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Saturday, June 16, 2012
Switch-hitting may not be wise for Espinosa

By Sam Farber, ESPN Stats & Info

On June 8, in his first career appearance at Fenway Park, Danny Espinosa led off the game against Boston Red Sox left-hander Felix Doubront. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, the Washington Nationals second baseman laced a double to center field.

Danny Espinosa
Espinosa
After walking in his second at-bat, Espinosa smacked a run-scoring ground-rule double to right-center. In his final two at-bats of the game – against Boston right-handers Matt Albers and Scott Atchison – Espinosa was 0-for-2 with a strikeout.

Although anecdotal evidence cannot explain cause nor predict future outcomes, that one game highlighted a career’s worth of struggles. Washington’s 3rd round pick in 2008 is still just 25 years old and though he’s been a switch-hitter for his entire career, he may want to consider a permanent switch to the right side.

In 2011, Espinosa’s 21 homers were tied for the most among National League rookies. Fifteen of them came from the left side of the plate; however, those 15 came in 316 more at-bats than he took from the right side, thus his HR rate was actually higher when batting right-handed (4.7% vs 3.4%).

SPLITS SHED LIGHT

For his career Espinosa’s splits are staggering. He is a career .214 hitter against right-handers and his OPS versus lefties is more than 250 points higher.

His performance this season further hammers that point home. Espinosa is hitting .386 in 44 at-bats from the right side of the plate this season versus just .191 in 173 left-handed at-bats and his OPS as a righty is more than DOUBLE his performance as a left-handed hitter.

BREAKING BALLS DOOM DANNY

One area of particular difficulty for Espinosa from the left side has been breaking balls. Over the last year Espinosa’s strikeout rate against breaking balls has climbed while his walk rate has been cut by two-thirds.

Against breaking balls on the inside part of the plate, his strikeout rate has increased by 17 percentage points from last season and his isolated power has fallen from miniscule (.030) to non-existent (.000). By comparison, the league average in isolated power against breaking balls from right-handers on the inside part of the plate is .150.

OUTSIDE OF OFFENSIVE WOES, DANNY’S DEFENSE DAZZLES

Despite his struggles from the left side of the plate, Espinosa is still a valuable piece of the best team Washington has put together since moving from Montreal to Capitol Hill. In addition to his offensive prowess as a right-hander, the Nationals second baseman is among the best defensive players in the league at his position.

According to Baseball Info Solutions defensive video tracking, no second baseman has been better at turning the double play over the last two seasons. Espinosa leads the league in combined quick double play pivots and completing double plays despite an aggressive slide over that time.