Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Critical National: Ian Desmond

While watching MLB Network the other day, I couldn’t help but notice something that caught both my ear and my eyes. No, it wasn’t Strausburg or Harper, not the recently extended Zimmerman or the “furry” Jayson Werth. It was Ian Desmond, the starting shortstop who is about to embark on his third full season as an MLB starter. He will be the leadoff man for the Nats once again and if they are to improve and truly challenge for the NL East title as is being discussed in preseason circles, Desmond has a lot of work to do.

After watching him hack at the first pitch in each of his three at-bats, I came to a startling conclusion: Ian Desmond is not a patient hitter. Now, before you declare that you already knew this, let’s make sure I’m right. A quick look at some stats tells us that Desmond is truly impatient. First of all, he only averages about 3.5 pitches per plate appearance. While 3.5 isn't considered "terrible," that isn’t exactly considered “working the count” either. In 1302 major league at-bats, he’s walked a total of 68 times. Yeah, that’s not a typo. He barely walks 5% of the time as a leadoff hitter. Despite being a high-contact guy, he doesn’t hit for much average because of his relatively low line-drive percentage. Couple this with his aversion to walks and you have a full time leadoff man whose on-base percentage dipped below .300 last year. That’s not productive in the least.

While Desmond’s (overly) aggressive approach caught my eye, the announcers caught my ear. They were stating that Ian’s “not your typical leadoff guy,” or he’s “not your traditional number one hitter,” and the like. This was simply a really nice, glass half-full, Nationals-slanted way of saying that he’s not currently very good. This isn’t a simple case of a player being unlucky either, as is noted when gauging his BABIP. He just isn’t very efficient at the plate. While the Nats don’t have a lot of other options, giving a player like Desmond the most at-bats on the team does not look like a sure plan to take them to the next level. Perhaps this is why Washington is so aggressively shopping for a centerfielder, or maybe they just aren’t happy with the group of underachievers they currently have there. Either way, they need more productivity out of the leadoff spot and Desmond currently mans that position.

For Washington to take the next leap to being a true contender, Ian Desmond is going to have to pick it up. A lot.

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