Ian Desmond's Resurgence Is the Real Deal
They say you only have one shot at making a first impression. I'm guessing Ian Desmond, who the Texas Rangers signed as a free agent this offseason, wishes he could re-do the start of his season with his new team.
Through his first 12 games with the Rangers, Desmond slashed .109/.180/.109 with a .144 wOBA, a -29 wRC+, an Isolated Power (ISO) of .000, and a strikeout percentage (K%) of 30.0. He had 5 hits in 50 plate appearances, and they were all singles, which is not surprising, considering his line drive percentage was just 9.7 and his hard-hit rate was only 16.1 percent.
Desmond's struggles could be tied to his inability to make contact...of any kind. Over these 12 games, his contact percentage was 63.5 -- for reference, the lowest total last season was 66.3 percent -- and his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) was 17.6. There were only two hitters to post a swinging strike rate worse than 16.6 percent in 2015.
It was about as bad of a start as you can get. An article from The Washington Post even called him "the worst player in baseball."
Little did they know what was about to happen.
After an 0-for-3 game with two strikeouts on April 15th, Desmond was given a breather the following day. The Rangers' game on the 17th was postponed, and they did not have a game scheduled for the 18th.
The three days of rest must have done wonders for Desmond.
He went 2-for-4 against the Houston Astros on April 19th and hit a double, which was his first extra-base hit of the season, and hasn't looked back since.
Over his next 22 games, including the contest on the 19th, Desmond slashed .346/.419/.630 with a .440 wOBA, a 184 wRC+. an ISO of .284, and a strikeout percentage of 15.1.
He had 28 hits in 93 plate appearances, 14 of them going for extra bases, while posting a line drive percentage of 26.5 and a hard-hit rate of 35.3 percent. Desmond was swinging through fewer pitches, improving his contact percentage to 80.1 percent and lowering his whiff rate to 8.6.
That's a lot of numbers,so peep the table below to grasp the improvement in Desmond's play.
Included in Desmond's resurgence was his first home run of the year, and it wasn't a cheap one either.
Desmond is now hitting .260/.336/.441 in 143 plate appearances this season, with a .336 wOBA and a 109 wRC+, far from being the worst player in baseball. Actually, when including his defense, he's been one of baseball's best players so far in 2016.
Desmond's New Position
The Rangers didn't have an opening in their infield when they signed Desmond, formerly a shortstop, but they did need a left fielder, which is primarily where he's played this season.
It's a small sample size (251 innings), but Desmond has impressed as an outfielder so far. His 29.5 UZR/150 is second-best among left fielders -- only by 0.3 points -- and he's made some nice catches already.
In both clips, the announcer points out Desmond's circuitous routes, so while he might not be the most efficient fielder, he's able to make up for it with his athleticism.
It hasn't all been pretty, though.
Regardless, between Desmond's success on both sides of the ball, he has a 1.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, which is currently tied for 24th-best and is just 0.4 points lower than where he finished last season.
Our metrics don't view him as favorably, however. His 1.09 nERD ranks 96th.
Desmond has a reputation as a streaky hitter, and our models project him to hit .240/.318/.410 with a .318 wOBA and 14 home runs over the remaining course of the season. The potential for a 20/20 season is very much in play (he's on pace for 19 home runs and 28 steals), and when combined with a projected .325 end-of-season wOBA, and solid defense, it makes me think the Rangers would quickly forget Desmond's ugly first impression.