Danny Espinosa: A Man Misunderstood
Today everyone's favorite Twitter account @MASNCommenter, started tweeting out comments from the latest post on the MASN Facebook page. Today's post asked commenters if they would like to see Danny Espinosa back on the Nationals, which was met with a resounding and completely misinformed no. Espinosa suffers from recency bias. After a terrible injury-hampered 2013 campaign, many seem to have completely forgotten how good of a player he was the previous two seasons. So I'm here to remind them. To start off, here are two bar graphs comparing the average Major League second baseman to Danny Espinosa in 2011 and 2012 in a number of hitting statistics.
As you can see Espinosa was average to above average in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and the most accurate statistical measure of offense, wOBA. The only measure where Espinosa fell short was in batting average, which is the least predictive statistic in the chart. Altogether Espinosa was a slightly above average hitter for a second baseman in both seasons.
This is where someone will bring up Espinosa's penchant for striking out and yes, Espinosa has a high strikeout percentage for his career at 27.1%. However, strikeouts, as I've written about before, are no different from any other out. And all of the above numbers include strikeouts and as we've already discovered, Espinosa was average to above average in all of them. So, while it's not ideal that he strikes out so frequently, he was still able to perform at a high level despite that.
Espinosa's main value isn't his offense though, it's his defense. He is a shortstop playing second base and it shows. In 2011 Espinosa saved 3.7 runs above average and did so again in 2013 despite his struggles offensively. In 2012 Espinosa saved a whopping 16.4 runs above average. Espinosa provides superb defense at second base and has shown the flexibility to defend other positions just as well.
In 2011, Espinosa was worth 3.2 wins above replacement, which was eighth best among qualified second basemen. In 2012, Espinosa was worth 3.4 wins above replacement, which was seventh best among qualified second basemen. In those two years Espinosa established himself as one of the better all-around second basemen in the game and only a handful of teams wouldn't have wanted him as their starting second baseman.
Then Espinosa tore his rotator cuff and injured his wrist and had a terrible year from the plate in 2013. After putting up near identical batting lines in 2011 and 2012, Espinosa hit .158/.193/.272 and a .206 wOBA. It's not difficult to believe that this was a fluke though, considering how consistent he had been before that season. That was enough though, for Espinosa to lose the starting second baseman's job to Anthony Rendon, who will continue to hold it in 2014.
And that's the larger point here, the Nationals aren't asking Espinosa to come back as a starter. They aren't even guaranteeing him a spot as the utility infielder. They've brought in veterans Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot on minor league deals to compete with him along with already-in-place youngsters Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters and veteran Will Rhymes.
If Espinosa shows in spring that his 2013 wasn't a fluke, then any of those five guys will jump on the opportunity to become the utility infielder. However, if Espinosa hits like he did in 2011 and 2012, the Nationals will have the most overqualified utility infielder in the majors. In the end this is about second chances. Espinosa can still be a valuable member of the Nationals organization and considering the potential he exhibited in his first two seasons he should be given the opportunity to prove it.