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What’s wrong with Danny Espinosa?

Espinosa has been struggling at the plate since joining the Angels

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Espinosa is a confusing dude. Beard or no beard? Homerun or strikeout? Make up your mind man! One thing for sure is that Angels fans are quickly losing their patience with a guy who is striking out at a career high 36.4% clip and is batting just .155. At least his defense has been good.

Espinosa is a career .224 hitter with a 28.4% K rate, so that bar was a bit low to start. In 2016, Espinosa had a career high 24 homeruns but only hit .209. The Angels were hoping for some extra pop out of Espinosa, as well as an upgraded defense at second base. One out of two ain’t bad?? With the numbers he is putting up early in the season I’ve even heard some people say “can we have Giavotella back”? Ouch.

Espinosa is streaky which I wrote about when the Angels signed him. Basically he has about 1 good month each year.

  • In June 2016, he hit .309 with 9 homeruns (but batted .185 in April and .208 in May - also just .193 in July and .135 in September)
  • In June 2015, his K rate was only 22% and he batted .266 with 2 homeruns and a .729 OPS. Of course the rest of his 2015 was a bit more consistent and he never had a month with an AVG below .222
  • In April 2014, he had a .341 OBP with 3 homeruns and an .828 OPS

I think you get the idea. In short, maybe nothing is wrong with Espinosa and we are getting exactly what we could have expected. However, his walk rate is down, his K rate is up, and his average is way down. I don’t think we are getting someone a whole lot different than what could have been expected, but he’s definitely under performing at the plate. I would say get used to being frustrated with his hitting, but be ready for some flashes of great output.

Check out this exit velocity chart from Baseball Savant:

Notice the big black hole at the top of the zone? That’s because there is ZERO data for batted balls therein 2017. See the chart from 2016 below:

That upper part of the zone was a bit of a weak point in 2016 as well.

Here is some data from 2017. First, percentage of swings at pitches in a given zone:

Next, we have batting average. So while Espinosa loves to swing at pitches up in the zone - he is terrible at actually hitting them. Below you see 0 for 21 in the top 2 rows.

The 2016 chart has a lot more data, and you can still see the problem up in the zone - as well as the problem (for pitchers) if they pitch him down. He will crush you with low strikes.

Finally, if you want to get a whiff, go ahead and stay away from that bottom pat of the zone and pitch him up. This isn’t normal for a lot of pitchers to throw high but it clearly works to do this to Espinosa.

Plate Discipline

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2010 Nationals 30.2 % 70.4 % 47.8 % 58.9 % 75.2 % 69.4 % 14.5 %
2011 Nationals 31.4 % 67.8 % 46.7 % 65.7 % 81.1 % 75.1 % 11.6 %
2012 Nationals 39.6 % 70.4 % 52.3 % 57.0 % 81.5 % 70.6 % 15.3 %
2013 Nationals 41.6 % 72.4 % 55.1 % 57.6 % 79.2 % 70.0 % 16.5 %
2014 Nationals 37.1 % 70.8 % 51.2 % 53.2 % 75.4 % 66.0 % 17.2 %
2015 Nationals 38.2 % 75.0 % 53.7 % 62.7 % 80.8 % 73.4 % 14.1 %
2016 Nationals 33.2 % 69.6 % 48.6 % 50.6 % 80.6 % 68.8 % 14.9 %
2017 Angels 32.2 % 76.1 % 52.9 % 41.5 % 69.3 % 60.4 % 20.7 %

Compared to last year, Espinosa is not really swinging at more out of the zone pitches - but he IS swinging A LOT more at pitches in the zone. The problem as you see above is that his in and out of zone contract rates are WAY down, and his swinging strike rate is way up. This is a pretty bad combination and can be in part due to American League pitchers throwing more strikes at him up in the zone.

It’s pretty clear how to “fix” Espinosa, but how much can he improve at age 30 when it comes to making more contact on those pitches that are up? I can only assume that Dave Hansen is working on this with him. Work faster Dave!!

Espinosa thrives on those lower pitches. Go ahead and head over to MLB videos and search for Espinosa. Watch some of his hitting highlight videos and look at where the ball is when he hits it.

Case in point - the video below.

Maybe we can just ask opposing pitchers to keep it down a bit??