Danny Espinosa’s confounding left/right splits

When hitting right-handed, Danny Espinosa feels like he’s on top of the world.

He’s locked in, is seeing the ball well and is doing some serious damage when he puts it in play.

“I feel like no one can get me out,” Espinosa said this weekend. “I feel pretty good. I have a good approach up there. I know what I can hit, and I know what I can’t hit. I feel good.”

The problem is, while he’s excelling when hitting right-handed, Espinosa is struggling mightily when swinging from the left side.

Espinosa’s lefty/righty splits this season are startling. In 50 plate appearances from the right side, Espinosa is batting a ridiculous .381, reaching base at a startling .480 clip and slugging .714. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, that’s good for a lofty 1.194 OPS.

When he bats left-handed, however, the numbers are dramatically lower. In 181 plate appearances hitting left-handed, Espinosa has a .188 batting average, .268 on-base percentage and .288 slugging percentage.

The numbers alone are enough to leave Espinosa shaking his head. But making this run even tougher to take is that he’s always felt he’s more adept at hitting from the left side.

“It gets frustrating at times, because my whole life I’ve been a better hitter left-handed,” Espinosa said. “I’m just like, ‘Why am I all of a sudden struggling left-handed?’ Right-handed, I can’t get out. I just got to keep with it.”

In this last series against the Red Sox, the striking contrast between Espinosa’s lefty and righty splits was on full display. He had great success hitting right-handed, going 4-for-6 with three doubles, two walks and three RBIs. From the left side, he was 0-for-5 with a strikeout.

Bench coach Randy Knorr has watched Espinosa carefully this season. He says he sees more of a strictly upper-body swing from the left side, which results in Espinosa getting under the ball or missing it completely.

Knorr was Espinosa’s manager at Double-A Harrisburg in 2010, when the then-shortstop hit 18 homers in 99 games. Back then, Knorr says, he was an excellent hitter from both sides of the plate.

Danny_Espinosa_hitting-sidebar.jpg“There was one game he hit three home runs the day before he got called up,” Knorr said. “I think he hit two right-handed and one left-handed. I mean, it was pretty incredible. He just needs to get back there. He’s got to relax and just trust his ability and get back to being confident on the left side.”

Before anyone asks, the Nationals have not given serious thought to asking Espinosa to hit strictly right-handed. They say they like him as a switch-hitter and feel he can have success at the major league level from both sides of the plate, even though his career splits - while not as dramatically different as they are this year - show that this season’s struggles from the left side aren’t a complete fluke. (Espinosa’s career slash line as a lefty - .214/.299/.370 - is still below his line as a righty - .294/.378/.552.)

Part of the problem when it comes to fixing things from the left side is that when you’re a switch-hitter, Espinosa says, you’re very much two separate players. It’s tough to carry over any success from one side of the plate to the other because the approach and the mechanics are so different.

“Right-handed, I have a whole lot more movement,” Espinosa said. “Right-handed, my top hand is so dominant, I feel like I can put the bat wherever I want and get to where I need to be to hit. Sometimes left-handed, I overthink it. I try to be too fine. I try to be too perfect. That’s what’s creating the bad swings too much when I hit. I don’t find myself swinging right-handed at bad pitches. Left-handed, I find myself going out of the zone. Not some of the time; a lot of time this year, I’ve been going out of the zone.

“So maybe it’s one of those things, I need to go up there completely clear-headed and not think anything.”

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