His fielding appears to be improved, although with more and more disagreement about what numbers are relevant for even a full season, I can’t be sure. I do know his Range Factor per 9 inning is 4.57, better than the league average of 4.37 And although errors don’t mean what they used to, his total of 22 right now is 1/3 lower than his 34 last year – and that is in almost the exact same amount of time (at this point in the season, he’s played only 12 fewer innings than 2010). Whatever the numbers mean, it appears that he has range and has improved significantly on his errors, and those are both good things.
His hitting, though, regressed for much of the year. Right now sitting at .251/.295/.359, his OBP is unacceptable for a starting player. His wOBA is .289, ranking him 168 out of the 183 major leaguers with at least 400 PAs. His position allows him a positive VORP (15.9) and WARP (1.7) according to baseball reference, so maybe he isn’t that awful. But a .295 OBP for a guy that the manager wants to bat leadoff? Sheesh. Well it may not be as bad as it appears. He is tempting us with a strong second half, and looking at just that makes him seem much more promising.
But since July 1, he has hit .282/.330/.411, which is significantly better than his first half. That’s 47% of the season in which he has hit pretty well. If you’re believe he’s a better-than-average fielding SS, those numbers are quite good. The .330 OBP still isn’t what you might want from a leadoff guy, but it’s not too bad. The problem is, we have yet to see Desmond do this for more than half a season. Is next year the season that Desmond puts it all together, hits well and fields well for an entire season? Who knows. The Nats certainly think its possible. We really won’t know until next year, and there is some bad history with this kind of thing here.
I’m tentative about getting too excited from these second half stats. Check out this article from right before the 2009 season. That’s right, Lastings Milledge got me, and probably everyone else excited, but hitting .299/.355/.448 in his last 246 PAs in 2008. Elijah Dukes hit .291/.412/.529 from the end of May through the end of September that year, looking like a future superstar in those 296 PAs. And yet, neither of those guys really played in the majors this year (ok, Lastings had 4 PAs). It is worth getting excited about what Desmond has done since his horrible slump, a recovery at all shows he was able to make adjustments. And his work ethic and personality are different than those other two guys, which could also factor in. But any expectations based on those numbers should be tempered with our memories of those guys who really tore it up at the end of 2008, only to be off the team before the start of the 2010 season.