The Good with the Bad: ATL Series Takeaways

The Good With the Bad is a segment in which contributor Luigi (Ouij) de Guzman (@ouij) and Alyssa Wolice break down the negatives and positives for each series, respectively. You, the reader, can then decide to see the glass half empty - or full - with each series wrap.

The Nationals have won six straight and put a temporary stop on talk of their sub-par start to 2015.

Over the course of three home games against the Atlanta Braves, the Nats celebrated strong performances, particularly from starters Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister.

The series—in particular, Wednesday's walk-off win—offered a unique opportunity to analyze the triumphs and tribulations of one key player, whose 2015 season has by far and large missed the mark thus far: Ian Desmond.

OUIJ'S TAKE

DE6mond, Desm0nd...Desmond? Ian Desmond ended his night covered in filth an chocolate sauce. Forget about that. Let's go back and look at what happened before his walk-off sacrifice fly. At the plate, he was officially 0-3 (F9, K, 5-3) with a walk and a Sac-fly RBI. He also padded one statistical category nobody likes, committing his NL-leading 16th error. Until he stepped into the box in the bottom of the eleventh, Desmond's night was a neat microcosm of his year thus far.

The Outs. His first at-bat against Shelby Miller in the bottom of the third resulted in a weak fly ball to right field on a fastball on the outer third. In the bottom of the sixth, Desmond struck out pirouetting out of the batters' box chasing a Shelby Miller slider low and away. In the bottom of the tenth, against Masset, Desmond rolled over a weak grounder to third base for an out. Desmond's three outs each serve as an example of a facet of his offensive game in 2015. Thus far, Desmond does two things more often this year than he has in his career: strike out (K% up to 27.5%, above career 22%) and hit ground balls (GB% up to 53.8% above career 49.6%). Where he has hit the ball in the air, it hasn't been with his customary force (HR/FB% at 9.8% vs. career 12.6%).

The Error. In the top of the second, Desmond booted a ball hit by Andrelton Simmons into the hole at shortstop, dropping it on the exchange. The ball was hit right at him, so it wasn't as if Desmond was ranging out of it. Fielding statistics are notoriously controversial, but Fangraphs calculations show Desmond has been worth -2.2 runs in errors--that is, his errors have cost the team about two runs over the course of the year thus far vs. a replacement-level shortstop. It isn't the Fourth of July yet, and Desmond has already matched the -2.2. ErrR he posted in all of 2014. Again: it's not as if Desmond was ranging particularly far or fast to get to this ball. His RngR numbers (the amount of runs saved by a player's range vs. a replacement level player) sits at 0.9 for the year to date, a far cry from the 4.8 RngR he posted in 2013.

Ready to Party. After all that, Desmond stepped into the box in the bottom of the eleventh, ready to party, swinging at the first pitch from Aardsma. He hit it in the air. It wasn't a home run. And yet, by the vagaries of chance (and some very good plate appearances by the teammates that batted ahead of him), it was enough to get him covered in chocolate. Do Desmond's 11th-inning heroics portend better days ahead? He did hit a homer—at last!—in Thursday afternoon's game, his contact numbers are about where they have always been for his career. The optimist might even say that his BABIP is unusually low this year (.295, down from a career BABIP of .322). The pessimist will point to the increased number of ground balls and note that perhaps the Regression Fairy will not be nearly as kind as Nats fans hope it will be.

ALYSSA'S TAKE

Rollercoaster rides have ups. In the three-game series, Ian Desmond experienced it all—from extra time on the Nats’ bench to a shower of chocolate sauce. Wednesday’s 2-1 extra-innings win no doubt encapsulated both the ups and downs of Ian Desmond. His walk-off sacrifice fly followed a 0-for-3 performance in which he struck out—something he’s done a bit this month. (Yes, two of Desmond’s three 4-strikeout games landed in the month of June.) Given that, it is no secret that Desmond’s start Wednesday reflected his overall level of play. In the month of June, Desmond’s batting average has hovered around the .140 mark, and his season average lands just .80 higher.

But, just as Desmond wound up the unexpected hero of the night, fans have grown accustomed to expecting Desmond to show up in the eleventh hour just as it seems all hope is lost. With the All-Star Game only weeks away, Nats fans have to hope Desmond will spring back to life at the halfway mark.

The grind. There’s something to be said about a player who is able to survive the kind of slumps that can reshape career paths. Yes, the Nats’ shortstop is hitting nearly 40 points below his career average. Statistically, 2015 is by far and large the worst season of Desmond’s career thus far—so much so, that the sad fact might hold true until October, even if he bounces back. But after hitting rock bottom, there are few places to go but up—and Desmond has been known for his perseverance.

More errors means improved offense? Time again, players have been known to consider Desmond the hardest working man on the team, and he certainly has the drive to fix his mistakes. In April, for instance, the three-time Silver Slugger committed nine errors—including two in the season opener—but he has since worked to regain his confidence, even if he can do little about his range. The funny thing is, Desmond’s performance in the field this year seems to be inversely related to his ability to deliver at the plate. That’s not to say Nats fans should root for the E6, but one would expect the shortstop to place greater emphasis on hitting, now that he’s settled down a bit in the field, overall. Either way, baseball’s unpredictably means you never know what can turn around a player’s season. And, markers like Wednesday’s walk-off sacrifice in extras have proven the motivator in many a ballplayer’s career.

Desmond spared the Nats a hefty price tag. So many in the Nats Twitterverse have been quick to reference the fact it’s Desmond’s contract year, thanks to the shortstop’s risky decision to turn down an offer that would have carried him through 2020. But, it’s officially time to look at the glass half full: the Nats only almost overpaid Desmond. Armed with hindsight, and what’s left of the wad of cash, Washington can think strategically as the team envisions its 2016 infield.


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