Ian Desmond’s Second Half Resurgence

It’s been just over a month since Ian Desmond’s mid-season outlook. Things were not going well for Ian Desmond, playing in his contract year in 2015 he was hoping to set himself up for a massive pay day. After turning down a reported $107 million dollar extension, Desmond was hoping for a productive 2015 season. Things could not have gone much worse in the first half of the season.

Desmond’s monthly splits reveal a roller coaster season for the soon-to-be free agent. March and April started out slowly, his play picked up in May, and then June came. The month of June was simply abysmal, so of course let’s take a more in-depth look at his numbers that month. His performance that month compared to his career averages were all much worse. He walked only 3% of the time while striking out 33.3% of the time (just over 10% higher than his career average). Any time you combine a low walk rate and a high strikeout rate you can expect a really poor OBP. In the month of June his OBP (note: NOT HIS BATTING AVERAGE!) was below the Mendoza line and his wRC+ was 22. That means in the month of June Ian Desmond created 78% less runs than league average. For a player in his walk year and especially someone who turned down over $100 million, it should be concerning to say the least.

Mar/Apr 6.90% 22.80% 0.287 0.326 0.109 0.279 70 0.274
May 4.30% 28.70% 0.310 0.444 0.167 0.375 106 0.326
Jun 3.00% 33.30% 0.194 0.269 0.108 0.207 22 0.204
Jul 8.00% 33.00% 0.253 0.392 0.203 0.234 73 0.278
Aug 8.20% 24.70% 0.353 0.500 0.205 0.358 135 0.369
1st Half 4.90% 28.40% 0.255 0.334 0.124 0.279 60 0.259
2nd Half 8.60% 28.60% 0.338 0.512 0.236 0.342 133 0.366
Career 5.90% 23.10% 0.312 0.425 0.161 0.321 101 0.321

Then something strange happened: Ian Desmond started turning his season around after the All-Star break. His stats in the second half have been a complete turnaround. He’s walking more, striking out less but still more than his career average, and generally just performing better. His August BABIP is well above his career average suggesting that we can expect some regression at some point.

While only 35 games into the second half, his performance compared to the first half is night and day. He has already hit more home runs and stolen more bases in less than half the games, and his RBI total is inching closer to his first half mark. Most importantly, in the second half of the season he has been worth 1.1 WAR (Bryce Harper for comparison has been worth 1.5 WAR in the second half). Not only is this good news for Desmond’s free-agent stock, but the Nationals will need all the help they can get while they try to chase down the teams in front of them for a playoff berth. As of right now, the Nationals are 5.5 games back of the Mets for the division lead and 10.0 games back of the Cubs for that second wildcard.

First Half 84 348 7 36 24 5 -0.6
Second Half 35 140 8 21 22 6 1.1

As an added bonus, I thought it might be useful here to show a plot of Ian Desmond’s career trajectory as predicted by his seasonal OPS. This model was created using the methods presented in the book “Analyzing Baseball Data with R” by Max Marchi and Jim Albert, and I’ve excluded Desmond’s age-23 season where he only played 21 games.

Based on the age trajectory graph it looks like Desmond may have already peaked in his career. What this means for his potential earnings this upcoming offseason remains to be seen. Any GM looking to add a top-tier hitting shortstop for the next few seasons will inevitable come calling his agent, but the data tells us that his best days may be behind him.

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8 years ago

What I would like to see is an estimate of the probability of a given player putting up certain numbers for a certain length of time, given no evidence for the effects of aging, health or off-field problems—in other words, just from random chance. E.g., if we use 2012-2014 as a baseline, when Desmond had presumably mostly finished his development and maturation as a hitter, his wRC+ was about 117. If we assume that was his level of ability coming into this season, what are the odds he might decline to 70 for April? I don’t know, but I would guess from following the ups and downs of other players that this would not be so unlikely. Players go into slumps. But his 22 in June would seem to be extremely improbable, as well as his 60 for the entire first half.

What I’m getting at is that we should be able to look at a player’s performance during slumps and say, with a certain level of confidence, that something more than random effects is or is not going on. When the slump becomes deep enough, or prolonged enough, it can’t all be random.

I recall an article here at FG a couple of years ago in which someone showed the kind of variation that one could reasonably expect for a hitter from season to season, and it was quite remarkable in its range. That being the case, the possible swings over a month or two would be expected to be even greater. But it seems to me it would be very useful to have such information, even if it did have to be used with all kinds of qualifications.