Nationals Baseball: Adjusting or not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Adjusting or not.

As June ended things looked bleak for Ian Desmond. He had been struggling at the plate the first couple of months, posting a .246 / .307 / .406 line in April and a .272 / .296 / .402 line in May. June was a crucial month for him to show that he was adjusting. Instead of taking a step foward, though, Ian took a big one back. .222 / .259 /. 309. Maybe if Desmond was sparkling in the field that would have bought him another month but he had been prone to make the dumb error. Without the strong defense, that's a line that screams "Send me back to AAA coach, I'm not ready!" Some of us said exactly that, others (like me) weren't too different in their thinking. Most fell in line with the thinking that the All-Star break would be a good time to make a change. Ian had one last chance to get it right this time (with the majority of the fanbase. With the team, who knows? But Rizzo was making hints of getting tired of seeing the lousy play and Desmond was playing the lousiest)

Desmond went out and from Jun 26th to the All-Star break he hit .294 / 351 / .529. Certainly good enough to hold off on that bus ride to Syracuse for a little while. And a little while looked to be all it would be as he struggled immediately after the break though (.172 / .194 / .207 in the first 9 games). Then a funny thing happened, Desmond started hitting and never stopped. Since July 27th (45 games ago) Desmond has hit .344 / .374 / .494. He's arguably been the Nats best hitter since the end of July (Zimmerman has probably been better - he's hit .322 / .399 / .500 in the same time frame). Has Desmond adjusted?

On one hand it's hard to argue with 45 games. On the other hand I can pull out 45 games from late May through June that will look terrible. What do the fancy stats say?

K-rate and BB-rate? August did show improvement in both but it's virtually the same over this stretch as over the first 110 games or so. Maybe a tick better. So he's not better at indentifying strikes or not swinging and missing.

BABIP? Uh oh. Even during the "bad stretch" Desmond still had a BABip above .285, probably just under .300 for the season up to late July. With the NL Average around .300, you probably figure the young Desmond to be maybe... .305? .310? So it was low but not terribly low. During the hot stretch? It's been over .380. That's a sign of luck, not skill.

GB/LD/FB % : He's seen his GB rate go way up (over 60% the last two months, was under 50% for the first part of the season). Unsurprisingly his percentage of infield hits has also jumped. Also on a good note - his infield pop up percentages are way down. He's not exactly ripping the ball - his LD% has plummeted along with his FB% - but it appears that he's changed his approach and it has paid divdends.

What's the conclusion? Well that BABIP is unsustainable, which means his batting average is unsustainable. He's not getting any more walks so his value at the top of the lineup will take a hit. However, that bump in BABIP is not all luck. Desmond has taken to hitting the ball on the ground more. Now when he makes a mistake on a swing, it's not a lazy fly ball or a pop-up but a ground ball of some type. Some of these find their way through the infield, others he can beat out. The end result is a better hitter. Not a .344 hitter but probably something better than the lines he was putting up in April and May.


cass said...

Good stuff, Harper. You've had some great posts recently.

Anonymous said...

Would it be safe to say that a BABIP of .340 is sustainable?

Harper said...

It can be but that's generally either for the best pure hitters, very good home run heavy hitters, or super fast players. I'm not sure Desmond qualifies as those. I think somewhere in the .320 range would probably be a good goal for Ian.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Harper, but honestly, how many of the Post readers understand the acronyms? Is space so limited or is it that hard to include a definition? We're not talking HR or RBI here. Geez! BABIP! I played ball for 15 years and followed it the last 40 and I can only guess at BABIP. It's great that baseball statisticians have taken it further, but give us poor slobs who work 12 hours a day at something other than baseball statistics a break. Please! Does your ego need that much massaging? Can you get off the statistician high horse and just talk to us?

Harper said...

Hey I work at something other than baseball statistics! I work at... real statistics. Hmm.

The first several times I used these in posts I tried to explain them out, and since I usually assume my audience is the same couple dozen people, didn't figure it was necessary to do so anymore. It would be a pain to explain them every time but you have a point. I should really include a link or something for those who haven't been as exposed to these terms. You never know who's reading. That's easy enough to do.