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Should Espinosa give up switch-hitting?

Aug 7, 2014, 12:11 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Danny Espinosa’s splits as a switch-hitter are no secret at this point, through five years of his MLB career. Espinosa himself is aware he hits better from the right side of the plate. The team’s front office knows, even manager Matt Williams has acknowledged it.

So, why doesn’t Espinosa hit exclusively right-handed? It’s not so simple, according to Espinosa and Williams.

“If it was that easy I think I’d try it, but I’ve never done it,” Espinosa said. “I don’t know how easy that would be. It’d be nice to say, ‘Hey, just take it to the other side.’ But I’ve never done it.”

“Generally it’s a situation where it’s somebody who has experience somewhere in the past doing that,” Williams added. “The only issue with Danny is that he doesn’t have that. So for him to hit right-handed exclusively, he’d have to go get some experience doing it. It’s very difficult to do here.”

The numbers are clear: Espinosa has been a much better hitter in his career when batting right-handed. In 217 career at-bats hitting right against a lefty, Espinosa holds a .271 average and .810 OPS. In 1,278 at-bats hitting lefty against a right-hander, Espinosa has hit just .214 with a .649 OPS.

The stats are even more extreme this season, as Espinosa is batting .310 right-handed and just .184 left-handed. The difference in OPS is .907 to .537.

Espinosa only has 13 career at-bats batting right against a right-handed pitcher, and he hasn’t done it since 2012. He has three hits, a double and an RBI, but that’s a small sample size. Williams would like to see much more than that before sending him out to bat only right-handed.

“I don’t see any reason why I would say: ‘Danny, you need to go up there against [Jacob] deGrom and hit right-handed.’ That would be foolish. The fact that he’s thinking about it is a positive thing for him, but you just can’t jump into the fire like that. Reaction to fastballs in and up and in, you just don’t see it until you have some experience in doing it.”

At this point it looks like a change the Nationals may someday consider making, but not in 2014. For now, Espinosa will have to find a way to improve hitting left-handed.

On Wednesday, he explained why he believes there has been such a difference:

“Consistency. I go up there and I do the same thing. I go up there with the same stance. I know what I want to do and what I can do. Left-handed I’ve been searching as far as comfort in my stance and comfort. So right-handed I’ve done the same swing, been the same guy since I’ve been in pro ball as far as my setup. I just feel comfortable right now right-handed.”

Mark Zuckerman contributed to this story

  1. philipd763 - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Well, why didn’t the organization think of experimenting with this proposal in Syracuse last season?

    • Hiram Hover - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:26 PM

      Espi batted with reasonable success from the left side in 2010-12. Not as well as from the right side (vs LHP), but well enough, esp. given that he had pop for a middle infielder.

      It wasn’t until 2013 that his #s fell off the cliff–and in 2013, he stunk pretty bad from the right side too, so just switching him to a RH only hitter didn’t necessarily look like much of a solution.

      Batting lefty:

      2010: .218/.274/.410, 79 wRC+
      2011: .223/.314/.393, 95 wRC+
      2012: .233/.303/.391, 87 wRC+
      2013: .167/.186/.262, 17 wRC+
      2014: .184/.243/.294, 47 wRC+

      • Section 222 - Aug 7, 2014 at 3:25 PM

        I was under the impression that his decline as a lefty started in the second half of the season. Not sure if the numbers on that are easily drawn out.

      • Hiram Hover - Aug 7, 2014 at 7:12 PM

        Deuces

        You mean 2012? He had his ups and downs–bad June, better July and August, down somewhat in September, when his #s appear to have been down from both sides, not just as a lefty (I’m not sure of an easy place online to do cross-tabs–splits of splits–but you can get an idea at brooksbaseball).

        But at the end of 2012, he was scuffling from both sides, not just as a lefty. In 2013 his #s fell off the cliff, from both sides.

        To compare to above, his slash line batting righty in 2013 was .125/.216/.313, with a wRC+ of 44–better than as a lefty, but still unacceptable in a major league hitter (a small sample size–only 37 PA–but they weren’t going to keep him around when they had Rendon available).

    • coollikelivo - Aug 7, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      It was definitely suggested on this board, but I don’t know how to search archived comments for the example(s).

