Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ian Desmond's Power

When MASN posted the line-ups for last Thursday night and Ian Desmond was listed as the starting SS, it was enough to get me back out to Nationals Park for the first time in a few weeks. As others have noted, he showed surprisingly impressive power with his double, two warning-track fly-outs, and especially this shot, hit almost to the last row of the Red Porch. Since then, Desmond has two more extra-base hits in a grand total of 9 plate appearances going into Sunday (I'm writing this during the Sunday game, and in two at bats so far he has a single and an ROE.)

On that Red Porch shot, Joe Blanton threw Desmond a cookie, no doubt. It's tough to hang a curveball better than this 74-mph meatball:

Still, scouts will tell you that a homer like that isn't a fluke. A lot of scouts will use a stop-watch to measure flyball hangtime, even on pop-ups, to measure a hitter's raw power. Even when they miss, powerful hitters put juice into the ball.

The Desmond homer was a bomb. Hit Tracker, which estimates the distance every homer would have traveled if you could eliminate the effects of wind, altitude, temperature, etc., says that Desmond's homer is the third longest homer hit by the Nationals in Nationals Park all year.

That homer doesn't tell us that Desmond is going to hit a lot of home runs. That requires strike zone command, pitch recognition, mechanical consistency, etc. But it shows that he has more raw power than the scouting reports had indicated.

Here are Desmond's ISO power numbers over his minor league career. ISO is slugging minus batting average, and it's a good measure of a hitter's true power:

Year Age Lev ISO
2004 18 Rook/A-SS 0.075
2005 19 A/A+ 0.105
2006 20 A+/AA 0.118
2007 21 A+ 0.168
2008 22 AA/Rook 0.152
2009 23 AAA/AA 0.147

The first thing you notice is the how his power jumped in 2007. One theory is that he was repeating high-A ball, which gave him a leg-up. That's a valid point. On the other hand, you still expect power to develop through these years. He could be making less contact as he moves up, but when he connects, the power should be there. So it's a little odd that his ISO number dropped so much from '07 go '08, and even stranger that it slipped a bit again in '09.

That made me think about another thing that some may have forgotten about Desmond, which was the stress fracture of his hamate bone suffered sometime in 2008. The hamate is a key bone in your wrist, and hamate injuries are notorious for lingering and sapping power.

A stress fracture in particular can be a stealthy injury. Stress fractures are caused by repeated motion, not a single violent blow. Often, an athlete can compete with a stress fracture for a long time until the pain becomes too great. He probably has no idea when it first happened, and the only real treatment for a stress fracture is rest.

So you have to wonder, how much did the hamate affect him in 2008? And was he really 100% on opening day in 2009?

Short of going back in time and giving him weekly MRIs, we can't know the answers here. Even he probably doesn't know. But, if in fact Desmond has a big additional level of power in him, this could be part of the reason why. That, and the fact that hitters can frequently keep developing power through their age-28 season.

Desmond's approach at the plate is still the most important factor in whether he can be a success at the major-league level. His very early success is in no small part due to the fact that he has yet to swing at a pitch out of the strike zone (in 11 PAs though 2:14 pm Sunday).

But based on the little bit I've seen so far, I think his ceiling may be a good bit higher than I thought a week ago.


Anonymous said...

He had an insane BABIP this year. I'm not sure about him only because of that, but he has impressed so far: 8-12, 4 XBH. His infield hit showed off his great speed and so did the Wild pitch to Adam Dunn where he advanced to 3rd base. He has to play every day.

Steve said...

Very happy to have him out there. And yet we have this Riggleman quote from this morning's game story in the Post, making it sound like it's all a matter of chance if he and Maxwell get to play:
"Desmond -- he continues to play well," Riggleman said. "Him and Maxwell are the story tonight. We'll see if they can continue to get enough at-bats between here and the end of the year to get a real good read."

Steven said...

One of the reasons ISO is a better measure of power than SLG is that it eliminates the vagaries of BABIP.