.242/.301/.360 – 4 HRs, 6 SBs
After seeing scant major league appearances in his first two seasons, Wilmer Difo has become something of a lineup staple with the Washington Nationals since the start of 2017.
He has played in 241 games and earned 712 plate appearances over the last two years. But, his .676 OPS in the process ranks just 41st among the 44 second basemen with at least 500 PAs over that span.
The Nationals will likely fancy themselves an NL East contender once again in 2019, so at first blush, it seems untenable to operate with one of the worst offensive second basemen in baseball. However, there are some silver linings that do make Difo more of a credible option as an Opening Day option.
Difo’s starter/sub splits have been bandied about over the last 18 months on Nats Twitter, but they are worth repeating here. In 167 career starts, the 25-year-old owns a respectable, albeit unimpressive, .709 OPS in 676 PAs.
That number craters to an unplayable .481 OPS in 113 PAs as an in-game replacement. Pinch-hitting is quite difficult, but Difo seems to worse at it then most, which is unfortunate since he was often relegated to that role behind Murphy.
Difo would ideally post numbers closer to his career starting marks as a regular in 2019, something we’ve already seen in his first three games since Murphy was traded to Chicago. Difo is 3-10 in those games with a home run, a triple, and a double on the ledger.
Still, handing a starting spot to a player who will post a low-.700’s OPS with average defense and decent speed seems like a fool’s errand for a playoff hopeful.
Difo is best used as an injury fill-in across the infield or as part of a two, or even three-man platoon. Locking him into a starting role not only weakens second base but also causes issues should Anthony Rendon or Trea Turner miss time.