  2. scnatsfan - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Does anyone say no to this? Even on PTI no one could take the other side.

    Danny spend the winter getting a better tan and becoming a full time major league 2B. Please. Pretty Please.

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Why are we asking this question now? Should have been fixed the Winter of 2012/2013 but he was injured so why wasn’t it fixed Winter of 2013/2014?

    Too many experts here keep saying it can’t be done but how do you know until you try? Maybe it can’t but just maybe there will be improvement. The alternatives sure aren’t good either.

    • Hiram Hover - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      See my comment above.

      One difference is that Danny has in 2014 shown once more that he can be successful from the right side vs LHP.

      Last year he stunk so badly as both a lefty and righty that he wasn’t a plausible MLB hitter either way.

  4. Eric - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    “The stats are even more extreme this season, as Espinosa is batting .310 left-handed and just .184 right-handed. The difference in OPS is .907 to .537.”

    That’s backwards, yes?

    • Eric - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:33 PM

      N/m, looks like it *just* got edited.

  5. zmunchkin - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    Perhaps he should go to Venezuela and play winter ball – batting exclusively right-handed. He and the team would then have more information and could decide if this is really an option.

    • Eric - Aug 7, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      +1, sounds good to me.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:08 PM

    There’s nothing wrong w/ an experiment, so long as it’s done in a lab. Given the experience of many AAA pitchers — if not their velocity — I don’t think even AAA is a proper lab. The issue, then, is to find a proper venue for this experiment. Time was teams would send free-swinging sluggers to the Mexican or Puerto Rican winter leagues to learn how to hit curve balls and other slop. (I think the Nats had someone a few years ago who refused to go to Mexico. Did Espinosa do a week in Venezuela the year before last?) If he’s serious about this — and I think the team would encourage it — he needs to go someplace off the media trail, and where his winter ball club will guarantee to play him every day and not give his ABs to local heroes.

    The Nats need to go to ST next year w/ a full-time 2B (not Cabrera, for a number of reasons) on the roster, or at least available (depending on what happens at 3B). Give Danny a nice raise in the arbitration process — not in arbitration — as an incentive. (I think his defense and attitude have earned one anyway.)

    • Theophilus T.S. - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      Hat tip to munchkin, who posted while I was composing.

      • natsguy - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        No Hat tipping any more. This is a non cliche blog.

      • zmunchkin - Aug 8, 2014 at 9:23 AM

        :-).

  7. richardp6 - Aug 7, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    uh, just platoon him.

  8. rogieshan - Aug 7, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    Two words: Shane Victorino.

    Be a pro, Danny.

  9. tcostant - Aug 7, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    The Phils just traded Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers. I won’t miss him in our division, he owns us. If he face the Dodgers in the playoffs, not sure he would make a post season rotation anyway.

  10. Section 222 - Aug 7, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Why has it taken Danny and the team this long to consider this? Wasn’t last year bad enough to prompt an evaluation of his future as a switch hitter? Wasn’t his quick decline after an ok start enough? Has he taken some batting practice RH off a RH pitcher?

    If he wants to do some experimenting this offseason and in spring training, fine. But not to Rizzo: Do not send the team north next year with Espi as a RH hitter as your starting 2B. On the job training is not the answer here.

    • tcostant - Aug 7, 2014 at 4:02 PM

      I assume they though last year was more about his injury. Not agreeing, just explaining.

  11. coollikelivo - Aug 7, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Instead of waiting for Venezuela winter ball or the offseason, how about trying some batting practice right hand vs right hand? They still do BP during the season, don’t they? Or was that eliminated in the collective bargaining agreement?

    • ehay2k - Aug 8, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      Batting practice is nothing like taking real pitches in a game. And it’s not just about being able to hit pitches, it’s about being able to safely get out of the way. If he can’t see a right-hander’s pitch coming up and in and it hits him, that is a two-fold recipe for disaster. First, because he will get hurt and then not be able to hit at all, and Second, because we know from history that he will tell everyone he’s fine and drag the team down with him as he flails at the plate, even with a broken bone.

      He can try to convert in the offseason. Or better yet, work on his left-handed approach and get consisten from that side. I for one prefer to have a switch hitter in the lineup if he can be effective.

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