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Is Desmond back?

Jul 26, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

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You wondered it after enjoying a big day at the plate to begin the week and shared an anecdote about a pep talk he received from Cal Ripken. And then you wondered it after he went 5-for-9 in the Nationals’ series against the Mets. And then you really wondered it when he homered Thursday night and again Friday night in Pittsburgh, extending this hot streak another couple of days.

You’ve been fooled before, though, and so you didn’t want to go all the way with it and declare Ian Desmond officially back after a wretched 3 1/2 months to start the season.

And then he went and did it again Saturday night, going 2-for-3 with a walk and another home run that punctuated the Nationals’ 9-3 victory over the Pirates.

And so now you have no choice but to wonder it: Has Desmond snapped out of it at long last and rediscovered his form of the last three seasons?

First, consider the numbers, because they are really impressive. In six games this week, Desmond is now 10-for-19 with four homers, seven RBI, four walks, a .609 on-base percentage and 1.158 slugging percentage. That’s not his OPS. That’s his slugging percentage. His OPS is 1.767.

(How remarkable is that? Well, when Bryce Harper won NL Player of the Week honors in May after his ridiculous stretch that included six homers in three days, his OPS was 1.838. Not a huge difference.)

Numbers, of course, can be misleading. Especially when compressed into a small sample over six games. Maybe Desmond has just been lucky this week, leading to his sudden surge.

Which is possible. And it wouldn’t be the first time a struggling player got hot for one week, only to cool off again after there.

But there appears to be more to this than mere numbers and luck. It’s not just the fact Desmond has suddenly become productive again. It’s how he’s doing it.

Here are two important trends he has displayed over the last week that offer some evidence this is a sign of continued success…

1. He’s being patient at the plate and drawing walks
This has long been one of Desmond’s biggest problem areas, and certainly a major problem the majority of the season. In his first 87 games, he drew 17 walks, a paltry 4.8 percent rate that was the worst of his career. But during these six games, he has drawn four walks, a rate of 17.4 percent.

Yes, that an incredibly small sample, but watch Desmond’s at-bats and you see a guy finally laying off pitches out of the zone, not giving away at-bats the way he too often has this year. That’s an encouraging sign.

2. He’s hitting outside pitches to center and right fields
When Desmond is going bad, he has all kinds of trouble keeping his shoulder and hips closed, flying open and leaving himself vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner. Opponents know this, and so they keep feeding him away, away, away, hoping he’ll bite.

Well, over the last week, he has been staying on those outside pitches and driving them back up the middle or to the opposite field. In fact, five of his 10 hits during this stretch — and three of his four homers — have been hit to either center or right field. Again, an encouraging sign.

So, is this the turnaround Desmond and the Nationals have been seeking for months? Is this the moment the Nationals’ faith in their struggling shortstop pays off?

We can’t really say that quite yet. It’s still only six games.

But consider this: Over the last six days, Ian Desmond has raised his batting average 18 points, his on-base percentage 22 points, his slugging percentage 45 points. And he has done so with a much better approach at the plate than we’ve seen in some time.

Beats the alternative, doesn’t it?

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 6:22 AM

    There’s sadness and sweetness in this. I caught someone here almost gloating a week ago about how close Desi was to the Mendoza line. Another person wrote just DFA him. Another wanted him traded for a bag of balls.

    As quick as so many were to demonize him, they sure aren’t quick to compliment him.

    It also didn’t take a genius as I pointed out so many times before that you can’t hit what you don’t see. Desi always swings from his cleats but when his head is off the ball he pulls off the ball.

    Why has it taken him so long to get a steady head and on the ball? Great question. It seems it was mind over matter and relaxing.

    I’m not about to declare that Desi can turn his season around but this past week has been fun to watch and he helped in last night’s victory with both the bat and the glove in turning a tough doubleplay in the 6th.

    • rayvil01 - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:40 AM

      It’s not often you can see such a clear Cause-and-Effect in a player’s swing that results in such a slump. The answer was there shouting for attention. I’m assuming he was shown this numerous times by the coaches. Why it took so long to get corrected is mysterious.

      The hits are one thing. The walks are another. He was swinging at anything a week ago. The Pirates’ coaches must be shaking their head looking at the scouting report that says, “Do not throw strikes. Not necessary.”

      It’s good to see.

      Ghost, you said he’d come back and carry the team. He’s on his way to doing that.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:53 AM

        smargenau is correct that 6 great days doesn’t trump 3 1/2 months of poor baseball. Desi has the ability to turn around his season but it will take more than 6 days.

