Can Ian Field?

It’s amazing what one good night can do. A day ago, I wrote about Ian Desmond and his ability to hit. Focusing on what he’s done in spurts, it seems like he was doing alright. Then he hit 2 HRs last night, and despite playing pretty much full time, his numbers suddenly look even better. He came into Wednesday with a .688 OPS, pretty low among rookies (although as a middle infielder, his competition was skewed). Today, he’s suddenly sitting with an OPS of .706. Still not spectacular, but getting up into the .700s is a cosmetic thing that is noticeable.

Perhaps most importantly, since July 1 he is hitting .294/.316/.495. The poor walk rate is unsettling but expected. The point isn’t that his number is exactly this or that, his OPS being .812 (as opposed to .755 from July 1 to only the night before his 2 HR performance) is nice but it’s what it signifies that is more important. It shows that he hasn’t lost it all through the rigors of a rough season. He’s had fielding woes, he’s had hitting swoons (.546 OPS from 5/19-6/30) but he has not given up. He has recovered to hit well this summer, and show that he just might have the bat to be a full time major league middle infielder.

But On to the Fielding

As for the errors, well, that is a concern. But there is evidence that with maturity, players can overcome the errors. Desmond does have incredible range, but he’ll lead the league in errors by far this year. He wouldn’t be the only good fielder that did that, if he becomes a good fielder. Jason Bartlett lead the AL in errors in 2007, his first full time season, with 26. He’s continued to be a full time SS but only reached 20 E’s once since then. Edgar Renteria had 30 in 2005. Aramis Ramirez had 33 in 2003, his first season with the Cubs, and hasn’t had more than 18 since. In 1986 Shawon Dunston played his first full time season and committed a league leading 32 errors. He never had more than 20 after that, and played another decade as a starting SS.

Way back in 1978, Garry Templeton at the age of 22 embarked on a 3 year long journey in which he led the league in errors each year. By 1981 he got his E’s down enough to play 10 more years as a starting SS without ever doing it again, maxing out at 26 errors but usually having numbers in the low 20s.

I’m not saying this is a guarantee for his success. I’m sure there are guys who have had similar error problems and have not been able to fix it, or have quickly been moved to an easier position. I am saying there is precedent showing that a talented young player can improve his fielding. As for the one thing everyone raves about, his range, he has shown throughout the season it’s quite good. Fangraphs ranks him 7th in majors among shortstops, which is pretty impressive, and the only guy younger than him on the list is Starlin Castro. At least on the one metric, he seems to be doing pretty well.

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