Heading into the final week of June, there are two honors for which Danny Espinosa’s name is increasingly being mentioned: an All-Star Game appearance and the National League Rookie of the Year award.
The All-Star Game is a possibility, with Espinosa trailing only the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks in OPS among NL second baseman. But with Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips winning the vote, Weeks seems likely to make it as a reserve, meaning Espinosa’s chances would be slim.
Rookie of the Year, though, is a different story. Espinosa leads all major league rookies in home runs (by six), RBI (by 13), and because his Ultimate Zone Rating of 4.9 is sixth-best among all players in baseball, his Wins Above Replacement score of 2.8 is almost twice that of the runner-up, the Cardinals’ Allen Craig at 1.5.
(The Nationals’ Wilson Ramos, by the way, is third among rookies with a 1.4 WAR.)
Espinosa isn’t just having a good season when compared to rookies. His power from both sides of the plate, at a position where power isn’t expected, and his ability to draw walks and offset a low batting average have him among the top offensive second basemen in the game. His weighted on base average of .350 is sixth among all second basemen, above the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler and just below 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. And his superb defense has led to a WAR rating better than Gaby Sanchez, Lance Berkman, Michael Bourn and Albert Pujols. He’s 11th in the National League, just below fellow Long Beach State product Troy Tulowitzki.
So why wouldn’t Espinosa win Rookie of the Year, when he looks like he’s got the stuff to be a transformational player at second base? His batting average is just .237, and some voters may look down on him if that hasn’t improved by the end of the season. The Braves’ Freddie Freeman is the only other rookie who’s played almost every day, but he and the Cardinals’ Allen Craig were better-known to more voters at the beginning of the season than Espinosa - whose only national TV appearance this season comes on Saturday when the Nationals face the White Sox.
Those aren’t good reasons for Espinosa not to win, but they are realities that could affect the voting process. Still, he’s established himself as a fixture in the Nationals’ plans; his WAR is the highest on the team by 1.2 runs, and any thought of including the 24-year-old in a big trade package at this point would seem even more unlikely than it was at the beginning of the year. And there are signs his batting average is on the way up as his Batting Average on Balls in Play creeps up; he’s hitting .288 in June, and his BABIP has jumped about 30 points in the last month.
If that happens, and Espinosa gets himself to, say, 20 or 22 homers, it’s hard to imagine he’s not accepting the Rookie of the Year trophy after the season.