Last night, in his 36th game of the year, Ian Desmond hit his 5th homerun of the season. Last year, in 154 games, he had 8 homers. The year before that in 154 games, he had 10 homers. Ian also has 11 doubles, compared to the 27 he had in both of the past two years. Projecting out for a whole season Ian would hit around 22 homers and have almost 50 doubles. Is this power surge for real?
Let's be frank here. Ian's value is coming from that power. His average is ok (.276 right now) but that can almost directly be attributed to the increase in power. A couple homers turn into fly balls and he's hitting .264. Ian also doesn't walk and that stat is worse than ever. His walk rate is an abysmal 3.5%. He's seeing a ridiculously small number of pitchers per at bat (3.27, 2nd lowest in the NL). So, even though he's hitting over 20 points higher than last year, he's a bad at bat away from matching last year's OBP.
But this is all ok if he keeps slugging like he has been. Don't get me wrong, Ian is not a league leader in slugging, not even close. But this power bump turns Ian into a useful offensive player rather than the lineup hole he has been. Can he keep this up?
His minor league stats would suggest it's possible. He had isoSLG of .168 his third go round in A+ ball, and .188 his third season in AA. His .172 right now looks reasonable in light of that.
There's nothing currently odd about his major league numbers right now either. BABIP is at .313 - about what he did the past two years. HR/FB rate is at 10.4% - higher than the past 2 years but not abnormal (like the 17.4% he had in his brief rookie stint). That alone wouldn't explain the power surge, but Desmond is also hitting far less ground balls and a lot more fly ones (and a few more line drives). True, flyballs tend to be outs a little more often than ground balls, but they also, with line drives, are where the power comes from. He's swinging a lot more (both his in-the-strike-zone and out-of-the-strike-zone swing percentages are up) but his strike out rate is down a bit. So it doesn't seem to be an issue with strike zone judgement spurring this on.
I don't see anything necessarily funny here. Chances are Desmond is sitting dead red and pouncing on anything that he thinks might be a decent pitch to hit trying to drive it up and out. Most of his XBH have come off of FBs and he seems to do the best versus FBs and sliders. He is seeing less straight fastballs this year but they are mostly being replaced with cut fastballs which Ian is handling just fine. There is a chance of regression here. Given his current swing
tendencies, fastballs and sliders further out of the zone, or a mix of a
lot more off-speed junk could have Ian flailing away again.
Tentatively, though, I think Ian may have found a niche where he can survive in the majors. It's important to understand a couple things here. Because he gets on base so infrequently, this power bump does not make him a good offensive player, merely one you can accept having in your lineup. Also, he's not a complete batter so like I said pitchers could figure him out. But given that Ian is not terribly threatening, and is in that position ahead of some hitters they'd rather not face with men on, chances are pitchers are going to pitch him like they pitch everyone else. That means a couple of fast pitches in/near the strike zone in every at bat and for Ian that means a couple chances at the big hit that's making him a useful part of this lineup.