Sep 9, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa (8) runs off the field during the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park. Washington Nationals defeated against the Atlanta Braves 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The past few years have been extremely frustrating for Washington Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa.
After making his way through the minor leagues in just two years, Espinosa looked to be on the fast track to becoming the Nationals’ second baseman of the future. Over the years, however, injuries and inconsistency with the bat have hurt him badly and its unlikely that the Nationals view him as anything more than a utility player.
While injuries are certainly part of the reason for Espinosa’s struggles, it’s pretty clear that the main issue with the 27-year-old infielder is his hitting–particularly from the left side of the plate. Espinosa, a switch-hitter by trade, has a career batting average of .213 from the left side of the plate, and an average of .271 from the right side of the plate.
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Switch-hitting is a rare commodity and it can be extremely beneficial for both the player and the offense as a whole. But when a player, like Espinosa, is not being able to contribute from one side of the plate, the value of his switch hitting capabilities is overshadowed by the liability he creates.
One obvious way to manage that problem is to ditch switch-hitting and focus solely on the side of the plate that has proven to be the strongest side, which, for Espinosa, would be the right side of the plate. And after struggling as a switch-hitter his whole big league career, it looks like that’s exactly what Espinosa is going to do in 2015.
There has been talk for a while of Espinosa becoming exclusively a right-handed hitter, but now it looks like his days as a switch-hitter are actually over. According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, Espinosa will officially become a right-handed hitter starting next season–a decision that could change the downward course of his career.
Although having a switch-hitter like Espinosa on the bench would be an asset for the Nationals, keeping Espinosa on the right-side of the plate could prove to be even more rewarding. Espinosa’s struggles from the left-side have been well documented and have prompted many to believe that the team should simply get rid of Espinosa. Equally well-documented, however, is Espinosa’s success from the right side of the plate.
Just by looking at statistics from the 2014 season, it’s clear that Espinosa’s switch-hitting abilities are largely lopsided to the right side of the plate. When Espinosa hit right-handed, he was hitting as well as he’s ever hit in his career. The infielder hit .301 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage from the right side, while hitting a miserable .183 with 97 strikeouts batting left-handed. There’s no question that Espinosa was the weakest hitter in the Nationals’ offense last season, but if you focus only on his numbers from the right side, he wasn’t bad at all.
Of course, there’s no way to know if hitting only right-handed will solve all of Espinosa’s problems. After all, he’s only batted right-handed against right-handed pitchers 13 times in his career. Ladson writes that Espinosa will get more experience facing righty’s from the right side this spring, but if he’s unable to adjust to breaking balls batting right-handed, he could end up hitting even worse than he did as a switch hitter.
That said, having Espinosa as a switch hitter was not working out for the Nationals, and having him hit exclusively right-handed could be just what Espinosa needs to turn his career around. If Espinosa is able to continue his success from the right side against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers next season, he could become a valuable weapon for the Nationals both this year and beyond.
If the transition works as planned for Espinosa, he would not only give the Nationals a reliable bat off the bench (a hot commodity these days), but he could also give them another option at second base in case Yunel Escobar falters.
Furthermore, if Espinosa is able to become the hitter the Nationals expected him to be when he made it to the big leagues in 2010, he could give the team another option to replace Ian Desmond at shortstop if he leaves via free agency next winter. We already know how good Espinosa is with the glove and how strong his arm is. If he can find a way to improve his offense, it could be huge both for him and for the Nationals.
We won’t know for sure if Espinosa’s transition to the right side of the plate will work until we see him in action next season. One thing’s for certain, it’s definitely worth it to give it a try.