Collette Calls: Breaking Down Ian Desmond

Collette Calls: Breaking Down Ian Desmond

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

Last week, I looked at how poorly Steven Souza Jr. was doing, and apparently he reads my column because he killed it over the past week. Jason Thornbury, when editing the piece, suggested I look into Dustin Ackley and how in the heck the 2009 second overall pick is on the verge of being designated for assignment on a weekly basis. I had every intention of doing so until I was chatting with my good friend Bob Lung about his fantasy baseball team, which gave me an even more puzzling player at whom to look -- Ian Desmond. [Editor's note: Poor Ackley can't win at anything.]

Only 11 players have multiple 20-20 seasons since 2010 and only one has more than Ian Desmond has:


RkNameYrsFromToAge
1Carlos Gonzalez42010201324-27Ind. Seasons
2Ian Desmond32012201426-28Ind. Seasons
3Andrew McCutchen32011201324-26Ind. Seasons
4Carlos Gomez22013201427-28Ind. Seasons
5Mike Trout22012201320-21Ind. Seasons
6Melvin Upton22011201226-27Ind. Seasons
7Ryan Braun22011201227-28Ind. Seasons
8Chris Young22010201126-27Ind. Seasons
9Alex Rios22010201229-31Ind. Seasons
10Hanley Ramirez22010201226-28Ind. Seasons
11Shin-Soo Choo22010201327-30Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/6/2015.

In fact, Desmond has had 20-20 seasons in each
Last week, I looked at how poorly Steven Souza Jr. was doing, and apparently he reads my column because he killed it over the past week. Jason Thornbury, when editing the piece, suggested I look into Dustin Ackley and how in the heck the 2009 second overall pick is on the verge of being designated for assignment on a weekly basis. I had every intention of doing so until I was chatting with my good friend Bob Lung about his fantasy baseball team, which gave me an even more puzzling player at whom to look -- Ian Desmond. [Editor's note: Poor Ackley can't win at anything.]

Only 11 players have multiple 20-20 seasons since 2010 and only one has more than Ian Desmond has:


RkNameYrsFromToAge
1Carlos Gonzalez42010201324-27Ind. Seasons
2Ian Desmond32012201426-28Ind. Seasons
3Andrew McCutchen32011201324-26Ind. Seasons
4Carlos Gomez22013201427-28Ind. Seasons
5Mike Trout22012201320-21Ind. Seasons
6Melvin Upton22011201226-27Ind. Seasons
7Ryan Braun22011201227-28Ind. Seasons
8Chris Young22010201126-27Ind. Seasons
9Alex Rios22010201229-31Ind. Seasons
10Hanley Ramirez22010201226-28Ind. Seasons
11Shin-Soo Choo22010201327-30Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/6/2015.

In fact, Desmond has had 20-20 seasons in each of the last three seasons. Sure, his batting average had declined in each of those seasons, but 20-20 is still a big deal, particularly for a shortstop. It's why Patrick Davitt of BaseballHQ paid $29 for him in the Mixed Tout Wars auction and why the Living Legend, Lenny Melnick, dropped $26 on him in NL Tout Wars.

Using our Rotowire Dollar Value Calculator, we currently find Desmond at ... scrolling, scrolling, scrolling ... 21st among shortstops with a -$2 value in standard 12-team mixed leagues right there with Jimmy Rollins and slightly ahead of the injured Jed Lowrie and Jose Reyes who missed quite a bit of time.

When someone has a -$31 return on investment, we have to look at what is going on with this former counting category stud. After all, this is a player who has had at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 70 runs and 70 RBI in each of the last three seasons.

This season, he's not even on pace to approach any of those numbers as he begins play June 6 with 26 runs scored, four home runs, one stolen base and 15 runs driven in while batting .247/.292/.379. The .247 average is nearly identical to where he was last year, but his OBP is down for a fourth straight season and his slugging percentage has fallen 50 points from where it was last year, as it did from 2012 to 2013.

The simple answer is Desmond simply is not hitting the ball as hard as he has in the past. The tough answer is why.

In 2011, Desmond batted .253/.298/.358 before he went on this run of 20-20 seasons. That is the type of season he is on pace to replicate, but let's compare that 20-20 run versus what he is doing in 2015 at a few levels.

