I've been a proponent of Ian Desmond in this space since before he got called up to the Major Leagues. The opinions of the Washington Nationals brass of the lanky shortstop are almost legend, going back to when former GM Jim Bowden compared him (favorably) to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Current GM Mike Rizzo thinks nothing less of him, and field manager Davey Johnson is an advocate as well.
Talking about the switch to move Desmond back into the leadoff spot in the order, Johnson told reporters earlier this week (via MLB.com's Bill Ladson), "He was trying to shoot the ball [to right field] too much," Johnson said. "He has a lot of power. I want him thinking more about hitting the ball where it's pitched -- get doubles, get out in front a little bit and drive it. He has been doing that.
"I like him leading off. I know he feels real comfortable about it. I remember when I had that conversation with him. His on-base percentage was terrible, but he was trying to do too much. He was expanding the zone. But I also wanted to know what he thought. He said, 'I think I could be a great leadoff hitter.' So I said, 'If you think that, show me.'"
"I put him in the leadoff spot, and he showed me that he can be more patient and be the kind of hitter [I expect him to be]. ... In the last month, he has shown the real Ian Desmond."
Ladson noted earlier in his article that Desmond has hit .279 with a .330 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. In a smaller sample size, since Johnson inserted Desmond back into the leadoff spot in the order Aug. 17 (which is, after all, the proposition we're discussing), Desmond has hit .292/.328/.451 with four doubles, four homers and seven RBIs. He's also 3-for-6 in stolen base attempts in those 27 games.
The other thing to consider is Desmond's BABiP in August was .358, well above his season mark of .306, which is perfectly average.
Now, we can debate about whether a .328 OBP in such a small sample size is even worthy of discussion, but baseball decisions have been made on less before.
What's worse, Desmond's free-swinging has only gotten worse as he's gotten older (K/BB rates: '09 -- 2.80, '10 -- 3.89, '11 -- 4.00) and his inability to take a walk (he's walked five times in 27 games since being re-inserted into the leadoff), means that any gains he's seen in OBP are propped up by his hit rate of late, which BABiP tells us is being fueled by luck during this stretch.
Of course, none of this takes into account his defensive value, which is a discussion for another day.
Like I said, I like Ian Desmond. I think he could be a valuable part of this team and offense if he cut down on his swing, cut down on the strikeouts, used the whole field and utilized his speed to get on base. In my opinion, his free-swinging, reach for the fences approach is a detriment to him being a productive Major League hitter, especially if the Nats are considering him for the leadoff spot in the order.
For the 2011 season, Desmond is hitting .245/.290/.352 in 140 games, including his "hot" streak of the last month. For his career, Desmond has hit .258/.300/.386 in 315 games. In six seasons in the minors over 638 games, Desmond hit .259/.326/.388.
In the last 27 games, Desmond has hit .292/.328/.451 with a .358 BABiP.
Which is the real Ian Desmond?