      • rayvil01 - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:09 AM

        No argument here. He was really bad for a really long time. Just stunning how it’s like a light switch was flipped and now his head is still.

      • natsnatsnatswoo - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:23 AM

        No mystery in why it takes forever for a player to implement changes that seem obvious to the fan sitting on his sofa chugging a beer. As FP pointed out last night, it’s one thing to make a change in your swing while hitting off a tee, in the batting cage or in BP, and an entirely different thing to do it in front of 40,000 screaming people while a guy is throwing 98 mph at you.

      • realdealnats - Jul 26, 2015 at 1:03 PM

        rayvil01: Why it took so long to get corrected is mysterious.

        The human psyche is mysterious. Often a dangerous place to be after dark, or around 7:05 PM, or 4 PM, or even 1:35 PM on any given summer day. Sometimes a surprising place to be after 7/19/15. I also think, related to this, that sometimes things just get so bad you say f*@k it and then you accidentally run into a Cal Ripken who says something at just the right time in just the right way that you not only hear it like you heard the coaches saying it, but it actually moves your axis that needed bit when for so long nothing else seemed able to. Still doesn’t explicitly answer the question why now? But it’s a scenario I’m sure we’re all familiar with. To me it keeps baseball intriguing. I’d miss it if the sport ever miraculously figured out the answer to such questions, just like I miss the Earl Weaver type arguments between managers and umps now that we have instant replay. We’ll see how it all plays out.

    • npb99 - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      I think fans were justifiably frustrated at seeing a veteran and team leader, a three-time silver slugger winner, be so undisciplined and ineffective with the bat for months on end (not to mention all the errors early on), especially when so many other key players were hurt. That was when we needed him to help Harper lead the team, and he did not.
      Of course everyone will be happy that he is now playing better and helping the team.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:02 AM

        Frustrated? I was too. It’s a long season and far from over.

    • zmunchkin - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:28 AM

      Ghost, of course the folks ragging on Desi as worthless/dead weight/and so on are not going to appear (via their keyboards) now when he is showing signs of improvement.

      Like you, I want to see more. But I am encouraged so far. I know a lot of folks here don’t like FP, but he regularly has good insights. And he has repeatedly been commenting on how still Desi’s head is as part of the reason. And when MASN shows his swing, it is pretty clear it has changed recently.

      So I am encouraged.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:37 AM

        FP was pointing out the good Desi and while I was pointing out the problems with Desi’s head for months, I take no credit as it was to clear as I described his chin ending up on his front shoulder as his bat went through the zone.

        Desi knew the problem, MW did, Rizzo did and Schu did, but Desi couldn’t fix it. Why did it take so long? Mind over matter. He had to relax.

        FP likes to point out the positives and it was Ray Knight who finally publicly said it.

      • zmunchkin - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:38 AM

        +21

  2. natsjackinfl - Jul 26, 2015 at 6:27 AM

    I have to admit. I had serious doubts that Ian could play at this level but he has been impressive.

    I am most impressed with a new found plate discipline that exceeds anything he has ever shown in the past.

    Now I won’t feel nervous that he’ll accept a qualifying offer in the off season and he can take his always erratic style to an AL club like maybe the Yankees.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 6:43 AM

      All he has to do is keep his head on the ball and he can get back to respectability. He’s doing all this against some very good pitchers.

  3. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 6:39 AM

    New stats has Desi slashing .222/.270/.369/.639 which ranks him as the 21st highest at SS in OPS. He has now surpassed Jimmy Rollins and Asdrubal Cabrera. In 30 more points he would get back to Top 15 status. In the last 6 days he’s added back 67 points to his OPS (22 to OBP and 45 to Slugging)

    Ian Desmond’s last 6 games: 10-19, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, .591 OBP, 1.158 SLG

    • jfmii - Jul 26, 2015 at 12:38 PM

      Being a selfish Nationals fan, and Ian being a lame-duck as it were, it doesn’t really matter what the final season numbers look like. Start today, or last week if you want to look at it in its most positive light, and go from there.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 12:43 PM

        The better his stats looks the better he helps the Nats win and makes a QO a certainty and that’s what any Nats fan should want.

  4. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 6:55 AM

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/batting/_/split/39/qualified/false/minpa/50

    Michael A. Taylor has now propelled himself into some amazing company of All Stars on the “clutch” list with that .404 BA with RISP. He is #5 in the Majors!!!!

    He also has to get on the “Hot List” for Rookie of the Year.

