Last night Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa launched his 20th home run of the year. The shot helped him become just the third rookie second baseman in MLB history to hit 20 home runs or more in a season, and it also tied him for the franchise rookie mark. In short, it was a good night to be Danny Espinosa, and a proud moment for our franchise.
Unfortunately, snap shots don’t always provide the fullest picture, especially in a 162 game season. While Espinosa’s first full campaign has provided a solid hitting line of .238/.324/.416 with 20 home runs, 62 RBI, and 68 R, the 24-year-old has left Nationals fans wanting with a less than desirable second half.
In 58 games since the All-Star break, Espinosa has recorded just four home runs and 10 RBI, leaving many around Washington wondering where their star second baseman has disappeared to. While his batting average has only slightly dropped, down to .232 in the second half from .242 in the first, his overall production has absolutely vanished. In 92 games in the first half Espinosa had hit 16 home runs and drove in 52 RBI.
A look at the numbers paints an odd picture. In July, August, and September, Espinosa has seen his batting average go down, but his walk percentage go up. Over the same period he has been hitting more line drives and ground balls, and has decreased his fly ball percentage. When most batters struggle you tend to see these numbers take a dip, not increase, which is what makes Espinosa’s vanishing act even stranger.
One possibility is that he’s hit the rookie wall. In his college and minor league career the infielder had never played more than 133 games in a season, and the minor league drag is hard to compare to the day-in-day-out grueling lifestyle the major league demands. You wouldn’t think it because of his incredibly strong frame, but it’s a possibility that Espinosa is just tired, especially from the waist down. Often times when you see players lose their power but keep their averages at a normal state, it’s a result of a leg injury or leg fatigue, because legs are used to drive the ball while arms and wrists are used to frame it and make contact.
Even if this were the case though, the incredible drop off in RBI is still startling. The team is not playing as well as it was in July, for sure, but there have still been base runners and overall since that point, the offense has improved. This drop off has to make you wonder if Espinosa is as good as we think he is, or if he just had a great stretch early in the season. Often times when rookies come into the league they are overvalued for their whole career based on the first few months of their season. Perhaps Espinosa is just a streaky ball player? We’ve seen these types, the ones who can carry a team on their back when they get it going, but can also disappear at the drop of the hat.
The truth is we just don’t know. We don’t know what Espinosa is, where his run production has gone, or why. All we can do is speculate, and wait to see what happens next year.The good news is, there are a few things we do know. First is that Espinosa is an absolutely tremendous defensive second baseman who provides value to the team even when his bat is struggling. Second, we know that at stretches, even at the age of 24, he has the ability to provide one of the hottest bats in the game. Lastly we know that he is a true warrior who is a great presence in the clubhouse.
Espinosa's slump started when he quit hitting 5th and 6th and was moved up to the 2 hole. He has been moved back down in the line up and things have come back together some as well.
I would think that it's related to two things: 1.) It's hard to have a batting average that low and still maintain consistent HR and RBI production; 2.) Opposing pitchers have caught up to him and adjusted.
With point #1, a higher average would probably even out his production streak, as would a lower strikeout rate. Considering his low average, however, brings up point #2. Opposing pitchers know that he strikes out and struggles at times at the plate. By paying closer attention to him, they've probably cut down on their own mistakes that have resulted in HR's and RBI's in Espinosa's box score.
Now it's up to him to adjust.
@szul I feel those are both factors, but it's such a huge drop off that it worries me it could be something more.