Bouncing Back(wards): Ian Desmond
When we think of bouncing back, it’s usually a talented player who underperformed the previous year and will bounce back in a good way. In Ian Desmond’s case however, I’m going to be liberal with the category and use it more as a “regression candidate” heading and say he’s going to bounce back to somewhere in between in 2011 and 2012 seasons.
My biggest argument against Desmond duplicating his breakout 2012 is that…in many ways he was the same player in 2012 that he was the previous two years when he submitted an OPS+ of 89 and 80, respectively. I’ll illustrate as much in a chart below, but let’s run through the numbers really quickly. Desmond’s 2012 season saw him post a 5.5% walk rate (5.3% career) and a 20.7% strikeout rate (20.3% career). The walk rate was in line with his below-average 2011 season and the strikeout rate was a mere 1% better. Given that his BABIP was only 6 points better than the previous season and 3 points better than his career average, we can’t blame this breakout solely on luck. Or can we?
When a player’s home run total jumps from 8 to 25 and we see his ISO more than double, the first thing I do is check his batted ball data. That means GB%, FB% and most importantly HR/FB%. These are located on individual player pages on FanGraphs. It’s also useful to check out Hit Tracker Online, which can tell you how many home runs were just getting over the wall, how many were no doubters and so on. To that end, here’s the important info:
*This includes 2009 data that I didn’t include in the chart because 89 at-bats was too small a sample to draw meaningful conclusions from
So what does this information tell us, exactly? It tells us that Desmond increased the number of fly balls he hit in 2012, which could lend credence to his power breakout, as more fly balls can often mean more home runs. It can also mean that his batting average was a little fluky in that his BABIP remained constant despite the uptick in FB%, as fly balls typically equate to a lower BABIP. So let’s call that a net draw as it pertains to his breakout season. The category my argument will hinge on, is that last one to the right. His HR/FB% tripled from 2011 and more than doubled his previous career high (excluding his 89 at-bat 2009 season). More fly balls and more home runs make sense. But a 12% increase in HR/FB% doesn’t jive with a 4% increase in FB%. Something is rotten in the district of Washington.
Before just drawing conclusions based on his batted ball data (though I feel confident saying that some regression is in order when a HR/FB% triples), I visited Hit Tracker Online to see just how many of Desmond’s home runs were legitimate. The data shows us that he had only 4 “no doubt” home runs* compared to 8 “just enough” home runs. The rest landed in the “plenty” category, which means that 17 of his 25 home runs were what I would label as legitimate. Certainly every hitter will experience their share of “just enough” home runs but it’s hard for me to give full on credit for them to the hitter. 17 is still a very healthy number, especially for a shortstop, so while it appears Desmond showed more power last year than he ever had before, the overall home run total was inflated by those “just enough” home runs.
As I said in the opening, it’s not that I believe Ian Desmond can’t be a good player. I think he can and will be helpful to both the Nationals and fantasy teams. That doesn’t mean he’s worth drafting at his current value though (44th overall per NFBC), as he’s unlikely to be the player he was last year. I do think there was progression between 2011 and 2012, but I happen to believe Desmond’s true talent lies somewhere in the middle of those two seasons. Perhaps something closer to a .265/.310/.450 slash line with 13-17 HR and 20 stolen bases. That’s a valuable fantasy season given the dearth of options at shortstop, but it’s not enough to take him 44th overall when Asdrubal Cabrera is going in the mid 90s.
*Glossary for Hit Tracker Online terms:
“Just Enough” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.
“No Doubt” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.
“Plenty” home run – Everything else, except for the 2 above Home run types
Lucky Homer – A home run that would not have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day.
Hit Tracker Online