September 22, 2014

Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals Rock Star

September 3, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

You will not find his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated nor even Rolling Stone. You will barely find him in the Washington Post sports pages, but Ian Desmond is a rock star. He is a rock, one of the most solid players on the Washington Nationals roster and he is emerging as a star who deserves to be recognized as such.

Ian Desmond’s WAR rating currently stands at 5.2 for the 2013 season.  Wins Above Replacement—WAR–is the blue ribbon of baseball analytics. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference are the two web sites that provide ongoing WAR ratings. WAR provides one magical number that aggregates the total performance of a player and purports to tell all. Nats Braves 2013 015 (2)Even its detractors—like Jim Caple at ESPN—admit that its ability to integrate the defensive performance of the player makes it an essential tool in understanding the overall value of a player.

FanGraphs rates Ian Desmond as the 16th best position player in the majors. Immediately above him are Adrian Beltre and Shane Victorino.  Just below him are Robinson Cano and Yadier Molina. It is almost as though there is this secret life that Desmond leads where he pals around with Superman, but only the in-crowd knows about it.

Here is what Ian Desmond club members need to know. According to FanGraphs, Ian is the best overall position player on the Nationals roster.  Jayson Werth is next best Nationals player, ranking 45th with a WAR rating of 3.4 in 2013.  Ian is the best shortstop in baseball, though when healthy Troy Tulowitzki has a higher WAR, but not by much.

Last season Ian’s WAR rating finished at 5.0 and he was 23rd on the list of all position players in both leagues. By comparison, Bryce Harper in 2012 was number 31 on the Fangraph list with a WAR of 4.8, but his numbers have fallen to 3.1 for 2013.

Key to Desmond’s value is his consistency. He is seldom hurt and his numbers for 2012-2013 are remarkably the same. As a result Desmond ranks 10th among all position players with an aggregate WAR of 10.2 for these past two season.  Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutcheon, David Wright and Robinson Cano are above Ian, but just a few places beneath them, right after Joey Votto, is Ian Desmond.

It is his bat for the most part, but he is no slacker with the glove. Yes, in the first few weeks of the season Ian made seven errors in 18 games. Since then he has made only eight at one of the most demanding positions in the game and his highlight reel plays have been frequent this year and last.

Fangraphs uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) to assess a player’s value in the field. It uses a Range Factor, sureness of his hands and other factors such as turning the double play. Desmond’s UZR for the 2013 season is 6.7, which places him 7th overall among all shortstops in both leagues.

There has not been a shortstop as good as Ian Desmond in Washington since Joe Cronin was sold to Boston at the end of the 1934 season for $225,000. It was the end of competitive baseball for the old Nationals franchise and it should not happen again.

Desmond was paid only $3.8 million in 2013 and $.5 million in 2012. He has been a huge bargain, but that will end after this season. Washington will have to pay for Ian to play whether it is via arbitration or a long-term contract. Ten-year deals for players like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira have become a bugaboo, but teams have to pay to play.

Ian Desmond likes to think of himself as a blue collar player. He is the first on the steps to greet his team mates after a home run. He is rock solid and while there are no sure things in baseball, or in life, betting on the 27- year old Ian Desmond to continue to perform at high levels should bring odds about as good as they get. He may not get the ink the local media reserve for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, but for Ian the only ink that matters will be on the bottom line. That is where Ian Desmond deserves to get his and Nationals fans should hope he gets it.

Comments

3 Responses to “Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals Rock Star”
  1. ghostofwadelefler says:

    “There has not been a shortstop as good as Ian Desmond in Washington since Joe Cronin was sold to Boston at the end of the 1934 season for $225,000.”

    I dunno, Ted, Cecil Travis wasn’t exactly a slouch. Many old-time Washington baseball fans still clamor for his induction to the Hall though, sadly, he did not live to see it happen. In fairness, however, he did play a fair chunk of his career at third base as well as in the outfield.

  2. It is a fair point. My reason for writing the article was twofold. First, I don’t think the average Nats fan appreciates the contribution that Desmond makes to the team, nor do they appreciate how good he really is. And second, I fear may not get a decent contract offer from ownership because they fail to appreciate exactly what they have. I read the fine book on Travis by Rob Kirkpatrick several years ago. I believe his point is that Travis would have made the Hall of Fame had not WWII interrupted his career at a key point. Travis had about as good a season as any Washington Nationals player ever in 1941 and if Desmond ever puts up numbers to match those–19 triples, .359 average, 101 RBI–he will get the recognition he deserves. Travis was among the very elite players in 1941 in much the way Desmond has worked his way to the top. But Travis was not a slick fielding shortstop as best as I can ascertain. He started at 3B and when he moved over to SS he made quite a few errors: 40 in 1938 when he was full time at the position. But again, your point is a good one. Travis was the leader on a less than championship caliber team and recognized as one of the best players in the league at the peak of his career. My hope is that Nats fans will recognize Desmond in the same way. Thanks for your comment.

  3. ghostofwadelefler says:

    Not in dispute. I’m a big Desmond fan myself (even bought my son a Desmond t-shirt; he’s not as much a baseball fan as he likes the number 20). It’s clear he is the stabilizing force in a Washington infield that has struggled at times both with the bat and the glove.

    You’re correct that Travis did not make an impact as a fielder upon his arrival in Washington; many contemporary articles criticized his fielding at third compared to Ossie Bluege, who was beginning to decline at that point. The stats bear witness, particularly the 40 he made at short in 1938. He did cut those errors in 1939-40 – albeit playing in fewer games – and made just 25 errors in 136 games at short in that fantastic 1941 season (his 40 in ’38 came in 143 games).

    I think the point is well made that Travis, like Desmond, worked hard at improving his play and did so in an understated manner. They’re the kind of players that, to your point, don’t always get the ink or the attention of the casual fan.

    Thanks for replying; I always enjoy your Washington baseball perspective.

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