Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
Washington Nationals' second baseman led the NL in Ks in 2012 and finished third overall in the majors in strikeouts. It's all about contact for the Nats' 25-year-old infielder.
In 2012, Danny Espinosa had the NL's second-highest O-Swing%, ("The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone," as defined by Fangraphs.com), behind only Cincinnati Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips who finished at 40.7%, with 40.5% of the pitches Espinosa swung at this past season outside of the strike zone. In his second full major league season, the 25-year-old Washington Nationals' second baseman had the third-lowest O-Contact% among qualified second baseman at 57.0% ahead of only Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks at 53.2% and Atlanta's Dan Uggla 51.2% among second baseman in terms of contact made on the pitches swung at that were outside of the zone.
As for pitches inside the zone, Espinosa had a 70.4% Z-Swing%, ("The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone" as Fangraphs.com explains the stat), behind only the Reds' Phillips, who was at 74.0%. The Nats' '08 2nd Round pick out of Cal State Long Beach had the second-lowest Z-Contact%, making contact with 81.5% of the pitches he swung at inside the zone, with only the Braves' Uggla (78.3% Z-Contact%) making less contact on pitches inside the zone this season amongst qualified second baseman.
As for straight-up Contact%, ("The overall percentage [of pitches] a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat," again according to Fangraphs.com), Espinosa had the second-lowest Contact% among second baseman in the National League in 2012 with a 70.6% Contact%, ahead of only Uggla (70.1%). Since he was swinging away at pitches outside the zone and struggling to make contact, Espinosa saw the second-lowest percentage of pitches inside the zone among qualified NL second baseman, with a 41.8% Zone%, ahead of only the Pirates' Neil Walker, 40.1% Zone%.
Espinosa led all second baseman in strikeouts in 2012, with 189 in 160 games and 594 plate appearances, which was good for 3rd overall in the majors, behind only Curtis Granderson (195 Ks) and Adam Dunn (222 Ks).
Espinosa finished his second full season with a .247/.315/.402 line, 37 doubles, two triples, 17 HRs and 20 SBs with a .989 fld%, up from .982 in 2011, six errors, down from 14 in 2011 and a +7.1 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) up from +1.0 in 2011. The Nats' infielder was worth +3.8 fWAR, up from +3.5 fWAR in 2011, with the +3.8 the sixth-highest amongst 2B league-wide and the third highest in the NL behind only Brandon Phillips, +4.0 fWAR and the D-Backs' Aaron Hill, +6.2 fWAR.
Without the help of a strong .300/.330/.490 month of July, during a four-week stretch in which Espinosa had a .403 BABIP, things would have been worse for the infielder, who followed up on a .232/.309/.374 first-half with a .264/.321/.432 line after the All-Star Break before going 1 for 15 with two walks and seven Ks over the first five postseason games of his career. Bill James' projections say that the Nationals are likely to get a .253/.327/.434 line out of their second baseman in 2013, 31 doubles, 21 HRs, 82 runs scored.
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson expects to see continued improvement on the part of his switch-hitting infielder. "You know, he's just a young hitter, aggressive, tons of talent," the 69-year-old manager told reporters during the NLDS, "You know, he just needs to stay within himself."
"He's still learning how to make adjustments up here," Johnson explained, and he's one of several Nationals who have yet to reach their potential in the Nats' veteran manager's opinion. "We still," Johnson said, then paused before changing direction, "... a lot of guys haven't hit their stride. There's still a bigger ceiling for a number of players on this ballclub."
When Johnson assessed the talent in the organization before deciding to come back for the 2012 campaign, he thought the Nationals had the talent to compete for a postseason berth. As he told reporters last week after being named NL Manager of the Year for leading his team to 98 wins, the NL East crown and a loss in the NLDS, "My evaluation of the talent after the 2011 season, I think it was pretty correct." Hopefully for the Nats, Johnson's right about Espinosa too.