First, the traditional rates:

SPLITPABAOBPSLGK%BB%BABIP
2012-141,850.275.326.462246.332
2015236.247.292.379265.325

The strikeout rates and walk rates are within line of the good year even if a slight step back. The low batting average certainly is not a product of "bad luck" as his batting average on balls in play is practically identical to the good years. This bad season isn't a matter of bad luck or complete loss of plate discipline (which was never a strong suit of his anyhow).

In fact, his overall plate discipline indicators paint an even stronger picture of the similarities between what he is doing now versus the past three seasons:

SPLITPASwing%Contact%O-Swing%SwSTR%
2012-14185051733314
201523651743313

It's not bad luck, and it's not a matter of his plate discipline falling apart. The issue with Desmond this year is he simply is not making the kind of contact with the baseball as he did the past few seasons.

The Fangraphs Glossary defines Isolated Power as "a measure of a hitter's raw power," and it tells you how often a player hits for extra bases. To calculate a player's ISO, you simply subtract the player's batting average from his slugging percentage. Desmond's ISO is a four-year low .132 and below the major league average:

If there is a glimmer of hope here, it is that Desmond has had a mid-season ISO bump in each of the last two seasons, but that isn't terribly predictive of any future success.

Another way to look at how hard a player is hitting baseballs is to use the Soft%, Med% and Hard% data at Fangraphs. The data comes from data collected by Baseball Info Solutions that visually scores every game. While the stat still has a subjective component to it, but it is a push in the right direction.

In Desmond's case, there is a decline in Hard% this season while he is making more Soft%:

Hard contact comes off of fastballs or hanging secondary pitches. During the 20-20 seasons, Desmond hit .288 off fastballs with a .472 SLG and .185 ISO. This season, he's hit .274 against fastballs, but his SLG is .402 and his ISO is .128. The larger issue is what he isn't doing against secondary pitches.

During the 20-20 seasons, Desmond handled non-fastballs rather well. This season, there's a noticeable decline in how he's handling the changes of speed and the wrinkles thrown to him:

SPLITPITCHESAVGSLGISOBABIP
2012-142706.259.450.191.315
2015325.210.350.140.260

Desmond is still making a lot of contact with non-fastballs and is even putting them into play more frequently than during the 20-20 years. The issue has been the quality of the contact has not been the same, which has led to more weakly hit balls and particularly groundballs. In fact, Desmond's GB% is the highest it has been in his career:

Simply put, what we have in Desmond is a player who is making weaker contact than in years past and beating a lot of balls into the ground. Groundballs are nearly impossible to turn into home runs, but they can become extra-base hits. While Desmond is going to need a miracle to get to 20 home runs, he's on pace to set a career high in doubles. The only way those doubles are going to become home runs is if he starts making harder contact and getting the ball back into the air.

This March, Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs wrote a piece on Desmond noting his issues with pitches up in the zone:

Unfortunately, this is probably an Occam's razor situation with the most obvious explanation being the right one: Desmond's getting worse. If pitchers were getting him to chase because they were throwing high pitches at different times or more often or something, it would mean they had made an adjustment that Desmond could respond to. Instead, the null hypothesis wins out for now and we're left to assume Desmond is becoming vulnerable in this location. ... This isn't a story about Desmond being a flawed player, but I do think it's a reason to think he might be turning the corner toward decline. Maybe he'll have another great year in 2015 and turning down a $100 million extension will work out well, but if the power starts to vanish his offense could bottom out quickly.
During the 20-20 years, Desmond batted .260 with a .447 SLG and .187 ISO on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone. This season, he's batting .184 with a .224 SLG and .041 ISO on those same pitches. Weinberg was ahead of the game in noting this trend with Desmond, and it has indeed gotten worse as he thought it might.

If you're holding onto Desmond hoping for a return to 20-20 glory, adjust your expectations and hope that he can just get you double-digits in either category because his days as a $20 player could be gone.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999, and here at Rotowire since 2011. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls,and was the 2023 AL LABR champion. Jason manages his social media presence at https://linktr.ee/jasoncollette
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