Article By James O’Hara
When asked at the beginning of the season about how he felt being the everyday second baseman for the Washington Nationals, Danny Espinosa’s answer was a bit surprising: he expected to be in the majors since day one. “I’ve always tried to push myself beyond what I am. Maybe those goals are beyond my reach. I’m still going to set them that way” Espinosa said.
Perhaps this is why, as the calendar turns to July, the 24-year old rookie has exceeded all expectations for him coming into the season and has turned into one of the bona-fide stars on what may be the best team in the Nationals’ short history. Espinosa has become an excellent two-way player and should easily find himself not only playing in the All Star Game in Arizona this summer, but also as the leading contender for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award.
If the All Star Game selections were fair, and unfortunately we all know that they are not, Danny would easily slide into a reserve role for the N.L. team this year. With usual stalwarts Dan Uggla and Chase Utley dealing with a massive slump and early season injury problems, respectively, the competition at second is nominal to say the least and Espinosa is taking full advantage. He is incredibly efficient with his bat with a wOBA (Weighted Batting Average) of .350 and a wRAA (Weighted Runs Above Average) of 8.8, which both rank second in terms of NL second baseman, demonstrates that when he hits the ball you are getting your money’s worth. By more standard metrics, his 15 home runs and 48 RBI’s are first and second for National League second baseman respectively.
Despite his magic with the bat, he may be an even better fielder as he ranks in the top two second baseman in the National League in many defensive statistics. Especially brilliant are his RZR (Revised Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) numbers, .833 and 0, which are first and second for National League second baseman. Danny is clearly excelling in every facet of the game right now and is arguably one of the best second baseman in the National League this season which should earn him the All Star nod.
Yet as strong as his case is to be in the All Star Game, that is nothing compared to how he should be running away and hiding with the NL Rookie of the Year award right now. His 15 home runs, 48 RBI’s, UZR(Ultimate Zone Rating) of 4.2, and WAR(Wins Above Replacement) of 3.0 lead all rookies across both leagues. In addition his wOBA of .350, wRAA of 8.8, OPS of .791, and WPA (Win Probability Added) of 1.45 are all good enough for second place among all rookies in the Major League.
But what might be even more important than the numbers is that the kid just knows how to play ball, showing experience and attitude years beyond his age. “[Espinosa] plays hard-nosed baseball. He plays the game the right way,” teammate Jayson Werth said. “He comes to play every day. He’s here early. He works hard. He does all the right things, says all the right things. He’s intense. He learns quick. He gives it his all up there. There’s not a whole lot that you don’t like about him.”
Despite how impossible it seems that one of our beloved Nats not named Ryan Zimmerman is this good, Danny is most definitely the real deal and should be racking up the accolades this year with relative ease.
Only one thing may stand between Danny and the recognition he deserves, his subpar batting average of .239. Yet as the other statistics above prove this stat does not paint a very accurate picture of Espinosa’s hitting prowess, but it might be something that the powers that be get hung up on. But even if Espinosa does not get the respect he so clearly deserves he has already cemented a small place in baseball history, with his 15th home run on Monday he now has the all-time mark for home runs by a rookie second baseman before the All Star break.