Danny Espinosa: National League Ranking


Sep 9, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman

Danny Espinosa

(8) doubles during the seventh inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Washington Nationals defeated against the Atlanta Braves 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Starting today and throughout the coming weeks, we will be ranking each Washington Nationals starter and a couple of bench players to see where they rank at their positions in the National League. Today’s column focuses on Danny Espinosa.

In this ranking for Espinosa we will be using statistics from last year only. For most of these player comparisons, we will be using two years to get a decent sample size. However, since Espinosa was injured most of 2013, using numbers from the last two years skewed the results. The 2014 statistics being used are courtesy of FanGraphs.

I will analyze standard offensive and defensive statistics, as well as advanced statistics. This will give us a full picture of who the best players are at that position. To put the players in some type of order, we will be using WAR. That gives us a baseline to start the analysis.

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In 2014, the top five National League second basemen by WAR were (in order) Chase Utley, Neil Walker, Dee Gordon, Daniel Murphy and Emilio Bonifacio. Out of 46 NL players who had at least fifty at bats at the position, Danny Espinosa ranked number 18. Interestingly, Asdrubal Cabrera ranks number 16 on the list.

FanGraphs also lists players using a statistic called Off (combined hitting and baserunning) and Def (total defensive value) and looking at those numbers for second basemen is very interesting.

Utley is the only player on the top five list with positive offensive and defensive numbers. Utley’s off rating is 7.6, and his def rating is 10.3. Walker has an off rating of 21.5, and a def rating of -4.8. Gordon’s numbers are off 10.2, def -1.3. Murphy sports an off of 10.8, but has a -4.5 def rating. Bonifacio has an off of -10.3, and a def of 10.8. There are lots of splits like this going down the list.

According to the statistics, usually you either get a good hitting second baseman and give up something on defense, or get a good defender and give up something on offense. Utley’s WAR was 4.1, Walker’s was 3.7, Gordon’s 3.1, Murphy’s 2.8 and Bonifacio’s 2.1. National League second basemen are not high WAR guys.

Where does Danny Espinosa fit into this discussion? Espinosa’s WAR for 2014 was 0.6, exactly the same as Chone Figgins from the Dodgers and Asdrubal Cabrera, his teammate on the Nationals. Second base in general is not a high WAR position for any team. Jordany Valdespin of the Marlins had a WAR of 0.1. The Cardinals Daniel Descalso had a WAR of -0.1 and Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks posted a WAR of -0.7.

Espinosa’s off was -10.0, but his def was 4.2. No surprise there. Espinosa is known as a good fielding second baseman. His ability to play the position has never been in doubt. His offensive production has always been the factor that has held him back.

Looking at OPS, which evaluates offensive production on power, contact and patience at the plate, Espinosa ranked 26th out of the 46 NL players that had at least fifty at bats at the second base position. His OPS was .634. The top five players in OPS at second base were Kristopher Negron of the Reds (.810), Rickie Weeks of the Brewers (.809), Neil Walker of the Pirates (.809), Scooter Gennett of the Brewers (.754) and Chase Utley of the Phillies (.746).

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Espinosa’s high strikeout numbers reduce his OPS, as does his low average hitting from the left side of the plate. Espinosa’s batting average splits for 2014 were .183 hitting from the left side and .301 hitting from the right side.

Danny slides to number 30 on the list of qualified NL second basemen when analyzing his wOBA (weighted on base average), which is a statistic that tries to measure different aspects of hitting and weighs them in proportion to their run value. Espinosa’s wOBA for 2014 was .280.

Some part of this low stat may be a function of hitting eighth in the lineup. It is harder to accumulate RBI’s and significant hits from the eight hole. Even if Espinosa gets a hit and gets on, if there are two outs the pitcher is probably not going to be able to get him in and can’t bunt him over. With one out, the pitcher may be able to bunt him over, but with two outs at that point he’s probably getting stranded at second or third. Singles out of the eight hole don’t tend to mean much to the outcome of the game.

In reviewing wOBA for all Major League second basemen with at least 100 plate appearances, Jose Altuve of the Astros is on top of the leaderboard with .363, followed by Mookie Betts of the Red Sox with .361 and Robinson Cano with .361, Rickie Weeks with .359, and Kristopher Negron and Neil Walker both with .356. Espinosa is 46th out of 72 players on the list.

Now lets examine UZR/150 or Ultimate Zone Rating (scaled to 150 games) which is a great metric for comparing players based on defense, as it calculates the number of runs a fielder saves (or gives up) in range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.

Espinosa ranks 6th among 16 players who played at least 500 innings at second base in 2014, with a UZR/150 rating of 4.0. Darwin Barney is head and shoulders above all other regular NL second basemen, with a UZR/150 rating of 17.0, followed by D.J. LeMahieu at 11.0, Brandon Phillips at 10.4, Chase Utley at 8.5 and Kolten Wong at 4.2. Dee Gordon, Neil Walker and Daniel Murphy all had a negative UZR/150 for the season, meaning that their fielding cost their teams runs.

In looking at the UZR/150 rating for all players in Major League Baseball, Danny Espinosa compares favorably with all players with at least 500 innings at the position. The only player with a higher UZR/150 rating than Barney is Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox, with a rating of 20.4. Espinosa is twelfth on the list out of 31 players.

Overall, Espinosa defensively is in the top third of second basemen in the major league. This is not exactly shocking having watched Espinosa play for four years with the Nationals.

Check back here tomorrow as we continue our NL player rankings series with Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon.

Note: The excellent descriptions of the meaning and components of statistics used in this post were provided by District On Deck Editor Pablo Roa.