Filtering by Tag: Ian Desmond
Perhaps it's Ian Desmond's fan-friendly attitude, or perhaps it's because many secretly suspected the shortstop couldn't keep up the gains he made in 2012 and 2013. Whatever it is there has been a surprising lack of attention being paid to the struggles the Nats starting shortstop is having at the plate in 2014. After a 2012 where Desmond batted .292/.335/.511 with a 128 wRC+ and a 2013 where he batted .280/.331/.453 with a 116 wRC+, it's disappointing to see Desmond sitting around a .225/.295/.413 line with a 97 wRC+ through 241 plate appearances this year. The $7 million question though is what will Desmond produce at the plate through the end of the season? The answer is a mixed bag. When you look in the right places there are some encouraging signs that Desmond will be able to pick it up over the coming months. Desmond has walked in 7.9% of his plate appearances this year, which is just a tick below the league average of 8.1% this year. It is also easily the highest walk rate of his career. For his career Desmond has only walked at a 5.8% clip and his career high before this season was 6.6% in 2013. Even if Desmond's batting average doesn't reach its 2012-13 heights, the increased number of walks could sustain his on-base percentage at an above average level.
His higher walk rate is also accompanied by a decreased swing rate at pitches outside of the strike zone. Desmond is swinging at just 33.3% of pitches outside the zone, well below his O-Swing% in 2012 (38.3%) and 2013 (34.5%). We discussed last week how O-Swing% is a strong predictor of in-season walk rate. So those two factors together suggest that the increase in walks might not be a fluke and Desmond may be seeing the ball better than his overall numbers indicate.
Desmond's power numbers also present good news. Desmond leads the team with 11 home runs, already more than he had in 2010 or 2011. Desmond's ISO, or isolated power which is the difference between a batter's slugging percentage and batting average, is .188 in 2014, right in line with his average ISO of .194 in 2012-13. The power was what most people suspected Desmond wouldn't be able to hold onto, but so far that seems to have stayed as a permanent part of his batting profile.
However, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. Desmond also currently possesses a 27.4% strikeout rate, well above his career average of 21.3%. That's a significant increase that is doing no favors to his depressed batting average. Looking at his peripheral numbers doesn’t provide much encouragement either. Desmond is making contact with just 71.3% of the pitches he has swung at, well below his career average of 77.7% and his 2013 contact rate of 75.3%. Unsurprisingly that has also led to an increase in his swinging strike rate, up to 14.1% from 12.4% in 2013.
The biggest difference between 2014 and 2012-13 for Desmond though is his batting average on balls in play. Desmond's average BABIP in 2012-13 was .335 and his career average BABIP is .320, but in 2014 Desmond's BABIP is .268. Whenever an abnormal BABIP comes into play the general thought is that it's mostly due to luck and that it will correct itself. However, there is a bit of statistical evidence behind Desmond's BABIP decrease. Desmond's ground ball to fly ball ratio is down to 1.23, the lowest of his career, and his line drive rate is just a paltry 11.1%. These are both partially fueled by Desmond's monstrous 16.4% infield fly ball rate. While BABIP is a fairly luck driven stat, making weak contact so often will also depress it.
Overall, Desmond isn't hitting that badly for a shortstop as it is. If he continues to mash home runs, walk at a league average rate and plays defense closer to the base line he established in 2011-13 he would be a solid starter at shortstop. However, after seeing the 5.0 wins above replacement Ian Desmond in 2012 and 2013 it's hard to adjust expectations down to a 3.5 wins above replacement level.
In any case, concerns that Desmond has reverted back to the 2010-11 version of himself are misplaced. The power is still there and the walks are a big positive that were not a part of Desmond's game before. The areas where he's struggling were ones where Desmond produced fairly consistent numbers between 2010-11 and 2012-13. He might not be a top hitter, but that doesn't mean he still can't provide a positive contribution. Going forward I expect Desmond to at least be a league average hitter, but would not be that surprised to see Desmond get close to his 2012-13 numbers.
