Washington Nationals' Danny Espinosa, Second Base Stud or Stand-In?

By Nick Comando
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals‘ Danny Espinosa is not off to a blazing start to say the least.

He is batting .168/.197/.305 with three home runs and 12 RBIs, and has also struck out in 37 of his 131 at-bats, while only walking three times, none of them being intentional. This slump is old news, as Espinosa has been mired in a similar one for most of last season.

Espinosa did not start off well in 2012 either, posting a .232/.309/.374 slash line with seven home runs and 24 RBIs with 27 walks and 95 strikeouts. During the recent off-season, he revealed he had been playing with a partial tear in his shoulder, and through rehab would be able to play through the 2013 season without the risk of surgery.

Whether this is reason for Espinosa’s slow start is not the question. Nor is it a question of if he should continue to be a switch-hitter, as he is a significantly better hitter batting right-handed. The question is much more basic than any of these other complaints fans have of him.

The question is this:  Is Danny Espinosa the answer at second base?

When Espinosa came up in September of 2010, he wowed fans with his power, finishing with six home runs … and a .214 batting average. In the first half of 2011, he continued to tickle fans with his dazzling defensive plays and hitting.

Sure, there was room for improvement: he struck out 84 times in 326 at-bats — roughly 26 percent of his at-bats. We also learned Espinosa mashed lefties much more than he did against righties, a bit of a red flag when a switch hitter can be penciled in a left handed hitter most days.

The second half of his rookie year is when it all started to crumble for Espinosa. He finished very quietly, with a .227 average and only five home runs, and the slump continued on until today with some hot streaks sprinkled in. Now there is another player that fans seem to think should be playing in his place. His name: Steve Lombardozzi.

Lombardozzi was a valuable asset off the bench in 2012 for Davey Johnson, being able to play second base, third base and some outfield, along with being able to steal bases and work counts. He also showed he was able to make plays anywhere he played defensively.

The differences between the two could not be more night and day.

Lombardozzi is a dink and dunk hitter who will probably hit in the .270-.280s if given regular playing time, but won’t hit for much power and  is probably a 9-hitter on an AL team and a 1-2 hitter on an NL team. He is much more valuable off the bench because he will be able to get on base in a clutch situation, where Espinosa is more prone to strike out trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark.

Lomardozzi’s two main spots in the order, leadoff and the 2-hole, are reserved for Denard Span and Jayson Werth when both are healthy. He does not have a spot in the order, while Espinosa can hit anywhere because of his power.

The bottom line is this: Johnson and Mike Rizzo both love Espinosa, who fits Johnson’s offense based on the home run. But keep this in mind: The 1986 New York Mets won a World Series with a platoon at second base.

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