Player Preview: Danny Espinosa
Danny Espinosa’s career as a Washington National has been a roller coaster. Starting with a fine rookie season in 2011, a slight regression at the plate in 2012, a labrum injury that wasn’t surgically repaired, a demotion to AAA in 2013 that saw him play far more games in Syracuse than in Washington, and then a moderately better season in 2014 that was better than abysmal. It got to the point that after the 2014 season the Nats brought in Dan Uggla (coming off of a resounding 29 wRC+ in 2014) to bolster the middle infield bats. I hope this drives home the point that very little was expected from Danny Espinosa in 2015.
Then came The Danny Espinosa Renaissance (#TDER). I’m not going to say Espinosa was amazing; but he was certainly a bright spot in a season with few for the Nats and deserved the love he got from the fanbase.
That said here’s the thing, on a more empirical level. With the defense Espinosa plays (read: exquisite) he doesn’t need to be Bryce Harper with the bat. I mean, it’d be reeeeeally great if he were, but to be productive all he needed to do was be average with the bat and rely on his defense to be his calling card. 2015 saw Danny get back to those ways with a slashline of .240/.311/.409 that led him to a perfectly serviceable 94 wRC+.
His adequacy with the bat started early, .808 OPS in April, but it still took Matt Williams a few weeks to get Espinosa into the lineup consistently. Thanks to the many holes in the Nats lineup be they literal (injuries) or figurative (Ian Desmond through, oh, June or so), Espinosa became a mainstay in the lineup at one position or another through July 24th. While July was not his best month (.584 OPS) he’d in 86 of the club’s 95 games and still held an OPS for the season of .730.
Anthony Rendon returned to the Nats lineup on July 25th while Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman both returned on July 28th. Despite his solid production all season to this point, Espinosa saw far less playing time after these injury returns; playing in only 32 of the team’s final 67 games, starting only 15. While by no means his fault, The Danny Espinosa Renaissance (#TDER) ended a little more flatly than most people would’ve liked.
The 2016 offseason started off well for Espinosa with the departure of Ian Desmond via free agency and Yunel Escobar via a trade. Barring positional tomfoolery due to injuries, the signing of Daniel Murphy solidifies Espinosa as the favorite for the starting shortstop job as the Nationals enter spring training with Trea Turner being his primary competition and Stephen Drew as the true utility infielder on the club. Espinosa would have to be handily outperformed to lose his job early and even then I’m not sure that would be enough for him to lose it during spring training.
As far as his 2016 production is concerned I wouldn’t be surprised to see Espinosa put up a similar performance as his 2015 peripherals (including BB%, K%, ISO, BABIP) returned to career averages. The interesting bit will be how long of a leash he has if his performance is found lacking with multiple possible replacements breathing down his neck.