The baseline for a playoff team is 90 wins. By using that as the goal for the Washington Nationals they need to go 63-44 in their remaining games to reach that goal. That is a winning percentage of .589. It isn't easy but it isn't close to impossible. With the talent the Nationals have it is very doable, and despite the fact that the Nationals are under .500 they have scored 222 runs to 208 allowed. That gives them a Pythagorean record of 29-26. It is unlikely that the Nationals can make up that difference and may under perform their expected winning percentage all season, but it shows that they have played better than their record indicates and the Nationals have played nowhere close to their potential. Expected winning percentage is the first and most important reason to be optimistic. It shows something very fundamental. The Nationals are a better team than their record and if they can just keep playing as they have then the future results will be better than past results. The second statistical reason for optimism is the starting pitcher's regression to the mean. It has already somewhat started as last week the Nationals ranked 16th in baseball in starting pitcher's ERA, but as of today they rank 11th, but in FIP (a stat that measures only what the pitcher controls and indicates something closer to true performance) the Nationals starting pitchers rank 4th in baseball. And this is with having their full rotation for maybe a week.
That brings up the next reason for optimism. Players are going to start getting healthy. Ramos has started to find his timing and has been hitting much better the past week than he did when he first came off the DL. Ryan Zimmerman is due back today and the Nationals will be replacing a .555 or .632 OPS bat with a .831 career OPS one. That isn't a small change and not only does Zimmerman have an impact by simply replacing Espinosa or McLouth he will also push down the rest of the batting order and make it seven deep. There is a big difference in having Ian Desmond batting seventh being able to pick up RBI opportunities over Danny Espinosa.
In two or three weeks when Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez are back the Nationals will only be missing Harper. That is still a big loss, but only missing one player due to injury is a lot different than missing two, especially when those two are two of the better bats in the line-up. Outside of injuries the Nationals have a couple players underperforming their career averages. Jayson Werth is down near a .776 OPS compared to a career .834, and Ian Desmond is at .698 compared to his career OPS of .745.
For Jayson Werth the low OPS is due to the fact that his power hasn't yet kicked in. Perhaps it won't but Werth has hit more than a couple line-drives that have been caught at or near the wall. He has a higher than average BABIP, but he has had bad luck when he's hit the ball hard. For Ian Desmond his BABIP is down at .271 compared to his career average of .320. With a batting average dependent OBP those hits Desmond is losing to bad luck has negatively impacted his OPS. There is no guarantee that all of these things will turn around for the Nationals, but there is a close to zero percent chance than none of them do. The Nationals are going to get healthier and someone's luck is going to even out. Whether it is the starting pitchers, Jayson Werth, or Ian Desmond someone on this team is going to get hot and it is hard to imagine it not helping.
The Nationals are a team that has underperformed expectations and have shown serious warts, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the Washington Nationals and they are founded in statistical evidence. It is always better for peace of mind and mental health to be positive, but it is far more productive to be positive when it can be backed up with hard evidence.
Just as we thought that the Nationals were set in possible bullpen options, Mike Rizzo goes and resigns left-handed reliever Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Gonzalez was in a Nationals uniform during their amazing 2012 season, in which he was a major contributor out of the bullpen.
With the Gonzalez addition, I think it solidifies that Jerry Blevins won't be the only left-hander in the pen. They want another lefty in there, since it might appear they have full intention of giving the fifth starter spot to Ross Detwiler. If not, three lefty relievers is never anything to look down upon. Also with the move, it might look slimmer and slimmer that Xavier Cedeno will be in the bullpen come opening day, but will have every chance to compete for that position and send Gonzalez packing through the rest of Spring Training.
