WASHINGTON — Wilmer Difo, the Nationals’ primary No. 2 hitter in the absence of Adam Eaton, is riding an 11-game hitting streak.
Yes, that’s the same Wilmer Difo 106.7 The Fan hosts Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier have repeatedly bemoaned batting second this season.
Difo hit second in six of those 11 games, eighth in three of them, and spent one game apiece in the sixth and seventh spots in the order. Over those 11 games, Difo has an .874 OPS with 15 hits, one double, a triple and five walks.
On the season, Difo’s slashing .280/.342/.383 with four doubles, three triples, four home runs, 16 RBI, 20 walks and six stolen bases for the Nationals, a welcome surprise in a lineup battling through major injuries to starters Trea Turner, Jayson Werth and Eaton.
His best numbers have come out of the second (.298/.353/.426) and eighth spots (.329/.380/.471) in the lineup, and he hits far better as a starter (.298/.353/.415) than as a pinch-hitter (.154/.267/.154).
Ah, but the ‘haters’ still have a valid argument for hitting Difo elsewhere in the lineup.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a few quirks that are cause for alarm. Difo’s season numbers characterize him as an ideal platoon player.
A switch hitter, Difo’s batting .248 with a .321 slugging percentage against right-handed pitchers, while, against lefties, he’s batting .388 and slugging .592. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), a statistic which places a weighted value on each individual outcome (single, double, HR, etc.) based on the situation, rather than treating every outcome equally, substantiates this platoon claim.
While it’s important to realize Difo has limited experience at the Major League level, in 2017, Difo’s 60 wRC+ vs. right-handed pitchers, and 167 wRC+ vs. left-handed pitchers, also fits this platoon characterization.
After Wednesday, Difo is averaging .219 (.492 OPS) in high leverage situations, and .195 (.620 OPS) with runners in scoring position. In low leverage situations, he’s hitting .328 for average with an .852 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
So, what does all this mean?
It means that, through the endless shouting about Dusty Baker’s lineup construction — which has seen a radio host confront the manager about it in person, and infighting between hosts over whether that constituted ‘making it about oneself’ — both sides of the argument have legitimate claims, regarding a conversation that’s only getting more complex with larger samples.
Above all else, a healthy Turner and Werth — both of whom are expected to be back in the lineup in time for the postseason — would render this entire conversation null and void.
Until next year.