Ian Desmond: Unlikely Star
September 14, 2012 in Uncategorized
Perhaps it is fitting that on a team that wasn't expected to compete, an unlikely star emerged. That is what has occurred in Washington, as shortstop Ian Desmond has become one of the Nationals most important players, and a clubhouse leader. It wasn't supposed to be that way, and if you asked a fan at the beginning of the season how important Desmond was, he'd be lucky to crack the top 10 Nationals on people's minds. Now though, despite being surrounded by bonafide stars Desmond would be near the top of the list.
What Ian Desmond has done this season is pretty remarkable. Among all shortstops Desmond ranks 4th in batting average, 7th in onbase percentage, 1st in slugging, and 1st in wOBA (which is probably the most accurate stat on offensive productivity). He's just one home run off of Hanley Ramirez for the lead, despite playing in almost 30 fewer games. Though Desmond has been unable to run as much due to injuries (even when he is playing), he still ranks 6th in steals (among shortstops), and has shown good speed throughout the year. His defense which has always been a bit of an enigma, as he possessed fantastic range and a cannon for an arm, but would make some bad errors or miss plays he should have had. This season though, Desmond's defense has been even more consistent and has made a number of highlight worthy plays.
Desmond in his previous two seasons as a starter hadn't come even remotely close to these types of numbers. A .269/.308/.392 line was Desmond's better of those two seasons, and that is well below his .295/.331/..522 current line. Perhaps most impressive is his .331 on base percentage. Desmond has never been a patient hitter, and still isn't this season. His walk rate has remained roughly the same (5.1%), Desmond is just making better contact and getting more hits this year. Now typically the fear would be that it is just luck, but his BABIP of .332 shouldn't be a huge concern because he posted a .317 BABIP number each of the last two years. In fact the biggest jump for Desmond in his numbers is the fact that he's hitting the ball out of play. His 23 home runs in 474 plate appearances, are five more than his previous two seasons combined which spanned 1,213 plate appearances.
Despite very impressive numbers, Ian Desmond's best contribution to the Washington Nationals this season probably hasn't come in the batter's box or in the field, as his leadership has set him apart. Desmond is almost always the first one out of the dugout to take the field each inning, and leads by example. When a batter has a poor at bat or a pitcher is in trouble typically it will be Desmond who will be talking with them to settle them. Reports behind the scenes also speak to Desmond's character and leadership. It is that leadership from Desmond and others, that has allowed the Washington Nationals to deal with so many injuries and slumps this season and still be firmly in first place. A more talented team, but weaker in the locker room would have been more likely to collapse. That hasn't been the Nationals though as they have faced every adversity thrown their way.
Ian Desmond may have been an unlikely star and an afterthought to many at the beginning of the season, but he's now a core Washington National (note to Mike Rizzo sign him to an extension ASAP). His bat, his glove, but most importantly his character has set the tone for the Nationals all season, and should continue as they look to head into their first playoffs since coming to Washington.