So far, the Nationals have been very solid during their exhibition games. Jayson Werth is just getting back in to playing mode, and that is the only concern. Pitching has mostly been solid, especially from the potential starters. Stephen Strasburg is one that really caught my eye. He has developed a slider, and it leads me to believe he will be even more effective this season than he ever has been. Since he throws hard, it will compliment all of his pitches in multiple ways. His fastball will jump through the zone, his curveball can be devastating with 12-6 movement, and is a fantastic compliment to the change-up with each pitch being off speed and diving to a side of the plate. The slider will be used mostly against left-handed hitters, but will mix in to righties. Only fear of this new pitch is an escalation in home runs given up. A few flat ones or sliders up in the zone could potentially be upper deck meat for lefties (cue Bryce Harper or Adam Dunn status)
Another name that has stuck out to me is prospect Zach Walters. Even though he is most likely going to end up at Triple-A Syracuse, he has made a positive impression with me, and hopefully Nats personnel. He has shown good hands, and pop in the bat, a sizzling 1.538 OPS in 16 AB’s this spring. Looks like he will be able to shoot the gaps well, and use what speed he has even though it is below average for shortstops. If he keeps good consistent play, look for him to potentially earn a bench slot over vets Jamey Carroll or Mike Fontenot, however in the long run would not be beneficial for him.
Speaking of shortstops, my impact player for the year is Ian Desmond. He was the guy I knew from the get-go that if he doesn't have a good year, things might not happen for the Nationals. But he has come into camp with a fire to lead with passion and succeed on the field, a fire I believe Matt Williams added gasoline to by looking to him for leadership. He has shown that he should be in the conversations for best shortstops in the league. He now has power, will use his speed and newfound aggressiveness on the base paths to swipe bases, and has tirelessly worked on his defense. He will easily be a 20-20 guy this season, maybe even 30-30.
Lastly, there are a few players I feel haven't left a good impression on me so far, or have still something to prove. First, is Danny Espinosa. Back in 2012, he was my favorite player. Now, he has a long hill to climb. He has shown some good defense, something he has always been known for. His at-bats so far haven't been great, but they aren't terrible. He went 0-for-10 to start the Spring, but his approach has been decent. Even Matt Williams likes his approach so far. I expect some growth their still, and hope he can pull out a backup role. His retooled swing has improved over the past few weeks, so optimism is flowing over the Nats once best-kept secret.
The last player would be Steven Souza. Souza was hyped in Spring Training as a potential player that could possibly come in and pick up a bench role for his power, and maybe even convert to first base. He’s looked fine in the outfield and while his offense is something yet to be proven consistently, he has been solid to start the spring. He still has a hill to climb before unseating Tyler Moore, but with both having options available Souza could certainly work his way on to the Opening Day roster.
Food for thought to close: Give credit to Matt Williams for being gutsy and trying to pull in an extra player (Souza) in during the 8th inning of their game against the Braves last Tuesday. Nothing better than seeing your manager tinker and try some aggressive defense when it doesn't matter, and see how your team responds. I'm sure it got guys excited to make an aggressive play. I like it, Matt Williams is looking like the right choice more and more each day.
As I continue to think about the Nationals line-up I find one glaring weakness. If I thought like an old school manager this weakness wouldn't exist as I'd bat my best speed guy, Denard Span, first and my best contact guy, Anthony Rendon, second, and while there is value in that I do not think that is the best approach. It sacrifices too much OBP in favor of offensive skills that don't really matter. It could also be the way to go if Span can be around his career average .350 OBP and Rendon develops like many expect. Ultimately the components that make-up a line-up are far more important than the order they are placed in, but why teams shy away from having their best hitters in the spots that will get the most at bats is beyond me. In my dream scenario the first and second spots in the batting order belong to Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper.
This is where the weakness comes into play. In my imaginings I've always placed Ryan Zimmerman third because Ryan Zimmerman has always batted third and should always bat third. This is the way things have always been and the way they should continue to be, but that isn't exactly the case. Ryan Zimmerman spent a number of games last season batting second or fourth and for his career is virtually the same batter no matter where he hits in the order. That is as it should be. Announcers and TV analyst talk about leading-off or hitting third being different but a player is placed in those positions because of an already displayed skill set and not to bat differently. This is why in my preferred batting order Ian Desmond should bat third.Read More
Before the start of the 2013 seasonthere were three Nationals players who were commonly thought to be regression candidates Gio Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond. All three had excellent years in 2012 earning many accolades for their respective efforts, but all three had put up numbers above their career averages.
