You can pile all the responsibility of last night’s loss on Ian Desmond if you’d like. He made the error that may or may not have given the Braves a man on third with 2 outs and no runs as of yet. But it’s not what started the trouble, and the damage still could have been much more limited. It’s not what prevented the Nats from scoring any runs up to that point, or any after. Alot of people, I’m sure, are down on Desmond thanks to yet another error, not so much by him (he leads the league in it) but by the team (they do too).
I want to preface anything else said by first saying this – there is no reason to excuse the errors that he is making. They are the “easy” plays that seem to indicate a lack of concentration or effort, not ability. He isn’t a limited range fielder who butchers harder plays. He’s a rangey guy who seems to have no problem with the spectacular. Some of this may be the growing pains of a young man playing full time in the majors for the first time, although his outward confidence would make you think otherwise.
However, if errors were the only thing to measure a fielder than we’d pay the stadium scorekeepers alot more money.
If you look at the list of leaders in the NL at the fangraphs fielding stats, Desmond actually still looks pretty good. He’s ranked 4th in UZR at 2.5, 3rd in UZR/150 at 6.7, and, as you may have noticed by watched (or ignored while fuming about errors) he’s ranked 1st in RngR (Ranges Runs above Replacement) with 7.1. This isn’t just first in the NL, it’s first in the majors. The next guy, Alexi Ramirez, scores 5.5 on this stat, and Yunel Escobar is third at 4.7. This is significantly higher range. ESPN ranks Desmond 2nd among NL shortstops with a Range Factor of 5.00, behind only Tulowitzki.
Of course, range isn’t everything either. He’s got to figure out a way to make the plays that come to him, and one idea might be the Larry Bowa approach. When the Yankees first got Robinson Cano on their roster, there were issues about concentration, about hitting consistently, and about fielding muffs on easy plays. There were complaints about a confident attitude that seemed beneficial at first but led to worries that the right amount of work or care or late night worrying wasn’t being put in by Cano. Sound familiar?
Eventually Larry Bowa, the Yankees third base coach, acting as a mentor, applying tough love, pushing him harder than anyone else could apparently fixed Cano. There’s a multitude of stories on their relationship, as well as the Yankee fans/press lamenting on how Cano would never live up to the hype. Today, Cano is the presumptive AL MVP, with of course many months to go. If this was due to Bowa’s mentoring, we may never know for sure, but people sure seem to think so.
Meanwhile, as the glovework has disappointed, the bat has disappeared. Going from a very acceptable .260/.326/.446 as late as May 18th, after 135 PAs, he’s gone down to an ugly .250/.289/.375 for the season’s 240 PAs total. Those 125 PAs since May 18th are at awful rates of .220/.250/.305 – powerless, hitless, and useless.
Cano, a middle infielder with power who doesn’t walk much (again, sound familar?), has seen his string of bad runs as well. In 2007 he had two terrible streaks – first when he hit .234/.276/.312 in his first 152 PAs of the season, then from 8/13-9/14 when he hit .232/.283/375 in 121 PAs. On July 13th, 2008, after 370 PAs, he was hitting .246/.285/.358. Even last year, in 121 PAs from 5/27/09-6/28/09 he hit .263/.298/.421.
Desmond is no more Robinson Cano than he is Derek Jeter. Well, maybe he’s a little closer, but nobody is expecting a batting title from Desmond. But that doesn’t mean that this approach won’t work. If he does get it down to where he’s able to field the way his athletic ability indicates he can, and hit more consistently, or at least, like Cano, limit the poor hitting as much as possible, Desmond becomes a very strong player. A SS with range who can hit 15 homers a year is a pretty good thing. For Desmond, there aren’t rumors swirling about poor work ethic, maybe that’s cause of his background. They’re both cool customers who look like they are never trying in the field, I have a feeling their issues are similar, and similarly fixable. What the Nats need to do is go out and get their own version of Larry Bowa to stand in the third base box and over Desmond’s shoulder. Maybe that man is actually Larry Bowa, especially if Torre leaves the Dodgers.
More on Guzman
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): The way I see it, there’s about 10 or more contenders that could use middle infield help. Cristian Guzman, for all his flaws, hits better than most current solutions in Boston, TB, Minn, Detroit, NYMets, Cinci and all but about 3 hitters on San Diego, to name a few teams. Do you think the Nats will finally be able to move him?
Jay Jaffe: The problem is that Guzman’s making $8 million this year, so Washington’s going to have to pick up a good chunk of the remaining bread in order to get anything of substance back for him, and even then, the fact that he’s probably not going to be a Type A free agent and generate much in the way of compensation lowers the level of attraction for the team acquiring him as well. I do think there are potential fits out there – the Mets and Tigers, especially, and maybe the Bosox too now that Pedroia’s down.