Washington Nationals' Danny Espinosa: First-Half ROY? Nats' MVP?

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 8: Danny Espinosa #18 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out in fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park on July 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Colorado Rockies won, 3-2. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In explaining the decision to name Nats' second baseman Danny Espinosa the first-half Rookie of the Year over equally impressive first-year players like the Mets' right-hander Dillon Gee, (who's (8-3) for NY, with a 3.76 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and a low .247 BABIP), or the Braves' Craig Kimbrel, (who has 27 saves, 70 K's (14.00 K/9), a 2.40 ERA, and a 1.40 FIP in 45.0 IP this season for Atlanta), SI.com's Tom Verducci wrote last week that though Washington's 24-year-old '08 3rd Round pick out Long Beach State University, "...strikes out too often and doesn't get on base often enough...his 15 homers and .800 OPS out of the second base position are impressive."

Espinosa's collected hits in seven of nine games in July, with 11 hits in 33 at bats, a .333/.450/.515 slash line, three doubles, a HR and three stolen bases after a breakout June in which he posted a .274/.345/.472 slash with six doubles, five home runs and five stolen bases in 27 games and 106 at bats. On the year, the switch-hitting infielder, who was drafted as a shortstop but flipped to second since Ian Desmond was already playing short in D.C., has a .247/.337/.470 line with 15 doubles, a team-leading 16 HR's, 12 stolen bases and team-high 52 RBI's. 

Espinosa got an endorsement as an All-Star if not the ROY from teammate Ryan Zimmerman on the MLB Network Radio show Inside Pitch with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern earlier this week. "[Espinosa's] on pace to hit 30 homers," Zimmerman said, "he's got, it's either 14 or 15 right now, with 50 RBI's, and if you ask me, I think he should be in the All-Star game. I think if you look at the position of second base and you have a guy that's on pace to hit 30 and drive in a hundred, any time you talk about 30 and 100 anywhere in the big leagues, especially second base, it's something special." 

Espinosa told ESPN 980's The Sports Fix's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro that even he was surprised by the HR total so far. "I thought I could get about eight to ten by the half," Espinosa said, "but definitely the HR's have been surprising." Asked how he's been able to hit them, Espinosa said, "I honestly have no idea. Maybe the balls are a little bit harder in the big leagues? I don't know. I've gotten my swing down to where I've had [a] more consistent swing since I struggled early, my swing has been a lot better and it's been more consistent, so I might just be giving myself a better opportunity to drive the ball." 

ESPN.com's Jayson Stark was equally impressed with the Nats' rookie second baseman's power, writing this week in an article entitled, "Time for baseball's midseason awards", that Espinosa is, "...the first rookie second baseman ever to thump 16 home runs before the All-Star break and has given himself a shot to become the first to hit 30 in a season." But it the Nats' second baseman's production across the board that's set Espinosa apart from the ROY crowd according to Mr. Stark: 

"It's Espinosa who leads all NL rookies in homers, slugging, extra-base hits, runs scored, RBIs and even stolen bases. And if we use wins above replacement as our guide, it isn't even close (3.3 for Espinosa, 1.9 for Kimbrel, 0.8 for [Freddie] Freeman)."

Espinosa's up to +3.4 WAR now, the best WAR on the Nationals over Wilson Ramos (+1.9) and Michael Morse (+1.6), and the sixth-best WAR amongst second baseman league-wide. His +6.0 UZR/150 is seventh-best amongst second baseman in the majors, and Espinosa's 16 HR's are tied for the second-most in all of baseball among second baseman with the D-Backs' Kelly Johnson (16) behind the Brewers' Rickie Weeks (17). If he keeps this up in the second-half it will be hard to argue against Espinosa as the NL ROY. The Nats' shortstop at second is making a name for himself and doing so just as the Nationals are starting to get national attention, but it's a 162-game season, and Espinosa's only halfway there. If he keeps it up he'll be going home with some hardware this Fall. 

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