Our Washington Nationals player reviews continue today as we look at last year’s starting shortstop
Since Ian Desmond signed with the Texas Rangers last offseason, the Washington Nationals had a new starting shortstop in 2016. That shortstop was Danny Espinosa. After playing five different positions in 2015, Espinosa won the starting job this past season. His offense may have been mediocre at times, but he was a good defender.
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This past season, Espinosa had a slash line of .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs and 72 RBI’s. While he had a career-high in home runs and RBI’s, he struck out a ton. His 172 strikeouts were the second highest of his career (189 back in 2012).
Espinosa started off the season on a bad note as he hit .185 and only had one home run in the first month of the season. After the month of April, he would hit 14 home runs in May and June combined. In fact, his best month of the season was June (.309, nine home runs, and 21 RBI’s).
During the season, his best performance in any series took place against the Cincinnati Reds from June 30-July 3. In that four game series, the 29-year-old was 7-for-18 with five home runs (two multi-home run games) and drove in 15 runs. He had six home runs and 16 RBI’s against the Reds this season.
Once the second half started, Espinosa went into a slump. He hit .172 with six home runs, 23 RBI’s, and had a very low on-base percentage (.272). As for the strikeouts, his 91 K’s were the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball in the second half.
Over the final month of the season, Espinosa hit .106 (9-for-85) with 40 strikeouts. When the playoffs started, some people wanted Stephen Drew or another shortstop to start instead of Espinosa. But, Dusty Baker stuck with him.
While Espinosa went 2-for-14 in the playoffs, he had the leadoff single in the seventh that sparked a rally against Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 of the NLDS. Then, in Game 5, his RBI single against Rich Hill in the second was the Washington Nationals first run of the game.
As for his defense, Espinosa excelled at shortstop. His eight defensive runs saved (according to Fangraphs) were tied for the most on the team and tied for the fourth most among National League shortstops. Despite that high defensive runs saved total, Espinosa’s 18 errors were tied with Corey Seager for the most among NL shortstops.
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Heading into 2017, Espinosa is arbitration eligible and only has one more year left on his deal. If the Washington Nationals were to acquire another outfielder, it would likely mean Trea Turner goes to shortstop and Espinosa has to find another role. Yesterday, general manager Mike Rizzo talked about Espinosa’s role going forward:
“I could see him as utility player. I could see him as a player you could utilize in a trade context to get another piece that you need,” Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of moving parts we can go, and a lot of different avenues we can attack.” (h/t Chelsea Janes, The Washington Post)
Looking back at this past season, Espinosa is still one of the best power hitting shortstops in the National League and is a strong defender, but the high amount of strikeouts and the disappointing end to his season leads to a lower grade for 2016.