    If MAT could get a few bunts down and take a few more walks he can raise his overall OBP, and he will get the attention he deserves. A .284 overall OBP needs to rise.

    • scmargenau - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:16 AM

      Takeaway his slow start and he’s been greT.

      On Ian. One week, even two doesn’t heal 3.5 months of awful play. I’m glad this may increase his trade value, but no way I want to see this guy as a long term SS here. Just too many holes on both sides of the ball.

      Turner looks like a legit all star to be. A stud. If he gets traded I’ll cry for days..,😱

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:21 AM

        Scott, he’s gone unless he accepts the QO, but we should hope for the Nats that Desi continues to crush. Yes, one week doesn’t heal 3.5 months of awful play which is why I won’t declare a “yes” to Mark’s headline question “Is Desmond back?”

        Don’t worry, if Desi accepts the QO, Rizzo can still trade him and probably would and it’s a win-win if he finishes strong because it’s not how you start but how you finish.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:11 AM

    Greinke vs deGrom today in Citi.

    • rayvil01 - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:17 AM

      It looks like the Dodgers have 2 excellent starters and one effective one. Then they don’t have much. They really seem like the most likely Cole Hamels destination to me. They have the money and prospects. Shoot, they might give up Puig as part of a package. In that little band box he’d hit a lot of homers.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:26 AM

        I agree with you that the Dodgers seem most likely for Hamels but I’m hoping the Rangers get him or even a non-contender like the Red Sox.

        The Cubs, Royals, Rangers, Yankees and Giants all need a great starter more than the Dodgers.

  6. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    This will blow a few minds.

    The Nats top 3 RBI producers are:

    1. Bryce Harper 61
    2. Wilson Ramos 41
    3. Michael A. Taylor 35

    The Nats top 5 RBI producers by AB%:

    1. Bryce Harper 21.33%
    2. Tyler Moore 15.83%
    3. Wilson Ramos 14.19%
    4. Michael A. Taylor 13.16%
    5. Dan Uggla 12.96%

    • nats128 - Jul 26, 2015 at 7:55 AM

      RBI is also affected by opportunity. Yes, mind blown with Wilson Ramos and especially Tyler Moore’s efficinecy in RBI spots.

      Where is Clint Robinson on the list.

      Heres a old article on Adam Dunn when he was a Nat and his impact of defense. Have to start to think of Clint Robinson in terms of his defense and his offensive RBIs, HRs, OBP, SLG and OPS are nowhere close to Dunn.

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal/2010/09/adam_dunn_the_importance_of_fi.html

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:01 AM

        Clint has 18 RBIs and has a AB% of 10.11% and bats .244 with RISP

    • dcwx61 - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:29 AM

      Ha! TYMO!

    • Nats Fan Zee - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      My only surprise here is Uggla. Great example of data is not information. The data slot TyMo in 2nd as RBI by by AB% which would support a bench role yet we all know for years of imperial observation that TyMo gets better when he plays more as in every day. Interesting though … Thanks for brining it up.

      As for Desi, sure I’m glad he is doing well but, as Ghost likes to say repeatedly “very small sample size”. Keeping his head still might explain a swing flaw (if you call that violent motion a swing) but it does not explain the repeated and frequent “leather failures”. I do agree it’s a head problem and perhaps he addressed it (who knows what pressing issues are going on in his life) but I don’t think it’s head motion alone (inside a such as outside).

      As for MAT, just wow! I am certain we are witnessing the emergence on another star in DC. The more he plays, the better he gets both on the field and at the plate (and hopefully the base pads). But that’s the rub, he needs to play …. But where once the walking wounded come back? Nice problem to have I guess.

      As for the BP, we have a closer so let’s stop trying to fix a problem we don’t have. We need a high pressure 7th and 8th inning guy. We had one of those (Clip) and created our own problem ( all be it fixed a huge problem in the IF). This is Rizzo’s speciality and I’m sure he will come up with a creative fix, if not the offense better get better as we will need to be like the Yankees in the late 70’s when the would “pull out” games with scores like 11-10 after being down by 4 or more runs in the 6th in what seemed like almost every night.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:06 AM

        Yes, 6 games is a small sample size. Still 40% of the season to go.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:26 AM

      This is by AB and not opportunity, correct? That is, it doesn’t account for men on base?

  7. natsfan1a - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:27 AM

    I have no idea whether or not he’s back but I’m happy for him, and for the team, because, duh, winning.

  8. natsfan1a - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    In other news, evidently Colbert pitched a good one at Wrigley. Whatever, dude.

