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Is 2016 Ian Desmond Even a Real Thing?

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Desmond has been crushing baseballs, and he is making everybody who didn't believe (most of us) in him to regret. How real is his resurgence? What made him so terrible last year?

Desmond's word for his doubter? Thanks for the motivation.
Desmond's word for his doubter? Thanks for the motivation.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Desmond, probably the most regrettable drop of the year in so many leagues this year, has been leaving us simply speechless. Just like everywhere else, Ian Desmond was dropped in my league and picked up by a manager who desperately needed a short stop. No FAAB bidding. No high waiver priority. Desmond was just floating around the waiver wire for several day, and no one cared.

When the manager picked him up, he was hitting .132, 0 HR, 0 SB, and 1 extra-bases hit. He struck out 16 times in 13 games, and his 2016 looked nothing but the extension of his miserable 2015. As you all know, however, since then he simply turned his season around and hit .351, 7 HR, and 9 SB. Now that manager is dominating my league.

Before he bounced back this year, his numbers have been consistently falling since 2012. Other than the desperate Rangers, who badly needed to fill the hole in their left field, no other team was even willing to take a shot with the 30-year-old. Is this unbelievable resurgence of him even real? Arlington is much more hitter friendly place than the Nationals Park is, but obviously the part factor is not enough to explain his wRC jumping from 83 to 120.

Season

FB%

FB Velocity

Run Created from FB

2012

53.50%

92

10.3

2013

55.80%

92.2

-8.3

2014

54.50%

92.3

4.5

2015

55.60%

92.5

-6.7

2016

52.70%

91.7

1.9

I was flipping through his numbers, and I found something interesting. This season, he has been facing the slowest fastballs in his career. Since 2012, the opponent fastball's velocity against him has been increasing along with their usage. In 2015, his career low season by far, he faced the most fastballs with highest velocity.

Obviously, hitting a faster pitch is tougher for anybody, but it's been a bigger problem for Desmond because he isn't a good fastball hitter in the first place. Since 2009 to 2016, among 453 hitters with at least 1000 PA, Desmond is ranked at 329th in run-created on every 100 fastballs, which puts him at the bottom quartile.

If you can't hit fastballs, National League East is probably not the best place to be since the division is full of young flame throwers like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller (2015), and Noah Syndergaard (and rest of the Mets) just to name a few. AL West's pitching rotations are generally not only weaker, but also older, which forces them to rely less on their velocities.

I don't think it's just a coincidence that all his numbers went back up to his 2012 level, the year he faced the slowest pitching before this year. For hitters like George Springer or Shin-Soo Choo, who can only crush the fastballs but nothing else, it probably won't matter too much, but for Desmond, this could be the deal breaker.

Speed

HR/FB

K%

2012

5.3

18.20%

20.70%

2013

5.3

12.90%

22.10%

2014

5.5

18.20%

28.20%

2015

4.5

15.40%

29.20%

2016

7

16.30%

20.60%

Over the past five years, his HR/FB and Speed measure show that his raw power and speed haven't changed much as he got older. He has been the exact same athletic all the time, but his K% had been continuously rising, which hurt his overall numbers. If we can conclude that his rising K% had nothing to do with his own body, then the next person who has the most influence on his swing is the opponent pitcher, who happened to be throwing harder and harder until last year.

We are already two months into the season, and Desmond has been loving his life in AL. It's probably safe to say that we have just enough data to gauge his average competition. He won't suddenly face large numbers of Syndergaards who can affect his overall season numbers. I'm too jealous to say this, but I have to acknowledge that Desmond was probably a very good pickup. He is the real deal.

Steamer Rest of the Season Projection

SS (Yahoo eligible) Rank

PA

HR

RBI

R

AVG

SB

6th

406

13

48

47

0.252

11