Sometimes it doesn’t make logical sense. Common sense, maybe, but not logical sense. Albert Einstein once famously said that "common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18" and we’ve all grown up with a prejudice against players with a .233 batting average. And no, I’m not the first to jump on the "batting-average-isn’t-descriptive-enough" bandwagon but, well, batting average isn’t descriptive enough.
Our homepage poll offers a list of possible Nats to represent Our Boys in the All-star Game and Danny Espinosa’s not there. He’s what George Harrison was to the Beatles. Just because you’re behind Paul McCartney and John Lennon doesn’t mean you’re not a great musician.
But there’s one simple fact that needs to be recognized: Danny Espinosa deserves to be in the 2011 All-star game.
Part of the lack of recognition is for the way Espinosa gets the job done. Not only does he have a low batting average, he hits far fewer line drives than the average player which is usually a quick way to get nowhere at the plate. This is the primary reason that a quick look at his peripherals offers up a quizzical look from even those fans that look past the low batting average. He has a career BABIP of .250 which is well below the league average which tends to hover around .300 (it was .297 in 2010). The normal thought process is that if someone has a low BABIP, they’ll usually have that trend a bit higher and it’ll normalize around .300. But in this case the low line drive percentage is probably the main reason for the low BABIP and that’s not something that “just changes” without a change in approach. If he maintains a low line drive rate we shouldn’t expect this BABIP to increase drastically.
So wait… why is he still worth our attention? He has a .233 batting average and we shouldn’t expect him to get much luckier in terms of balls in play in the future?
Espinosa makes up for his low line drive rate with a pretty substantial homerun-per-flyball rate of 15.7% over his short career (the league average was 10.6% last year). And remember that low line drive rate? Most of those line drives get turned into fly balls. So not only do more of his flyballs go for homeruns, but he hits many more fly balls than the average player (the technical term for this phenomenon is “Boom-shaka-laka”). He also helps make up for his lack of line drives by accounting for almost 40% of the Nationals’ hit-by-pitch plate appearances this season(this phenomenon is also known as “Boom-shaka-laka”).
So that’s who Espo is. I don’t know if he clubs baby seals, I don’t know if steals candy from babies, and I don’t know if he pops his collar and shows off his Oakleys at family reunions, but based on what he does on the field, we know who he is.
So what has he done this year? And why does he deserve to be on the all-star team? First, he is among the premier offensive second basemen in the league. Among NL 2nd basemen he’s second in slugging percentage, 2nd in OPS, and 2nd in weighted on-base average (wOBA). That’s right, he’s behind only Rickie Weeks in each of these three categories (.463, .784, and .348, respectively) and there needs to be a backup two-bagger on the NL all-star team. That right there should be enough to put him on the team. And let’s also not forget that there’s roughly an 80% chance Rickie Weeks injures himself sneezing or tripping over a blade of grass between now and then. That can’t be overlooked.
Secondly, he has been absolutely monstrous against lefties which should be of particular interest to the manager of the NL All-star team this year. Espinosa has a thumpalicious .993 OPS against southpaws meaning when you need a pinch-hitter against some hot-shot AL lefty in the all-star game you could do much worse. Strategically it makes a lot of sense to have him on your bench.
Third, Fangraphs.com has Danny Espinosa ranked first among NL 2nd basemen in both aggregated baserunning score and total fielding score. As great as he’s been at the plate, he’s been even better on the basepaths and on defense. When defending a lead late in the game or in need of a pinch-runner, he’s an ideal candidate. Again, strategically it makes a lot of sense to have him on your bench.
Maybe Espinosa is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NL. Maybe he’ll continue getting no respect. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Bruce Bochy will grab Espo for the All-star game if he isn’t voted in. On a related note, however, I often have no idea what I’m talking about.