Sunday, April 3, 2011

Expectations for Espinosa

Danny Espinosa is a promising player. He's an above-average fielder now, and could emerge as a league-average hitter at a scarce position. There's a lot of value in that.

And the Nationals are clearly doing the right thing handing him the starting job at second base to open the season. They have no chance of contending, and now's the time to find out what the 24-year-old can do.

But fans who are expecting Espinosa to make a major contribution this year are expecting far too much. In the Expansion Era, there have been 38 second basemen to get 400 or more at bats in their first season, and only 4 of them had an OPS+ over 110 (or, offensive production 10% better than average): Rod Carew, Dan Uggla, Dave Stapleton, and Delino DeShields. That's a hall-of-famer, a perennial all-star, and two famously fluky rookie seasons.

It's just really really hard to come to the majors and play that well, especially at a difficult defensive position like 2B. Paul Molitor started at second and had an OPS+ of 89 in his first season. Pete Rose? 101.

Now, it's true that Espinosa got into 28 games last year at the end of last season, so it's not quite his first season. But the basic point stands.

So it's not a big knock on Espinosa to say that he's not going to be a world-beater this year. It just means that people shouldn't be expecting that much. Will he be better than Adam Kennedy and his OPS+ of 79? I'd probably bet the over on that, but not by much.


Positively Half St. said...

It's very difficult to imagine him being only as good as Adam Kennedy when his defense is so much better, and Kennedy didn't hit worth a lick. At the very least, I will place Espinosa in the "better" column for a position-by-position comparison for your "Worst Ever Nationals Team" question.

Steven said...

I agree. I expect some upgrade. It's just not going to be that much. Maybe .5 or 1 win better. I'm not sure his defense is "so much better." He's looked great so far, I agree, and I think he'll be a plus defender at second. But Kennedy wasn't bad in the field, so there's only so much improvement he can make. The bigger issue is the bat. He's going to have some extended slumps, and I'd be really pretty shocked if he held the job wire to wire. He whiffed 24% of the time in AA last year, and it's a big jump to the majors.