Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ian Desmond - regression candidate?

I participated Sunday night in my first ever fantasy mock draft with the folks from MLB Dirt and others noted for their skills in that realm. As such, I was a bit of a saltwater fish trying to adapt to a freshwater pond. I was pretty high on my shortstop, Ian Desmond, until I started to dig this morning into his numbers a little more closely. Once I did, his 2012 numbers looked a little suspicious and less likely to be repeated.

I liked Desmond when he appeared on the board because of his combination of power and speed. He stole 21 bases in 27 attempts, good for a 78% success rate. His base running is not a fluke. Base running hardly is. His success rate was his best as a professional player and that shows he is getting more selective and is more savvy with his steal attempts. And his attempts have been consistent since he came into the league as the Nationals starting shortstop. So half of what I wanted, I will get.

The power number is another thing. His first full season, Desmond's homer to fly ball rate was 7.7%. In his second full season in 2011, that number slid a little bit to 6.1%. That means that his first 1,224 plate appearances did not show any big power. He showed a little more pop in the minors, but not enough to expect what he did last year.

Suddenly, in 2013, Ian Desmond's homer to fly ball ratio jumped to over 18%. Whuh? This jump is reminiscent of the jump that Kirby Puckett made all those years ago when he went from a slap hitter to a home run hitter overnight. But how many Kirby Pucketts come along? Heck, now I'll have to do a study, but for now, my best guess is that such a jump after that many major league plate appearances seems a bit rare.

Without delving a bit deeper, and until proven otherwise if he can repeat that homer rate, his home run total seems a bit of a fluke.

Ian Desmond is not a patient hitter. He swung at 38% of pitches out of the strike zone in 2012. That was the nineteenth highest in baseball. His swing percentage of 54.6% was the seventh highest in baseball. So yeah, the guy goes up there to hack away. As such, his walk rate is a puny 5.5%. The point of stating all this is that any on-base value Desmond is going to have is based on his batting average. And since Desmond hit a good .292 last season, his .335 on-base percentage was at least respectable.

But there are two signs that his batting average had quite a bit of luck involved. First, Desmond hits a lot of ground balls. For his career, his ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.58. That is plenty high on the ground ball side. That came down to 1.38 in 2012, but that still makes him a ground ball heavy batter. And when he hit the ball on the ground in 2012, his average on that batted ball type was .306.

.306!? Just to give you an idea on how inflated that sounds, the league average BABIP for ground balls is .238. Desmond beat that by 68 points! Perhaps he beats a lot of ball out. Perhaps he hits his ground balls hard. His career BABIP on ground balls is .271, so that is lower, but still over league average. The career average is much better to expect than a repeat of a .306 BABIP on ground balls.

The second marker of a much less successful 2013 season for Ian Desmond would be his success rate on his line drives. Ian Desmond does not hit a lot of line drives. His 17.9% on line drives was the twelfth lowest in baseball among qualified batters in 2012. And that line drive rate was the highest of his career, which has averaged a very low 16.8%. Line drives are obviously and easily the most successful batted balls of all and Desmond does not hit a lot of them.

But when he did hit a line drive in 2012, holy smokes was it effective. When Desmond hit a line drive in 2012, his average on such hit trajectories was .753 with a BABIP of .740. The league average on such hit trajectories is .718 and the league average BABIP was .709. To be fair, Desmond has done this his entire career so like his ground balls, he has beaten the average BABIPs on such hit trajectories for three seasons now.

But he never hit .292 before. From all these things talked about in this post, it seems reasonable to expect regression in 2013. Two projections consulted for this piece have his batting average to fall in the high .270s range with a drop in homers from 25 to either 18 or 20. And again, with his lack of patience at the plate, a drop in average will mean a drop in his overall offensive game since so much of his on-base average is based on his batting average.

The good news is that Ian Desmond has been improving as a shortstop in the field. He scored positive numbers there for the first time in 2012 and he has always had great instincts and a cannon for an arm. The Nationals are going to be a team to beat in the National League East and all Desmond has to do is hold down the shortstop position and any offense he brings is a bonus. But as I have found out, drafting him for fantasy purposes based on his 2012 numbers might have been kind of misguided.


Anonymous said...

Comparing Desmond to the Late and Great Kirby Puckett is a travisty. Its like comparing a fine wine or geat steak to a cheap beer or burger. Kirby Puckett is one of the best there ever was. He started a great line of centerfielders for the Twins. He mentored the great Torii Hunter who mentored Denard Span.

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Uhh...okay. I just mentioned one small aspect out of Puckett's career. Not the entire package. Do you look through every corn flake in the box for the one with the black spot on it?

Anonymous said...

I think you may be off on your projection. Desmond batted all up an down the batting order in 2012. I think this season the batting line up will be more stable with span leading off and he will see better pitches to hit. He does indeed need to be a bit more patient.

Steve Stockman said...

I think your missing some important points here. First the BABIP. Desmond has outperformed his projected BABIP by .036 points in 2010 and by .031 points in 2011. Therefore I would expect this projection to continue. in 2012 he outperformed his expected BABIP by .046 so that is higher than expected but not that much higher.

You imply his dramatic increase in HR/FB ratio is a rare thing last accomplished by Kirby Puckett 25 years ago. That just isn't true. This year 26 players had a higher HR/FB ratio than Desmond. of those 26 players only 12 have consistently maintained their HR/FB ratio. 5 others (P Alvarez, Headley, Butler, Kubel, AJ Piers)also dramatically increased their HR/FB ratio in 2013. 5 showed the increase in 2011 and backed it up again in 2012 (Granderson, Cano, Willingham, Freese and McCutchen). Encarnacion 2010 and 2012 ratio's were much higher than when he broke in but 2011 wasn't such a good year. K Morales, A Jones and Cargo have maintained their high HR/FB ratios for at least 3 years now. In short not so rare at all. Your power develops as you mature. That said I wouldn't be surprised to see Desmond's HR drop to 20 this year. But a 20 HR/25 SB .280 BA with the Runs and RBI the Nationals lineup will allow him means he is a top 60 player in this league.