ian desmond

Ian Desmond at the half

After writing about Washington’s infielders and largely ignoring him, I knew I’d have to turn back to the subject of hyped Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.

The first half has been disappointing for Desmond, both offensively and defensively. He has fallen short of not only the rosy predictions of Thomas Boswell but also the more conservative projections of ZiPS (.264 BA, .322 OBP, .399 SLG, .323 wOBA. Desmond currently has a .255 BA, .297 OBP, .395 SLG, and .303 wOBA.

When I first saw the numbers I got frightened that Ian Desmond would become the next Brian Anderson, a top prospect who suffered through a terrible rookie season which simply would not end, and then failed to ever reach his potential, presumably because of the mental and emotional damage done in that rookie season. Brian Anderson was so screwed up, in fact, that-after demanding a trade he had no right to demand, he has now decided to become a pitcher.

There won’t be any pitching in Desmond’s future, or at least there shouldn’t be. His updated ZiPS projections (.258 BA, .306 OBP, .397 SLG, .313 wOBA) are not impressive, but if they turn out to be accurate, then Desmond should be about in the middle to the bottom end of shortstops this season, as far as offense goes.

One thing that will go a long way toward improving his production will be plate discipline, something he seems to be aware of. Believe it or not, 35.1% of the pitches Desmond swings at are outside of the strike zone which is the 5th highest amongst 21 offensively eligible shortstops. He also swings at 66.5% of the pitches he sees, 8th highest amongst shortstops. Both of these indicators exhibit fairly strong inverse correlations with BB% (-0.71 and -0.65 in 2009 respectively). If Desmond can discipline himself (stop swinging at pitches outside of the zone, swing the bat less often in general), then he should see his BB% and OBP rise, making his low BA much more tolerable.

Desmond’s defense has been a disappointment. Though capable of “web-gem quality” plays, Desmond’s defense is overall worse than most shortstops (18th in UZR, 16th in UZR/150, 21st in Dewan +/- DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) each out of 23 defensively eligible shortstops). Desmond’s range (which he discusses quite confidently here is also questionable: he is tied for 17th in OOZ (plays made out of zone). He is also leading the Majors in errors by a good margin.

Desmond does have time on his side. He will only be 25 at season’s end, and his problems with plate discipline will likely become less pronounced with age. His defense, however, is a big concern. Can Desmond continue making web-gem quality plays and also begin fielding routine balls more consistently? Experience will likely help in this area too. But if he does end up making 40 errors and hitting .250, he’ll still probably be in the middle to bottom end in WAR amongst shortstops, better than Brian Anderson would’ve been amongst outfielders in 2006 had he qualified. (Brian Anderson would’ve been the 3rd worst outfielder in the Majors as measured by WAR had he played a little more in 2006.) At any rate, let’s hope Ian is emotionally mature enough to build off of this year. The Nationals have plenty of pitching.