Biggest Surprises Of 2011 – #3: Ian Desmond’s Defense

In today’s installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals roster we take a look at Ian Desmond, and perhaps more specifically, his glove.

If you’ll remember, one of the biggest questions entering 2011 for the Nationals was whether or not Desmond, who underwent a terrible rookie year defensively in 2010, could survive the season as the Nats shortstop. It was a particularly relevant question because the club had a plus-defensive shortstop who was about to start the season out of position, Danny Espinosa, and were in need of a centerfielder, a position that the athletic Desmond might be able to acclimate to quickly.

Mike Rizzo stuck to his guns though, with the firm belief that Desmond had to get better at shortstop.

So how bad was Desmond in 2010? Historically bad. At the age of 25 he not only led Major League shortstops with 34 errors, he posted the highest error total at the position since Jose Valentin committed 36 gaffs in 2000. He had the second worst UZR among National League shortstops, -8.8, and had the worst ErrR.

In 2011 however, Desmond cut down his error total by nearly a third by committing 23 errors on the year. While that total still ranked No. 3 in the league among shortstops, Desmond’s numbers improved significantly following Apr. 26. Prior to that date Desmond had committed seven errors through the team’s first 21 games, after, he committed just 16 through the next 131 games. The significance of the Apr. 26 date you ask? That just happened to be the date that Ian and Chelsea Desmond gave birth to their first child. Prior to Desmond becoming a dad in 2011 he had one error in every three games, after it improved to one error in every eight.

Perhaps the jokes about whether the doctor would let him hold the baby got to him.

We wrote prior to the season that we believed Desmond had the ability to greatly improve his defense. While in 2010 he posted a -8.8 UZR, a closer look at his UZR rating shows that it was mostly weighed down by his terrible -10.5 error rating. His Range Rating actually was relatively good, at 2.7. This means that the majority of Desmond’s 2010 problems likely stemmed from physical mistakes, mental lapses that resulted in something completely preventable, an error. We believed with more confidence Desmond had the tools to become a solid defender.

Oddly, in 2011, Desmond’s ErrR rating improved dramatically to -1.7, but his range rating regressed to -2.9.

Click here to see surprises No. 4 and No. 5.