Think Ian Desmond wants a day off by now? Maybe have one of those “Bryce Harper clear your head” type days? To put it mildly, this has been a rough start to the season. Through the first 22 games of the season, Desmond (.212/.244/.376) has three more errors, 9, than extra base hits and has struck out 30 times in only 85 official at bats (that’s 35%). Toss in those five double plays he’s grounded into, and Desmond has been something of a huge negative this year. According to Baseball-Reference’s WAR, Desmond has played ’14 at sub replacement level: -0.4.
It’s gotten so bad for Desmond that after game 22, where he went 0-for-4, his WAR actually increased from -0.5 because he caught the ball. Atta boy!
Desmond is 28, so it’s not really evidence of a decline. He’s having a bad run of 20+ games. These things happen. What I wonder, though, is how often they happen to Desmond, or, more to the point, has this happened to him before this year?
So, I selected .212 as my Desmond Line for batting and arbitrarily selected four errors within a 20 game stretch as being suspect defense. One error every four games equals out to a Jose Offerman-esque 40 errors, which qualifies as suspect to me. Bear in mind that these figures reference a run of 20 consecutive games, not seasonal stats.
Like all players, Desmond has had his run in with cold streaks, both in the field and at the plate, but neither seemed to coincide the past few years. In 2011, though, Desmond started the year much like he has this one. By April 25th, through his 21st game, he’d already made seven errors and was batting .205/.253/.333. He pulled himself out of that slump only to fall into a deeper one. Starting June 5th through July 5th, Desmond started a particularly awful month of baseball where he hit .202, with no extra base hits, five walks, and 23 strikeouts. For the most part, he played passable defense, hovering right around my four error qualifier.
June seemed to be a bad time for him in 2010 as well, when his batting bottomed out at .194, rising no higher than .228, with a high water mark of seven errors. Beginning September 7th, until the end of that year, Desmond hit .173 with two extra base hits, but he fielded well enough that you let the young guy take his lumps learning Major League pitching.
2010 and ’11 were disappointing years for Desmond, most notably regarding his WAR: 1.1 and 1.5 respectively. ’12 and ’13 were different, however. He seemed to put those early years behind him and made the leap to quality shortstop, accumulating 3.4 and 3.6 WAR while earning the NL Silver Slugger in each year. Whether you believe in advanced metrics or not, it’s hard to make an argument that Desmond was anything but an asset these past two seasons.
Desmond isn’t the only National struggling in the early going. Technically, of the starters, he’s only next to last in OPS+ (his 71 narrowly edges out Denard Span’s 66 for team wide condolences). With his recent run of personal success, the deserved accolades, and the increased team expectations, Desmond’s struggles seem all the more alarming. He’ll figure it out. We can only hope that Jayson Werth’s bat doesn’t run out of miracles until Desmond does.