Monday, March 29, 2010

A Few Days Late and A Buncha Dollars Short

If you're a cynical jerk like me, you found the other day's news about Ian Desmond wresting the starting job from Cristian Guzman to be amazing in that I was surprised that the team actually made the right move.  I'm just not used to that.  (Odd too in that the Guzman news happened what?  yesterday?  But because of the way news floats through the series of tubes, it seems like ages ago.)

It's the right move, as I've said a few times.   Guzman has no future here; Desmond possibly does.  End of analysis.

But what kind of player is Ian?  Change is nice.  Change for change's sake isn't necessarily.  And sometimes, as your tea-party-loving friends will tell you, change leads to a bunch of crap.

Here's Ian's minor league record.  Check 'em out.  I'd recommend hitting the 'hide partial seasons' link at the top, so you can get a measure of his progress.

What do you see?  You see three seasons where the best you'd say is "Yuck!"  You see a 2008 where you'd upgrade that to a "meh."  

So you're left with two good seasons, last year and 2007.  And one of those, well, honestly, both, require some caveats.

First is '07.   His .264/.357/.432 line was put up all at Potomac.  It's a decent line.  So-so average.  30 doubles and 14 homers mean decent power for an infielder.  50-something walks... good, not great.  It's the line of a non-terrible player, but hardly the line of a superstar.  What's worrisome about it, though, is that this was his third straight year at Potomac.   He had already put up 650 or so ABs in the league, so you'd hope that he'd finally learn how to adapt.  When players repeat, they tend to naturally improve.  So should that worry us a bit?

But it's his '09 season that's propelling him forward. .330/ .401/ .477 is a terrific line.  But here's the thing: do you really believe that a player who hit .259 in his minor league career is suddenly a .350 hitter?  nope.  It's possible that some of it's improvement; that he's learned to be a better hitter with experience.  But he ain't Tony Gwynn.  (Working in his favor though, is that he actually improved when they promoted him from Double-A to Triple-A, which is a good sign.)  If you believe that he's not really a .330 hitter, than you've gotta assume that some of that's a fluke.

So just play a little thought experiment.  Let's say he really did improve and is a .280 hitter; the rest is luck.  Knock .050 worth of singles out, and you're looking at a .280/.351/.427 line.  You'd still take that, wouldn't you?

So even though his Triple-A performance is a bit fluky, there's still the makings of a solid player in there.

What impressed me last year when he finally came up was the power.  The .561 slugging sorta makes that an obvious point.  But think about how often you saw him drive the ball to the warning track; even his outs were smoked.   He was a decent doubles hitter in the minors, and that often portends future power.  As long as he doesn't suddenly think he's Babe Ruth, maybe he's got a chance to turn into a poor man's JJ Hardy?

A quick note on defense.  You hear the phrase (as if it's a Word macro) about how he "has difficulty with the routine plays."  You know how else has difficulty with the routine plays?  Ryan "let me stare at this ball in my glove before I chuck it wildly past first" Zimmerman.  Despite the occasional error, we recognize that he's a great fielder.

I'm not suggesting that Desmond's that level of fielder.  I really don't know, and neither do you.  Time, as we'll certainly see, will tell.  But if he does have problems with the "routine play" and that's all you focus on, you could be missing half the game, as you'd be if that's all you focused on with Zimmerman.

And let's not forget that the man he's replacing isn't a gold glover.  Guzman has slightly below average range, and a mediocre arm.   Guzman, on average, makes 15-20 errors a year.  Let's say Desmond stinks the park up and makes 35 errors. (Mark Reynolds, at 34, is the only player to make more than 30 in the last 4 seasons.)  That's what?  Maybe 15-20 more plays that Guzman would've made than Desmond?  15-20 more outs that our young pitching staff would have to make?

How many more balls do you think that Ian Desmond, with his young legs, is going to get to than a hobbling Guzman with creaky bunions?  Think that worst case he can get to those 15-20 more balls, basically (not exactly, but basically) making up for the difference?  That's one more play every 8-10 games.  Think Ian can do it?

I certainly do.

So enough with the "routine play" stuff.

And finally, here's what the projections say:
Bill James: .282 / .338/ .432
CHONE: .265/ .326/ .412
Marcel: .280/ .343/ .472
ZIPS: .270/ .334/ .388

Not a superstar, but a very useful player, no?


  • yes, a useful player. and still several years from his prime. the Nats made the right decision, for once.

    let's hope the first time he goes 2-for-17 Riggles doesn't start to feel his collar tighten and go right back to the "dependable" veteran.

    By Blogger Dave Nichols, at 3/29/2010 9:45 PM  

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