Player spotlight: Ian Desmond

Prior to the 2016 season, Ian Desmond had three consecutive seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen. On average he was taken as the 28th overall pick and third shortstop off the board in 2015. He ended the season as one of the bigger disappointments, finishing as the 16th shortstop and 213th overall on the ESPN player rater. Should we expect a bounceback to his prior form in 2016? Is there hope to regain the 20-20 production from 2012-2014?

Looking at Desmond’s batted ball profile brings a discouraging trend to light. From 2011 to 2013 his profile was looking up. His ground ball rate was declining, and his line drive and flyball rates were going up. In 2014 this reversed; his ground ball rate increased, and his fly ball and line drive rates decreased.

player spotlight Ian Desmond Chart 2His contact rate also displays some troubling signs. Again we see a similar trend: an improvement, in both hard and soft rates, from 2011 to 2012, a slight dip to a near identical 2013 and 2014, and then both numbers declined sharply in 2015. Desmond, who, besides 2011, had a better than average hard and soft contact rate for 3 straight years suddenly dropped to below average on both.

player spotlight Ian Desmond Chart 1

Also of note in Desmond’s batted ball profile is that he has always pulled the ball less than the average major league player, a peak of 6.1% lower than average in 2013. He also went opposite field at a much higher than average rate, a peak of 8% higher – also in 2013. This trend has started to reverse itself, and while he still pulls the ball less and goes opposite field more, the rate is much lower. His pull percentage is 4.4% less than average, and opposite field percentage only 3.6% more than average. Players who pull the ball, softly, and have a high ground ball percentage will have trouble hitting for power and average.

Another concern I have for Desmond are his walk and strikeout rates. His walk rate has improved slightly, but his strikeout rate has skyrocketed over the last several years.

Season BB% League Avg BB% K% League Avg K%
2011 5.5 % 8.1 % 21.8 % 18.6 %
2012 5.5 % 8.0 % 20.7 % 19.8 %
2013 6.6 % 7.9 % 22.1 % 19.9 %
2014 7.1 % 7.6 % 28.2 % 20.4 %
2015 7.0 % 7.7 % 29.2 % 20.4 %

He has always had a below average walk rate, but that has actually been improving. His strikeout rate used to be a percent or two over league average. This increased in 2014 and rose to almost 8% over league average in 2015. His 29.2% strikeout rate placed him squarely between sluggers Kris Bryant (30.6%), and Joc Pederson (29.1) for 4th amongst qualified hitters. Desmond is not a slugger, so having a strikeout rate comparable to Bryant and Pederson (who both eclipsed his career high in home runs in less than full seasons) is a red flag.

2012 was Desmond’s best year statistically. He only played in 130 games, but had career highs in home runs (25) and batting average (.292), and almost certainly would have had career bests in runs, RBIs, and stolen bases had he played the entire season. Expectantly, his Isolated Power and BABIP peaked in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Season ISO League Avg ISO BABIP League Avg BABIP
2011 0.104 0.144 0.317 0.295
2012 0.218 0.151 0.332 0.297
2013 0.173 0.143 0.336 0.297
2014 0.175 0.135 0.326 0.299
2015 0.151 0.15 0.307 0.299

They have since dropped significantly; a player who used to sit well above league average in ISO and BABIP is now suddenly barely above league average. Both of these drops are alarming for those fantasy owners drafting him hoping for a 20-20 power and speed combination. His batting average has fallen from his high of .292 in 2012 to .233 in 2015. This drop will limit the contributions Desmond makes in runs, RBIs, and stolen bases.

We uncovered a lot of negative trends for Desmond, but is there reason for hope? He appears to be losing his power, speed, and batting eye. I believe Steamer has his projections pretty close at 236/294/390 with 17 home runs, 12 stolen bases, 65 RBIs, and 59 runs. We aren’t sure where he will end up signing so his RBI and run numbers could be a bit higher or lower depending on his new team.

While there is some value in those numbers, especially among shortstops, fantasy owners drafting Desmond hoping for a big bounce back will be disappointed. Not much in his profile and underlying numbers gives much cause for hope. With shortstop being a position that has traditionally been devoid of talent, it may be tempting to still reach for Desmond and hope for a return to 2013 or 2014 numbers. I don’t believe this will happen, and would wait and draft a player like Addison Russell, Elvis Andrus, Jhonny Peralta, or Jung-Ho Kang three or more rounds later. All of these players will offer a better batting average, and with the exception of Elvis Andrus, similar or more power, run, and RBI potential. Andrus will offer more stolen bases if that is a need based on your lineup construction.


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Scott Rowland

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Scott is a graduate from Indiana University (go Hoosiers) and works as a project manager for HERE – They make software that powers GPS and real-time traffic so feel free to blame him when you get lost. He lives in Chicago, just north of Wrigley Field, with his wife, daughter, dog and cat, and loves to spend an afternoon catching a Cubs game.