2012 Player Review: Danny Espinosa
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. A new week brings a new player, as we round out the Nationals keystone combination with a deeper look at Danny Espinosa.
A young player’s second full season is often considered his first real test as a Major Leaguer. After turning heads as a rookie – swatting 21 home runs and finishing sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011 – Danny Espinosa faced the task of a league adjusting to him, challenging his weaknesses. Following some early struggles, the 25 year-old made his own adjustments, finishing the season strong. When the dust had settled, though, Espinosa’s second campaign replicated his first almost as closely as humanly possible.
After 658 plate appearances in 2011, Espinosa logged an identical 658 this season. He walked 11 fewer times in 2012, but notched 12 more hits, upping his extra-base hit total from 55 to 56. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all within .012 in one direction or another of his rookie marks. After falling just three stolen bases shy of a 20-20 season in 2011, he was instead three home runs shy this year, but set a new career mark, swiping exactly 20 bags. He also led the team in doubles with 37, two more than Adam LaRoche and one more than Ryan Zimmerman.
The switch-hitter continued to be more consistent from the right side of the plate, notching an OPS more than 80 points higher, but his home run rate was nearly double from the left side, where he hit 14 of his 17 bombs on the season. Perhaps his most memorable longball of the year, though, came from the right side, powering a dramatic, late-inning comeback to beat the Marlins on August 4 at Nationals Park.
One of the more underrated parts of Espinosa’s game, though, is his defense. Combined with Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and LaRoche, the foursome comprised arguably the strongest infield defense in the National League, if not the entire sport. The rangy, strong-armed second baseman could replace many Major League shortstops and did, in fact, take over that spot for the Nationals when Desmond missed a month with an oblique injury.
Espinosa played some of his best baseball of the year during that stretch, batting .313/.366/.527 with eight doubles, six home runs, 21 runs scored and 19 RBI over a 32-game stretch from July 16-August 15 during which the Nats went 22-10. The middle infielder will hope to build upon his second-half success in his first arbitration year in 2013, the same way that Desmond did in his third full season in the Majors. Washington retains team control over Espinosa through the 2015 campaign.