In an interview posted today on washingtonpost.com, Danny Espinosa expressed his desire to play in all 162 games for the Nationals this season. So far, he is right on pace, appearing in all 97 of the team’s games (starting 94 of them). Playing every game in a season is a noble undertaking, and the Nationals have little reason to not accommodate his request. Espinosa has made a very strong case to be the National League Rookie of the Year, and his value to the team is perhaps even greater than that. If you consider what Espinosa has added to this team and the position that he plays, you understand why Danny Espinosa’s emergence this season is a big key to this franchise’s future.
Even with a couple of true stars playing the keystone (Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia), second base has become the most impotent offensive position in baseball (save for possibly catcher). There is not a single regular second baseman in the Majors that is currently hitting over .300 (the Cubs’ Darwin Barney is closest, at .299). Power is limited as well, as Rickie Weeks’ 19 homers tops the position and Neil Walker has driven in the most runs with 62.
Getting power out of your second baseman is becoming increasingly rare and valuable. The position has been so devoid of power in recent years, it is becoming en vogue to move good-hitting outfielders there in the minors, as the Mariners and Indians did with top prospects Dustin Ackley and Jason Kipnis. The 28 second base-qualified (in fantasy terms) players with 300 PA this season average 7.9 homers and 39.2 RBIs. That’s 1.9 homer and 4.2 RBIs better than the numbers put up by Houston Astros third baseman Chris Johnson. Who? Exactly. A second baseman who can produce runs is a rare and valuable commodity.
Consider Dan Uggla. This season’s sub-Mendoza batting average (.192) is a bit of an anomaly, but he has never had a knack for getting on base. His career batting average is just .256. He is also somewhat of a disaster in the field, statistically speaking (according to Baseball Reference, Uggla cost his team 10 runs in the field last season). Still, the agreed-upon logic with Uggla was that he was a second baseman with power, something so rare that you can overlook his laundry list of shortcomings. If you look at what the Braves gave up to acquire him this winter (All-Star Omar Infante and reliever Michael Dunn, who the Braves had just landed for Javier Vazquez), you understand just how high team’s value power at second base.
Danny Espinosa offers everything Uggla does, and arguably even more. He hits for power and drives in runs. He, too, strikes out a bit too much, but he far exceeds Uggla as a fielder. Using the same Baseball Reference dork-stats, Espinosa’s glove has saved the Nats 7 runs this year (and provided some great fodder for late-night highlight shows).
In his rookie season, Espinosa has quickly established himself as one of the best run producers at second base (and made himself a fantasy darling). He is third at the position in homers and sixth in RBIs. His WAR of 3.5 is the fifth-best among second sackers, and he is a switch-hitter to boot. Yes, his batting average and OBP is poor (.242/.329) but is steadily improving and should continue to get better with age and maturity. Plus, in keeping with the theme of the day, the Nationals would be glad to trade a little OBP if they keep getting pop and production from second base.
As good as Espinosa compares to second basemen league-wide, it still understates his importance in DC. Espinosa has quickly stabilized a position that has been in flux for the entire existence of the Nationals. The Nationals have not had the same regular starter at second in back-to-back seasons since Jose Vidro retired in 2006. Second baseman have provided just 31 homers for the Nats since 2006, and Espinosa is on pace to hit 28 this season.
The Nationals are slowly building a contender, and Espinosa is making himself a crucial piece of that plan. Whereas second base is a offensive blackhole on many teams, a productive bat at that position is commodity common to most of the best teams in baseball. Take a second to think about it, and names like Chase Utley, Cano, Pedroia, Ian Kinser, and Brandon Phillips come to mind. A second baseman that produces runs gives teams like the Phillies, Yankees, and Rangers an edge over their competition. Danny Espinosa could provide the very same thing for competitive Nats’ teams in the coming seasons.
News and notes from Nationals Park:
- Davey Johnson is currently considering when Tom Gorzelanny will pitch next, and when Pudge will be ready to return.
- Stephen Strasburg keeps making positive progress
- Ryan Zimmerman talks up the team’s chemistry.
Small notes from around the Bigs: Yes, we are still 11 days from the trade deadline, but things have been pretty quiet on the market so far. The biggest deal to date has been the Giants acquisition of Jeff Keppinger. What a blockbuster! Some big names may move (Carlos Beltran, Heath Bell, Derek Lowe are names being bandied about), but this could be a quiet season for deals. There are a few different and distinct reasons for this potential trend. A couple surprise competitors (the Pirates and Indians) are small-market teams, and are unlikely to take on big contracts or give up on talented youngsters. A few teams had such big offseason makeovers (the Brewers are a prime example), that they have little desire or lack the pieces to deal. Plus, young players like Josh Reddick in Boston and Freddie Freeman in Atlanta have stepped up to fill holes. The Braves and Red Sox may not make long-tipped moves for a bat as a result. Some small deals will definitely be made, but do not be surprised if a Josh Willingham trade is the biggest news on August 1.
As always, check out Patrick’s homepage for all of his thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow Patrick on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: The Head and The Heart – “Lost in my Mind”
Nats Video of the Day: The Nationals’ PSA in support of the military and their families. Ignore the wack-job comments, this is a great cause.