Ian Desmond has taken quite a bit of grief this year, and deservedly so. He leads the league in errors – by a wide margin. And today, Adam Kilgore pointed out that “Ian Desmond’s .695 OPS ranks second lowest among qualifying major league rookies despite his fortunate .316 batting average on balls put in play.” By the way, I love Kilgore’s article, lots of fun little stat things that I really enjoy reading. Anyway, Ian isn’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball.
As for the fielding, I don’t want to write too much on that at the moment. The errors suck, we all hate them. They are modified by a great range, and the hope that with maturity he will improve the bad throws.
But the hitting is what I was wondering about. 2nd lowest among qualified rookies? That aint good. I actually looked and I don’t know what “qualified” counts as, but Desmond has had 371 PAs. Alcides Escobar, another SS, is below him with a .643 OPS. Starlin Castro, the other rookie SS with enough playing time is way above, with a .800 OPS in 324 PAs.
As for other rookie shortstops with some significant playing time, Jason Donald of the Indians has 235 PAs and a better than Desmond .717 OPS. Tommy Manzella of Houston has 209 PAs with a .513 OPS. Other rookies that are below Desmond with perhaps non-qualified but still quite a few PAs include Justin Smoak who has a .669 OPS in 275 PAs, and Jonathan Herrera, 2B on the Rockies, with a .662 OPS in 184 PAs.
In terms of rookies, he isn’t doing great, but he’s not so awful. That list of qualified rookies with a higher OPS probably only includes about a dozen people – Reid Brignac, Neil Walker and Castro being the only middle infielders, Buster Posey and Jason Jaso as the catchers, and the rest in better hitting positions. Tyler Colvin, Jason Heyward, Brennan Boesch, Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, Roger Bernadina, Austin Jackson are all outfielders or first basemen, and David Freese plays third. You get my point with all of this. Yes, he is hitting poorly, but he sortof ranks towards the middle of all rookies with some amount of playing time, and he ranks pretty well among middle infielders.
All that being said, if a player on your team isn’t hitting, he isn’t hitting. Desmond starting out pretty hot this year, and was doing well with a .768 OPS on May 18th. Since then, it’s been downhill. From May 19th to today, his OPS is only .655, and he’s hitting .255/.282/.373. Clearly facing major league pitching for more than a month and a half was too much for him. The difference, after all, between success and failures in the majors is the ability to adjust, and he didn’t do that. Case closed. Or is it?
If we take apart that May 19th through today time period, he has 2 major trends. One is the OPS dropping, for a long period of time. But from that date through the end of June, he was truly in a swoon. He hit .217/.246/.300 for a .546 OPS. Since then though, starting on July 1, he has actually picked up his game a bit. In 109 PAs, he’s hit .300/.324/.460 for a nice .784 OPS. When I was examining that, I realized, that’s about 1/3 of his season. And the bad period was about 1/3 of his season as well. Of course, the first part, where he had the .768 OPS in his first 135 PAs was also about 1/3 of the season. Dividing it up that way, he seems to have been pretty successful hitting for 2/3 of the season. It’s the awful middle that made him look bad. And it’s his remaining PAs that will determine how well he ends up hitting this year.
Another interesting stat, when talking about rookies, is VORP. That better reflects his value by the position he plays, basically saying that a good hitting SS is a better asset than a LFer with the same stats. Desmond currently sits with a VORP of 10.1, ranking him 14th among all rookies, 3rd among middle infielders behind SS Starlin Castro and Pittsburgh 2B Walker.
Desmond isn’t tearing the cover off the ball, for sure, but he doesn’t seem to be an atrocious hitter, not for a SS. Consistency is something that almost always improves with maturity, and we may see that take effect in the final numbers this year. The bat, I think, is doing a good job of taking care of itself. The glove is the scarier part of the equation to me.