Lucky timing to come up to Santiago Espinal on his birthday.
Espinal came to the Blue Jays from the Red Sox in trade for Steve Pearce in July of 2018.
He was a fairly middling prospect, but was a good glove player, whose bat looked to be good enough to, at least, give him a shot at a utility infielder career. Back then I said:
But I think it would make a good utility infielder if we weren’t set on giving the role to veterans like Joe Panik. I’m biased, but I’d much rather have a young guy who can pinch-run and play strong defense.
I still believe that I’d rather have a young player in that role than an aging vet. But teams seem to like that veteran presence thing.
Santiago got into 26 games in 2020 (enough to count as his rookie season). In 2021 he played in 92 games, hitting .311/.376/.405.
That was enough to have us interested in his 2022 season, though some of us figured there would be some regression. And there was:
Baseball Reference has him at a 2.2 WAR. FanGraphs was hit at 2.3, giving him a value of $18.4 million.
He had a .305 wOBA and a 99 wRC+ (down from .344 and 115, respectively).
Santiago’s BABIP was .300, down from .353.
His walk rate was 7.3% (down from 8.9). Strikeout rate was 13.8% (up slightly from 12.2).
Espinal’s line-drive rate was up slightly from last year (22.0% from 20.0). Ground ball rate was down slightly (42.9% from 43.5). Fly balls down slightly (34.0% from 34.6). More of his fly balls left the park (5.4% from 3.0), maybe due to his 15 pounds of added muscle.
And soft contact (19.7% this year, 20.7 last) and hard contact (24.9% from 24.4) were also pretty much the same as last year.
Santiago hit much better against LHP (.301/.375/.451) than RHP (.256/.304/.342). Someone on the team had to hit lefties.
He hit batter at home (.298/.338/.399) than on the road (.238/.309/.342).
And he was better in the first half of the season (.271/.320/.391) than the second half (.258/.329/.315).
Santiago by month:
- April: .261/.325/.435 with 2 home runs, 6 walks, 16 strikeouts, in 22 games.
- May: .264/.317/341 with 0 home runs, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts, in 26 games.
- June: .284/.328/.440 with 4 home runs, 7 walks, 20 strikeouts, in 28 games.
- July: .256/.301/.295 with 0 home runs, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts, in 22 games.
- August: .246/.307/.333 with 1 home run, 5 walks, 6 strikeouts, in 20 games.
- September: .289/.373/.333, in 0 home runs, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts, in 17 games.
Espinal hit .231/.301/.308 with 1 home run with RISP.
Defensively? He was terrific.
Santiago played 945 innings at second base. It made 4 errors (1 fielding, 3 throwing), for a .990 FA (league average at second is .982).
UZR had him at 0.9/150, which is lower than what the eye test says, but such is life. Outs above average has him at a +9 (third highest in the AL), which is more in line with what I saw.
He also played 83 innings at third, with 2 errors (.920 FA) and 50 innings at short (no errors).
FanGraphs has him at -1.5 runs compared to the average base runner. As he was 6 for 12 as a base steal, that likely is a large part of why he’s in the negatives. John Schneider’s push for ‘more aggressive baserunning’ was not 100% successful. 4 of his caught stealing came in the season half of the season.
Where he hit in the order:
- 1st: 8 games.
- 2nd: 6 games.
- 4th: 1 game. (why?)
- 5th: 6 games.
- 6th: 14 games.
- 7th: 18 games.
- 8th: 53 games.
- 9th: 13 games.
The Jays were 66-53 in games he started.
His longest hitting streak was 16 games (in May). The longest on-base streak was 22 games. The longest he was without a home run was 34 games.
Santiago’s favourite team to face was the Guardians, hitting .421/.522/.579 in 6 games. Least favourite? He hit .120/.154/.120 in 6 games against the Angels.
I wonder if the 2023 season will have Santiago moving to more of a true utility player, with Whit Merrifield on the team from opening day? There is a lot of things the team could do with Whit. He’s good in several spots. He plays all the outfield spots, second, first, and third. If he hits the way he has in the past, there are many things he could do. But if they decide he’s best off at second base, it might cut into Espinal’s playing time.
Anyway, Santiago hits lefties so well he could fit into the top of the order against them. Against right-handers, his glove is so good that you can put him in at the bottom of the order, and he’ll still be valuable.
I think the team would be better off with Santiago at short and Bichette at second, but then it is possible that they aren’t planning for Espinal to play every day next year, and you can’t be moving Bo back and forth between the spots.
If Espinal could add a little power with his extra muscle (boy, did I get tired of hearing about his extra muscle every game early this season), we wouldn’t be wondering if he will have a full-time job next year.
I was very happy for him to get picked for the All-Star game, but he was just a first-half All-Star or the first couple of months All-Star, but that does happen quite a bit. And his joy to be there made it great to see. I hope it isn’t his last All-Star appearance.
Before the season, we asked:
- If Espinal’s over/under percentage of games played was 78% I’d take the (what a badly worded question, Tom). 47% of us were right for taking the over.
- If the over/under on his batting average was .267? Amazingly, his average was exactly .267, so the house wins.
- And we asked where he would get the most playing time. Only 24% of us said shortstop. 74% said third base.
For his 2022 season, I’d grade Santiago Espinal an
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