Ian Desmond has transformed himself this season, and the results should make him a strong contender for a starting spot on the American League All-Star team.The most obvious sign of the new Desmond is the position at which he is listed on the ballot. A shortstop his whole career with
Ian Desmond has transformed himself this season, and the results should make him a strong contender for a starting spot on the American League All-Star team.
The most obvious sign of the new Desmond is the position at which he is listed on the ballot. A shortstop his whole career with the Nationals, including in his 2012 National League All-Star season, Desmond switched to the outfield with the Rangers this year. He played mostly in left initially, but handled that spot capably enough that Texas shifted him to center about three weeks ago when it sent struggling Delino DeShields back to the Minors.
• Cast your Esurance All-Star ballot for Desmond and other #ASGWorthy players
Desmond also has rediscovered his old form at the plate. Following three straight 20-20, Silver Slugger Award-winning seasons, Desmond's bat slumped significantly in his contract year, which played a major role in him settling for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Rangers. The 30-year-old then began 2016 by batting .109 with no extra-base hits in his first 12 games before something clicked.
In 37 games since April 19, Desmond owns a .354/.396/.571 line with 19 extra-base hits, six homers, 27 RBIs and nine steals. Combine that with his defense, which most advanced metrics have pegged as above average in a small sample, and Desmond had collected 2.0 wins above replacement (WAR) through Saturday, according to FanGraphs. That both exceeded his 2015 total (1.7) and put him among the top AL outfielders, as part of a tightly packed group behind the Angels' Mike Trout.
Desmond's resurgence actually began in the second half of last season, when he hit a solid .262/.331/.446 with 12 homers, 38 RBIs and eight steals. But coming on the heels of his nightmarish first half, which also included some struggles with the glove, it wasn't enough to score Desmond a large multiyear contract. (It also didn't help that he was saddled with a qualifying offer, and that there wasn't a robust market for shortstops).
In 2016, Desmond has made some clear strides at the plate, perhaps putting him on a path to a much more fruitful offseason.
The two least productive things a batter can do are strike out and hit an infield pop fly. The first is an out by definition and the second is almost certain to be. From 2012-13, his two best seasons, Desmond did one or the other about 30 percent of the time. The past two years, that jumped to nearly 42 percent, as he posted the third-highest strikeout rate and 14th-highest infield fly rate among 117 qualified hitters.
This season, Desmond has slashed both numbers, to about a combined 24 percent. The simplest reason for this, at least in terms of the whiffs, is that Desmond is swinging at bad pitches less frequently than ever before.
Desmond's out-of-zone swing rate in his seven full seasons:
2010: 32.8 percent
2011: 30.1 percent
2012: 36.8 percent
2013: 34.8 percent
2014: 33.9 percent
2015: 34.1 percent
2016: 25.3 percent (through Saturday)
To give one more specific example, Desmond chased pitches below the zone about 41 percent of the time last season, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Through Saturday, he had gone after those same pitches about 30 percent of the time in 2016; that's a positive development, since in both years, he has batted less than .200 against them.
With that improved plate discipline, as well as his smooth position switch and contributions as a baserunner, Desmond has put himself in the conversation for best AL outfielder so far this season (non-Trout division). That could earn him a trip to San Diego this July, for his second Midsummer Classic.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.