For Gonzalez and LaRoche it was easy to see that their numbers would retreat a bit. Neither demonstrated any new skills, they merely did what they always did just slightly better. Lo and behold both are still doing well in 2013, but they are not replicating the success in 2013.
In Desmond’s case things were a bit trickier. For one, the prodigious power he had shown in 2012 seemingly came out of nowhere. In his first two years in the Major Leagues Desmond hit only 18 home runs and then he hit 25 in 2012 alone. Nobody knew where this new found power stroke had come from; let alone whether it was sustainable.Read More
One of the big questions coming into 2013 was if Ian Desmond's 2012 was acareer year or a breakout year. There was evidence to suggest the latter, but plenty of fear that it was the former. When Davey Johnson took over in the middle of 2011 he noticed a problem with the Nationals batting approach: Nationals hitters were too concerned with going the other way, and the hitter most affected was Ian Desmond. Trying to go the other way won't always result in a batter being able to go the other way as Desmond's batted ball data suggests that not much has changed in hit location. In 2010 Desmond had 79 at bats that ended with the ball going the opposite way, 97 in 2011, and 79 in 2012. The big difference in Desmond came in his line drive and fly ball rate.
In 2010 and 2011 Desmond had ground ball rates of 52.7% and 51.9% respectively and in 2011 he hit .265/.265/.287 on ground balls. Not much changed on ground balls in 2012 and not much can change as it is extremely difficult to get an extra base hit on a ground ball. In 2012 Desmond had a slash line of .306/.306/.389, but the big thing was Desmond's ground ball rate dropped to 47.6%. The big difference in Desmond's hitting from before Davey Johnson took over and after is Desmond stopped trying to take everything the other way. It is very difficult to gets your hands inside an inside pitch and most of the time trying to do so will lead to a weakly hit ground ball. Good hitters hit the ball where it is pitched, taking pitches away to the opposite field and pulling pitches inside.Read More
One of the downsides of having anearly complete roster at the beginning of spring is that there are very few real questions to address. One big question for 2013 is how good Danny Espinosa will be. Espinosa to his credit is already a fairly complete player. Outside of his NL-leading 189 strikeouts, he was an average to above average second baseman offensively, coupled with superb defense and above average base running. However there is room for improvement, which has led to articles like this one by Thom Loverro. In it when asked about Espinosa’s potential Mike Rizzo said that “he can hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases.”
Accomplishing this feat would place Espinosa in the 20/20 club. While not as exclusive as the 30/30 or 40/40 club, it is still an interesting milestone to measure speed and power. In the past ten seasons only 102 times has a player had a season ending with 20 home runs and 20 steals. This feat is even rarer for second baseman, only being accomplished 11 times in 10 years. For the Nationals a 20/20 season is very rare, as it has only been accomplished twice since they moved to DC. The first time in 2006 by Alfonso Soriano on his way to joining the 40/40 club and the second time by Ian Desmond last year.Read More
A common refrain this off-season, as the LaRoche drama has dragged on is that the Nats need more left-handed power. Last season the Nats two main left-handed batters where Harper and LaRoche. With Harper moving from second to fourth in the line-up as expected, and Span at the top of the line-up the Nats will have the same number of left-handed batters, but they will lack the power that LaRoche brought. As has been pointed out before, Morse is just as effective vs. right handers hitting .292/.343/.487 for his career compared to .274/.348/.495 for LaRoche. With that little of a difference between the two the Nats don't have much need for more left handed power.
A league average left-handed batter hit .260/.332/.416 against right-handed pitching in 2012. Several of the Nats middle of the order bats are better than this. Ryan Zimmerman for his career is hitting .273/.333/.478 against right handers, Jayson Werth .260/.352/.436, and in his breakout season of 2012 Ian Desmond hit .289/.336/.492. All of them hit left handers better, but that isn't the point. The Nats have right-handed batters that can approximate the production of a league average left-hander.Read More
Just back from Boston, Frank and Susan discuss being the visiting fan at one of Baseball's most storied and famous ballparks, and the differences between baseball parks across the league. Also a Nats Update and Ian Desmond is our Get to Know a Nat. Nationals 101, Now with actual recording equipment!