Ian Desmond was something of a divisive player last season. Many saw promise in the SS who had a strong few months with the bat, hitting a late season high-water mark of a .753 OPS on September 5, when he was sitting at .289/.325/.428, and flashes of incredible range on the field. Others focused on the league leading 34 errors, or the .700 OPS he finished up with after a September swoon. I’m in the former category, so I can’t say I completely understand the Desmond-isn’t-good crowd, but I think the real issue is with his glove, not his bat. After all, the only rookie middle infielders with over 250 PAs that had a higher OPS were Neil Walker (.811) and Starlin Castro (.755).
But enough about me inserting reasons why he’s so great, let’s get back to the errors issue. Desmond committed way too many, and some, like Thom Loverro, believe alot of those will go away with experience and maturity. Ok, we all know that errors are somewhat ridiculous, because they are subjective and probably negatively influenced by a positive – range. But rather than throwing them away, let’s look at a few other defensive statistics, along with errors.
I’ve pulled numbers for a few players, gold glove shortstops, and how they did in their first two full seasons. Besides errors, I looked at errors per inning played at SS (to “normalize” it), their range factor per 9 innings, and the Rtot, a Baseball Reference metric measuring fielding runs above average (it’s a total fielding value). Here’s how it shakes out:
There are a few very interesting cases in there. Ozzie Guillen increased his errors per inning but his Rtot went up quite a bit, because he had so many more chances the second year. Tony Fernandez, very good defensive SS for many years, did just the opposite. The good news is that so many players with very high error numbers ended up having very good defensive careers – Ripken, Fernandez, Rey Ordonez, and Ozzie Smith. And while improvement isn’t a guarantee, it often happens after a young SS plays his first full season.
There is bad news as well. None of these guys committed as many errors as Desmond, and only Jay Bell and Derek Jeter had Rtot as low as Desmond. Neither of those guys, despite their gold gloves, have been considered great fielders. Desmond’s range also is the lowest on the list. Of course, he’s right next to where Ozzie Guillen was, who jumped so significantly that despite committing more errors in the following year, he prevented more than twice as many runs.
This data doesn’t bring us to some sort of pretty conclusion, unfortunately. Those that don’t like Desmond’s play can use it and show that he isn’t as good as everyone else, so he won’t improve. Other can say it indicates there is significant room for improvement. Either way, there is a chance that he will improve. If he does, it certainly won’t be unprecedented. And if he improves to the point of winning a few gold gloves, he’ll join the list of other shortstops that did the same thing, a list that includes Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith.