Isn't it great that the Nats are quasi-relevant again? Now I can get back to one of my favorite pastimes, destroying the overly optimistic musings of one Mr. Thomas Tiberius Boswell.
In his latest column Boswell makes a great amount of noise about how good Ian Desmond could become. In it, he takes a look at the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games in the majors last year and sees how they changed from the minors to the majors in order to project how Desmond might do. This is great... if you can ignore the two HUGE problems that render this analysis useless.
First, Boswell is comparing Desmond to the 21 shortstops who played at least 110 games the the majors last year. These players all have one thing in common. THEY WERE GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY 110 GAMES AT SHORTSTOP IN THE MAJORS LAST YEAR. Of course if you look at all the "good players" they are likely to show improvement. If we looked back at last year and pulled out every shortstop that failed to play 20 games in the majors, see how they did, and then projected Desmond to play like that - well he'd be pretty bad right? By only comparing Desmond to the "good players", essentially all Boswell ends up saying is "if Desmond is good enough to play a season in the majors, hell be good enough" Not much of a revelation. I suppose it is a bit interesting that in general these guys improved with the glove, but that was probably part of the deal. Get better with the glove or move to 2nd, or the OF, or Albuquerque. That's one huge flaw in this comparison.
To make matters worse, Boswell misses another important point. Most of these guys started playing in the majors when they were younger than Desmond. The less experienced you are the more likely you can make big changes. It's not surprising then that a 22 yr old (the most common start age for the 21) gets better with more time. Desmond is not 22 though, he's 24 going on 25. It's less likely that he'll make that level of improvement. This is another big flaw in Boswell's comparison.
To best figure out what Ian is going to do he should be compared to... let's say all 24 and 25 year old shortstops with less than a half-season major league experience in the past 5 years or so (to get a larger sample), not all the starting shortstops from last year. Not to mention all the different circumstances that need to be taken in account. A better fielder than Furcal? Sure but Furcal was moved to short as a 21 yr old and played there for just a season before being moved up. A hitter on par with Rollins? I guess if you look at "Composite Rollins" and count his age 22-24 seasons - seasons that Desmond played in the minors. This isn't just flawed, it's flat out wrong.
(what about the comparison? Well since baseball-reference doesn't allow a maximum previous experience, only a minimum, it takes some more digging than I had time for - maybe tomorrow)
What I wont' get on Boswell for is the thought process behind what to use for a baseline for projecting Desmond into 2010 and beyond. Because Desmond had such a strange 2009 it makes his projections difficult. The bulk of his minor league stats say he's not that great, but the most recent stats say otherwise. Really it comes down to what do you prefer to look at. Therefore, I'm not sure any projection is that much more valid than another.
Boswell gives you two possibilities; "the optimist", who chooses to look at Desmond's great last season as starting point, and "the realist", who tries to find a middle ground between last years stats and the bulk of Ian's minor league work by averaging the last three years. What Boswell doesn't give you is "the pessimist", who ignores last year as an aberration and focus on the relatively consistent years prior as the real info. The Optimist is looking at .800+ OPS, The Realist somewhere in the .750 range, and The Pessimist in the .650 area. Boswell tells you what players are in the other two ranges, what about the .650 area? Jack Wilson, Juan Uribe, Felipe Lopez on the Nationals. Yeah, that bad. Not as good as Guzman last year bad.
I'm all for trying to project Desmond's future, but it should be done in a fair and even handed way. Cherry-picking the comparison group to be the cream of the crop is only going to push the already high expectations of Nats fans through the roof. Push them far enough and even a capable performance by Desmond might be seen as a disappointment rather than a success it really is.