Monday, June 28, 2010

Time for Desmond to Go Down

Going into the season, Ian Desmond was a source of hope for the Nationals. A team that has developed exactly one starting-caliber position player in the last five years had a true talent on their hands, perhaps ready to break through. He earned the starting shortstop job, and if the team was to exceed expectations, Desmond was one of the guys who could make it happen.

Things haven't gone as planned. His batting line is down to a woeful .249 / .289 / .376, putting him solidly in Yuniesky Betancourt territory. The problem is that his strike zone discipline has badly regressed. He's walking in just 4.6% of plate appearances, and he's swinging at 34.9% of pitches out of the strike zone. That's Wily Mo Pena territory. And since he's seeing so many fewer hitters counts, the burst in power that we saw from him over the last two years has disappeared.

And then there are the errors. After last night's disastrous play in the seventh, in which he booted an easy, custom-made double play with two runners on, costing Stephen Strasburg a seventh shutout inning and leading to a nightmarish 5-run inning, Desmond now has a ridiculous 19 on the year. No one else has more than 13. Last year's league leader in errors among shortstops was Orlando Cabrera, with 25 for the whole season.

The advanced metrics say that he's still making up for most of that with his arm and range, and a better first-baseman would have bailed him out on at least a couple of his throwing errors. But MLB players just can't botch the routine play as often as Desmond does. He has to do better.

Rizzo has given Desmond an awful lot of rope this season, but he's regressing badly in every phase of the game. The reason the minor leagues are there is to give guys a place to fix problems like that outside the glare of MLB. So it would make a lot of sense to let him go down to Syracuse and work things out there. If he can regain his command of the strikezone and reduce the number of errors, then the team could bring him back again for August and September.

But if they send Desmond down, then it's not really clear who becomes the everyday shortstop. Guzman's only played 14 games there this year, and I'm not totally convinced his shoulder is healthy enough to allow him to play there every day. After that, you're looking at a lot of Alberto Gonzalez, and we know how that goes. And of course Adam Kennedy gets pressed back into every day service, and he's quietly been having a miserable season also, hitting .238 / .317 / .319 with declining range and too many errors himself.

I worried going into the season that if Desmond didn't pan out that they were dangerously exposed in the middle-infield, and now we're seeing that.

So Rizzo might have to make a deal. Aki Iwamura totally cratered in Pittsburgh, but it couldn't hurt to throw a bag of balls to the Pirates to see what he can do. Mike Fontenot is a forgotten man in Chicago. Then there's a perennial trade target Dan Uggla, who I'm sure could be had for a discount, as long as you take all the salary (and maybe more), but he probably doesn't make sense for the Nationals. And then with the injuries in Anaheim and Boston, there's suddenly a lot of competition for middle-infielders.

Regardless, the top priority should be Desmond's development, and he's not getting any better in DC. He needs to be in the minors to fix his basic problems.

13 comments:

Eric said...

Obviously the league has adjusted to Desmond by throwing him all off-speed stuff out of the zone and letting him get himself out.

I'm not sure if regularly batting 8th accounts for this, but for a young players to be seeing nothing but breaking balls can't be good for his development. If they aren't going to demote him they should try him in the #2 hole and see if he does better when pitchers forced to give him more fastballs.

Kevin Trainor said...

Completely disagree with this. As you say, the "advanced metrics" show that he's still providing defense better than the average NL shortstop, and the other two options at short are worse with the glove and the bat. What he needs is a lot of one-on-one work with the hitting coach to show more patience at the plate and deal with the breaking stuff. If we keep sending the prospects down to Syracuse when they run into problems, they're never going to show us anything here. We already know they can play at AAA. We need them to play here.

Also, comparing Ian to Yuni is just wrong. Yuni only wishes his glove was as good as Desmond's.

RA said...

I expected a .245 avg and about 36 errors. I'm fine with that. He needs to develop in the majors. I wouldn't send him down unless he was hitting low .220s and on pace for 50 errors.

All the cries to get Guzman off SS and now its time to send Desmond down.

Harper said...

Even if you tell a kid - go down to AAA and just work on it - he's going to want to do well to get back up. That's still pressure. I'd like to see an extended sit at the major league level before the send down. Give him a week on the bench, some time where he's just working on his swing and not trying to hit his way out of the problem, then another lengthy set of starts. I know he's not doing well but for me "we gave him a half-season" is not different enough from "we gave him a couple months", in terms of showing the kid you think he belongs in the majors.

(and with the team the way it is they have that "luxury" of working this way)

flippin said...

I am with you and I hope for one of Rizzo's quick and decisive moves. Desmond is going to boot the next *important* MLB play, I can feel it and he can too. I am at the end of the Morgan idiocy as well. Picked off first? Throwing to the wrong base and weak hitting spell demotion.

Steven said...

I'm not saying they should send Desmond down to send a message or any of that crap. I'm saying that right now he's really regressing in in skill set, especially at the plate, and that it might help his development to step back, face some easier competition, and then come back.

Will said...

I am expecting "Time for Desmond to Go Down, Part 2: Nyjer Morgan"

Steven said...

I dunno. I think with Morgan you just send him to the bench. He's not a developing player. He's almost 30. But Desmond needs a month to regroup.

Basil said...

I agree.

flippin said...

I think this is the end for the Desmond experiment, I really do. I watched him in spring training in 2005, right after getting drafted out of high school. That's a long time ago. Does not seem as though he has the capacity to "get it." Does it really take 5+ years in the minors to figure it out? Even for a high school middle infielder? I don't want to be right, but how long is too long?

Steven said...

@flippin--I wouldn't go that far. There are lots of good players who struggle their first time up and have to go back down to collect themselves before sticking for good. I don't think it's anywhere near time to give up on him, I just don't think he's getting any better here in DC. So for development, in hopes that he will still be a good player, the right thing to do is to send him back down. Maybe he'll be like Matt LaPorta, rake at AAA and come right back.

Jon said...

That's what she said.

Deacon Drake said...

The kid is a spaz... watch him at BP, between innings, etc. He is always bouncing around, full of energy... lacking focus. I don't think that can be learned in the minors. The plate discipline is disappointing, but aside from their Big 3, the Nats are a bunch of free-swinging fools. Not the best learning environment.