    • unkyd59 - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:41 AM

      Yeah, but Odubal’s catch was nothing, next to Michael’s…

      • unkyd59 - Jul 26, 2015 at 8:43 AM

        Can you imagine if he’d lost that one? He nearly overran it…

  9. ArVAFan - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:00 AM

    Two random notes from last night’s game:

    Gio said a lot of “not for TV” words when MW pulled him.

    Just after the last out, Desi ran over and hugged Ant so hard he pulled him off his feet. I think Desi is glad to see him back. As are the rest of us, despite the 0-fer last night. Based on the number of fans cheering, there were several hundred fans there–and by the end of the game, the stadium felt almost like Nats Park since the Pirates fans started giving up at 7-3, and really flooded out at 9-3.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:20 AM

      MW managed that game well and took a big chance on inserting Rivero. MW found out what Rivero had and he came through at a critical point in the game.

      “by the end of the game, the stadium felt almost like Nats Park since the Pirates fans started giving up at 7-3, and really flooded out at 9-3.”

      MASN never does this but Carp said fans are headed out the exits and they showed it on the cameras. They couldn’t run fast enough for the exits.

  10. Nats Fan Zee - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    And in other related news up the East coast:

    http://www.newsday.com/sports/baseball/mets/everyone-joins-in-hit-parade-in-mets-15-2-rout-of-dodgers-1.10677043

    Collins … told his players. “They’ve been put on notice it’s time to pick it up,” he said. “Whoever’s swinging the bat’s gonna play.”

    What an interesting concept! The Mets are going to make a run. They have not had a chance like this in a decade.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:33 AM

      Maybe they go for another outfielder like Parra or JUp. I hope they don’t. Also what do the Mets do as their young arms approach 180 innings?

      The Nats only need a healthy Rendon and Span with Desi hitting to really get the Nats offense going. Espi needs to play 1st base and keep den Dekker in LF for now as defense is a premium.

      Where the Nats are deficient is in the bullpen.

      • Nats Fan Zee - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:57 AM

        Don’t get me wrong for I think the Nats will prevail …. But …. It’s a different feeling watching another division team recraft itself with the single objective of knocking you out! I would not be surprised it they picked up multiple bats and blew out a few arms. Desperate times call for desperate measures and they have made some doozies in the past. Point is, they will stay close if they can and stomp if they get the opportunity

        I expected this from them next year when we will likely have a different looking team but not this year. Think 2011 going into 2012 … Nobody expected that.

        Bad news is the walking wounded will take some time getting back into form. Good news is, at least offensively, we better score runs big time in the playoffs in that 1/2 the team should be very well rested!

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:05 AM

        I’m with you. I get it and the Mets are not going away easily.

      • virginiascopist - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:39 AM

        I may be wrong, but didn’t Espi say he wasn’t comfortable at 1B? I’m not saying we won’t see him there again, but I could have sworn I saw him say something to that effect.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:42 AM

        He did say that at first but then said whatever it takes to get playing time.

  11. tcostant - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    It be great for him to continue this so we can offer him a QO and get a draft pick. Love for him to be the World Series MVP too.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:40 AM

      I think if Desi can get to .240 with an OPS over .700 he will get a big contract. I don’t think even at today’s level there’s much risk in offering him a QO. As many of us have thought Desi will still hold out for a long-term deal but nowhere near the $100 million he turned down.

  12. Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 9:49 AM

    http://www.federalbaseball.com/2015/7/26/9040981/washington-nationals-trade-target-john-axford

    Federal Baseball is doing a good job breaking down the reliever targets. I think the Nats need 2. I’m in on Benoit or Ziegler with Chapman.

    By the Nats grabbing 2 of these top relievers they also block the competition.

    • nats128 - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:33 AM

      It was once rumored that the Nats were the runner-up to the Reds on bidding on Chapman after he defected from Cuba which would make getting Chapman a chance at what Rizzo once wanted.

      If memory serves, wasnt Rizzo going after Chapman to be a starter?

    • virginiascopist - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:45 AM

      How about someone like Ken Giles from the Phillies?

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        They won’t trade him. I think he has 5 more years of team control and if Papelbon goes then Giles takes his spot.

  13. Joe Seamhead - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    I’m happy for Ian Desmond’s recent success and I’m even happier for the team.I truly hope that he continues on this present run for the rest of the year.What I find irritating is the criticism thrown at fans/bloggers that have voiced their frustration with Ian’s poor play. I was down on Desmond’s play, and I make no apologies for it. He was hurting this team both at the plate, and at shortstop. I never have said a negative as to the man’s character, nor for his effort given, his heart, or his locker room presence. But his results on the field justified critical feedback from the fans. With the level that he was performing, when Rendon was healthy, Desi was not one of the three best players available to play 3B, 2B, and SS.

