Were Desmond’s 34 Errors Not a Big Deal?

Dan Daly wrote a column this weekend for the newly revamped Washington Times Sports Page in which he attempted to defend Ian Desmond’s eye-poppingly bad 34 errors last season. Daly did his homework, and after digging through the box scores he found a few things:

  1. According to his account, Ian Desmond only cost the Nationals three losses with his 34 errors last season, based on actual sequential results.
  2. Desmond hit much better in the 28 games where he committed an error, batting .327/.357/.582 with 17 RBI.
  3. Desmond was very happy to hear his error’s were not that destructive, and then went on to compare himself to Brett Favre.

While Daly certainly gave us a ton of food for thought with this article, I don’t know if I agree with the conclusions he drew from the data. We here at The Nats Blog have been as optimistic as anyone about Desmond’s future and ability to improve defensively at the position, but we don’t think Desmond’s abysmal performance should be shrugged off or ignored.

While Daly may have calculated that Desmond’s errors may have only cost the Nationals three games, that more than anything means he was very lucky despite his mechanical flaws in 2010. Luck fluctuates down as much as it does up, and therefore is not sustainable. Bad mechanics however only get better if they are corrected. That is to say that, we can’t excuse Desmond’s errors because he got lucky in 2010, because he almost certainly wont be as lucky in 2011.

Furthermore, being responsible for three losses is no small feat. When you consider how valuable a win is when calculating the value of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in contracts, to be able to prove that Desmond directly was to blame for three losses is quite the statement.

The fact that Desmond hit well above his career averages in the 28 game sample where he happened to commit errors is pretty interesting. It would be quite the experiment to investigate that stat over the entire league over a series of years. Would it prove that ball players somehow will themselves to make up for their problems in the field with their bat? Probably not, that would be about as easy to prove as clutch hitting. So since we can’t really prove the existence of that, we likely can’t really argue that there is a true relationship between Desmond’s errors and him raking like Nomar Garciaparra, especially with a sample size of just 28 games.

Lastly, Desmond told Daly he was happy to hear that his errors weren’t as destructive as the raw number 34 led on.

“It’s like Brett Favre,” Desmond said. “People always talked about him throwing a lot of interceptions, but look at all the success he had in his career. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not comparing myself to Brett Favre. I’m just saying you have to play right on that edge if you want to be great. And that’s what I’m trying to do, play right on that edge.”

The one good piece of news out of all this is that Desmond has a positive attitude about his development…even if it doesn’t make any sense. As a quarterback, making high risk passes can lead to big time rewards, as a shortstop, he needs to be good at routine actions…there are no real calculated risks…but whatever, if he wants to be Brett Favre, and it makes him play like a hall of famer, more power to him.

As we have spoken about before, Desmond has the range and the build to be a top-of-the-line shortstop in the major leagues. While his errors were terrible last season, his Range Rating was actually pretty good at +2.7. It will be interesting to see the strides he takes in his second year with better confidence, learned skill, and a better defense around him.