Fact or Fiction: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Wednesday August 29th, 2012
Fact or Fiction examines the performance of a player, good or bad, and determines whether he'll continue his success this season or if he has just been flukey-good. Today's Fact or Fiction looks at Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.
A season ago, Ian Desmond put together a poor offensive showing that had reporters in the media questioning his ability to be a regular everyday shortstop on a contending team. Over 639 plate appearances in 2011, he posted a .298 on-base percentage with a .290 wOBA and 8 home runs.
However, despite his struggles at the plate and in the field in 2011, the Nationals stuck with him in 2012, giving him every opportunity to redeem himself this season. So far, the plan has worked out. The Nationals are currently in first place, and although they've dealt with a ton of injuries (including Desmond) this season, Desmond's production has been irreplaceable at the plate - helping Natitude spread across the DMV area. Not only has Desmond's plate production been valuable for the Nats, but he's also been one of the most valuable shortstops in the majors this season, posting a 3.8 fWAR (Fangrpahs Wins Above Replacement).
Although Desmond is a free-swinging hitter and doesn't walk much - the biggest change in his production numbers this season were in the power department, as he's currently sitting on a career high 19 home runs. Previously, his career high in home runs was 13, which was set in 2007 at the low-A level. In addition to home runs, Desmond is also sitting on a .499 slugging percentage - good for the top spot among all players at the shortstop position in the majors.
However, as mentioned above, Desmond still doesn't walk much (5.1% career BB%) and is still striking out at over 20% of the time. He's very aggressive at the plate - swinging at 39% of the pitches he sees outside the strike zone (league average around 30%) and swinging at 55% of all pitches he sees. While he does a good job of swinging at pitches that are in the strike zone (72% this season) - his aggressive approach on pitches outside of the strike zone will allow teams to adjust.
One of the biggest factors that jumps out right away with Ian Desmond and his home run surge this season is the home run to fly ball rate (HR/FB %). This is the number of home runs a player hits based on their total number of fly balls hit. In 2012, Desmond has a 18.8% HR/FB ratio - certainly a number that isn't sustainable given his career 10.6% HR/FB ratio and the league average being between 10-11% HR/FB%.
As far as Desmond playing in a favorable ballpark - Nationals Park plays as a neutral ballpark for right-handed hitters and home runs, so he's not at a huge advantage when hitting at home (like a player that plays home games at Great American Ballpark or US Cellular Field).
Overall, Desmond's 2012 season has been a major upgrade from previous seasons. While playing at the minor league level, Desmond showed expectations that he could be a productive shortstop with some pop in his bat, but never a 25-30 home run guy. Based on advanced metrics and his approach at the plate, starting pitchers and opponents will make adjustments when facing the soon-to-be 27-year-old shortstop. In return, Desmond will need to make adjustments of his own if he wants to continue to be a productive shortstop at the major league level.
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