    At least one of you wanted to bench Michael A.Taylor, or send him back down to AAA, before Denard Span got hurt again..You wanted to not only keep Desi in the lineup, but also wanted to put Espinosa in LF, even though all year Taylor has come through with RISP better than Desi, or even Espy. On more than one occasion Michael’s efforts in the outfield were questioned. Not for his not being able to get to the ball, but for his effort. In my opinion, MAT has given 100% of what he has to give all year. I think that he’s a fine defensive outfielder that has gotten to a lot of balls that no one else in this organization could’ve gotten to, except for maybe Span. Has he made some mistakes out there? Of course he has, but not from a lack of effort, but more from a lack of experience. And with his height and vertical leap, and extensive training to learn the art of outfielding, he has made plays that the shorter Espinosa will never be able to make. At the plate he still has a long ways to go to reach a level of consistency that one would like to see, but he has shown that he will probably improve with more experience. The kid has surprised me in many ways, but he has shown that the faith in him by the organization is warranted.

    As to Espinosa getting reps in LF? Good, give him some practice out there, but Jayson Werth will be back imminently. Span’s return may be a while, but with Werth, Moore, denDekker, and even CRobb, that still leaves a log jam in LF, even before you throw Danny into the mix. Jayson’s return will necessitate someone going down. Personally, until Span returns, I’d keep Matt den Decker, send Burris down, and rotate Danny, Yunel, Ian, and Anthony in the infield. BTW, there will also probably be a log jam at 1B very soon, unless Ryan Zimmerman’s foot keeps him out for an even longer time.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:08 AM

      Joe, in the month of May, MAT couldn’t hit water from a boat. He was slashing .185/.267/.315/.581 in 23 games. In June he bounced back to show a great approach in the clutch.

      You seem to have a problem with others opinions that don’t agree with yours and that’s fine. MAT has yet to take a walk since the All Star break and is batting .209 overall and of his 8 hits, 5 of them have been in RISP spots. He’s shown he’s a Major Leaguer and time will tell if he can be a frontline starter as he needs to hit and take walks in all situations.

      As to Espi in LF, these games are too crucial to make the move right now.

      But Joe, when are you going to stop throwing up others POVs in their face time and time again.

  14. rlndtln - Jul 26, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    If the Nats want Chapman they must be willing to give equal talent.What I read here is we want to steal him.There are too many teams that want this talent.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      The currency used in trades isn’t equal talent but rather equal value. And the equation to determine equal value includes years of control.

  15. coop202 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Um… if Desmond finishes at .250 with 700+ OPS after three silver slugger years and this slow start, he’s easily getting a better deal in this market (which, btw, was $89.5 for five years after the initial two year extension). I’m not sure if you guys have been following the rest of the league, but there are only 6 shortstops in all of MLB with a 700+ OPS. Someone will definitely beat the $89.5 value, at least per year, and it could even be us despite the logjam of talent all the sudden there.

    • unkyd59 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:10 AM

      Ok… Now THAT is not happening…

      • unkyd59 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:12 AM

        I mean… Not with us… Agree he’ll be a very wealthy Desi, by opening day ’16, but not with us…

      • coop202 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:37 AM

        If you’re all in on Trea I get that, but if the front office is more catious I can definitely see them beating the per year price, maybe 3 for 60. This comes under a massive assumption though that Desmond somehow regains form the second half… I’ll caveat this all with saying I might be the only nats fan who stuck in desi’s camp this season

  16. stoatva - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:05 AM

    Rendon getting the day off. Not shocked.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      MW is stacking lefties and can get Espi’s switch-hitting in there vs Cole. The strange thing is righties hit Cole better for Average and Power this year.

      The other thing is Cole is better on the road then at home.

  17. unkyd59 - Jul 26, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    As I noted, after everybody not resembling a divan had crashed, Gio is on his best run, in years! No longer handing out free passes like party favors, keeping his head in the game (no pouting after CRob’s horrible boot, last night, followed by a few seeing eye BABIPS)….. I’m loving the new Gio, as well as the new Desi!!

  18. Road Apples - Jul 26, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    It is worth repeating myself:
    #20 :
    1ST CLASS INDIVIDUAL + 1ST CLASS TALENT = 1ST CLASS RESULTS.

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