Thursday, May 7, 2015

Much Too Early Season Review: Offense Part 2

 The much too early review of the offense continues today. Then again, this all coming from the same guy who predicted Bryce Harper’shome run rate would have to come down, and we all know how that turned out. So if you tune out now, I guess I can’t blame you. Anyways, if you are still with me and want to catch up on Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Wilson Ramos, see Part1 here. Today, we take a look at Jayson Werth, Yunel Escobar, and the second base tandem of Danny Espinosa and Dan Uggla.

Jayson Werth
Werth’s shoulder is apparently feeling “cranky” and it certainly looks like it has been affecting his offensive output. Granted, on the basis of total at bats, Werth is just now reaching the end of spring training, so he most likely deserves another few weeks of slack before we complain too much about his .176/.247/.203 line.

Werth is striking out slightly more than the last couple season, but his 22% rate would fall right in the middle of his career numbers. His walk rate has taken a bit of a tumble down to 8% from 13% in 2014 and 11% in 2013. The biggest drag on Werth’s numbers is the .224 BABIP that’s more than 100 points below his BABIPs from the last 3 seasons. He’s actually hitting slightly more line drives in the early going than last year, but his batted ball profile is line with his normal levels. Most telling, Werth is seeing a higher dose of fastballs from opposing pitchers. So far in 2015, pitchers have gone to the fastball 65% of the time after using the fastball 60% of the time since his days in Philadelphia. Werth is taking more pitches these days and swinging at only             33% of offerings which is a career low by a full 4 percentage points. All signs point to a not 100% Werth. He knows it (swinging less, sitting out back to back games) and pitchers know it (going to the fastball more often).

Yunel Escobar

Escobar has ridden a hot week to a triple slash line of .302/.352/.396. His 8% walk rate and 11% strike out rate are right in line for him. His batting average is propped up by a .336 BABIP that is higher than his last several seasons but not an unsustainable rate. It most likely indicates some pull back on the batting average, but nothing severe. The biggest outlier in Escobar’s earlier stats is the number of groundballs. In the past Escobar was usually hitting groundballs around 50% of the time. So far in 2015, he is hitting 60% groundballs and only 20% fly balls. That kind of ratio is conducive to a higher batting average, as groundballs tend to go for hits more often than fly balls. On the other hand, groundball hits are almost always singles while fly balls then do drop in for hits tend to be extra base hits. So essentially, Escobar has been hitting for a higher average but with less power. Given his role in the lineup, that’s a positive development. Hopefully, this hot start will run through season and Escobar can serve as a table setter in front of the middle of the lineup.

Danny Espinosa

Danny has actually been holding his own so far in 2015. His .239 batting average leaves something to be desired but his .338 OBP is solid and he is slugging .388, good enough to be 2% above average by wRC+ (a weighted stat based on wOBA adjusted for league and park effects where 100 is average). Obviously, that OBP is driven by a large increase in walks. His BB% is over 10% after sitting at only 5% last year. Astonishingly, Espinosa has cut his strikeout rate in half from 34% last year to 15% this year. It helps that Espinosa is swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone (31% O-swing% this year versus rates around 40% the last couple of years) and making more contact when he does swing (contact% of 79% so far in 2015 versus a career line closer to 70%). All this is even more astounding considering Espinosa has been hitting left handed four times for every one at bat as a right handed hitter. Just a reminder, this is the same Espinosa who hit under the Mendoza line last year as a left handed hitter and toyed with the idea of giving up switch hitting and going right handed all the time because he was struggling so badly from the left side. Jury is still out whether this is a result of improvement on the part of Espinosa or strategic use by Rizzo, Williams, and company, but Espinosa’s performance has been a pleasant surprise and an underappreciated part of the Nationals resurgence.

Dan Uggla

Braves killer Dan Uggla will always have that homerun against his former employer (and current employer if you consider the fact that the Braves are paying him millions of dollar this year to play for not-the-Braves). Unfortunately, the rest of the season hasn’t gone so well for Uggla. His .192/.263/.365 line is being held down by a .231 BABIP, but his nearly 17% infield fly ball rate isn’t helping matters. He does appear to have solved his strikeout issues, as his K% is down to 21% after sitting at 30% the last 2 seasons. His contact rate is also up to 80%, which would be a career high, so maybe the offseason spent recovering/rehabbing from his concussion side effects did help his eyesight. Considering what we saw with Espinosa, Uggla is probably better served as a bench bat, getting the occasional start to give Espinoa/Escobar a day off. Once (if?) Rendon returns to the lineup, Uggla’s tenure with the Nationals probably comes to an end. Hewill always have that homerun, though. 

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