 times. Espinosa struck out 189 times in 160 games. A lot of thos came early in the season when Espinosa was striking out 30% of the time. After that Espinosa cut down on the strikeouts a little, but not be a wide margin as from June onward he struck out 27.8% of the time.
The question though is what would it add if Espinosa did strike out significantly less. Let's say 50 less times. In this new scenario Espinosa struck out 139 times on the season and with his .333 BABIP it would cause him to get 16 additional hits which would raise his average from .247 to .260. That sounds good, but in order to put the ball in play more often Espinosa might have to shorten up his stroke and therefore would lose some power. Espinosa's .155 ISO was 8th in 2012 among all second basemen.
In 2012 Espinosa had a batting line of .247/.315/.402 and the average major league second baseman .257/.318/.383. So far all of this has focused on offense. As an offensive second baseman Danny Espinosa is above average, but defensively he is a short stop playing second base. Espinosa is an elite defender at second base. If Espinosa was a below average hitter instead of an average one he would still have value.
The problem that people have with Espinosa is his one flaw is a major one. If Espinosa didn't strike out as much as he did and hit with the same power then he would not only be one of the better second basemen in baseball, but one of the best players in baseball. Espinosa plays a value position and plays it at a high level and has a bat that can cause some damage. Danny Espinosa is a number seven hitter in a good line-up which is exactly where he fits in with the Nationals.
When it comes to the idea of trading Espinosa the idea makes sense, but not because he is some kind of problem for the Nationals. Espinosa is a short stop playing second base and therefore in a trade would bring short stop value. No player is untouchable and Espinosa could be used in a trade for a player like Justin Upton or Alex Gordon that could help the Nationals to improve their outfield defense and not face much of a drop-off in offensive production. The value added by either of those players would be more than the value lost from replacing Espinosa with Lombardozzi.
When thinking about a trade of Danny Espinosa the Nationals better be certain that what they are getting back is going to be better than the player Espinosa is going to develop into. Imagine how foolish the Nats would look right now if they had traded Ian Desmond before the 2012 season. Think about Espinosa's strikeouts. Most of them are on breaking balls low and out of the zone. The best solution to stop striking out on those pitches is to stop swinging at them. This is an issue that can be fixed. Espinosa can do vision training in order to better pick up the spin of balls and simply not swing at breaking pitches located low and away.
Players with discernable and fixable issues are the ones most likely to break out, and it would be a shame if another teams got to take advantage of Espinosa's break out. Even if Espinosa develops no further 3.8 fWAR from a second baseman is better than 24 other teams received. So to think Espinosa is hurting the Nationals in some way because he strikesout too much is losing sight of all the good Espinosa contributed to a 98 win teams.