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"No chance" of Desmond at 2B

Sep 20, 2010, 11:12 PM EDT


Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ian Desmond has played shortstop all season and will remain there in 2011.

Since he arrived in the big leagues earlier this month, Danny Espinosa has played almost exclusively at second base, filling in at shortstop only when Ian Desmond isn't in the lineup.

Espinosa, though, came up through the Nationals' farm system as a top shortstop prospect and may actually possess a stronger arm than Desmond. Which raises the question: Would the Nats ever consider having the two swap positions, with Espinosa taking over as the regular shortstop with Desmond becoming the second baseman?

Jim Riggleman had a firm answer to that question when it was posed today: "No chance."

Clearly, the Nationals view Desmond (who turned 25 today) as their long-term answer at shortstop, a conclusion they've drawn over the course of a season that has seen the rookie make some significant strides along the way. Through his first 105 games, Desmond was hitting .260 with a .296 on-base percentage, a .396 slugging percentage and a major-league-leading 27 errors. In 32 games since,Read more ยป

  1. Aussie Gus - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    Mark, what are your thoughts on this? Usually I'd say trust team management, but given their record, I get the feel ID should be playing 2B and Espinosa SS. Is it really that bad to swap them, given most people admit that Espinosa has a better arm?

  2. Josh - Sep 20, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    32 games is an awfully small sample size. If Desmond had made 8 errors instead of 6 (which is well within the expected deviation considering how many errors he'd made before that) his error rate in those 32 games would be virtually identical to that in his first 105. His OBP – AVG (i.e. BB%) over the last 32 is within 0.05 of what it was in the first 105 (and incidentally 4% is not an incredible walk rate). While I don't have all the data immediately in front of me, my suspicion is that his BABIP has been really high over the last 32 games, causing corresponding increases in SLG and AVG, and he has been making errors at a similar clip. I do think he has been hitting more line drives lately but that's just anecdotal evidence. Ultimately, my point is that I'm not sure that Desmond has improved all that much over the course of the year, and I hope he devotes plenty of time this offseason to improving his defense.

  3. Dan - Sep 21, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    It's an unusual luxury to have two very promising young middle infielders. All things considered, Desmond has had a decent first year, but it may be shortsighted to merely anoint him as the shortstop for 2011. The question isn't whether he can be adequate at the position, but rather who is better between he and Espinosa. Just because ID arrived earlier does not mean he is better in the field than DE. I say let them compete. The end result should either be a double-play combination that can be in place for years or evidence to would-be suitors that the Nationals have two very attractive major-league-ready shortstops.

  4. Avar - Sep 21, 2010 at 12:33 AM

    Agree w/ others. Why are they annointing Desie at short already? He was HORRIBLE in the field most of the year. Probably my biggest frustration this year has been that they have not played the best players. Morse sat, Desmond sat, Kennedy played, Bernie sat while Harris played.I want the best player at SS and I don't care what his name is or when he got here. Hell, if we find a 3B better than Zimm then move him to first. Not that we will but just to prove a point.Let them compete and play the best player. I want to win games.

  5. Sue Dinem - Sep 21, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    This is a mistake, especially to say it publicly. Desmond is the better hitter, no doubt. But Espinosa is unquestionably the better fielder. Maybe Riggs is just saying this to massage what many believe to be a very fragile ego, in which case then perhaps the early comparisons to Derek Jeter may not have been so wrong.

  6. FOTB - Sep 21, 2010 at 1:33 AM

    Now another reader here is knocking Derek Jeter? Seriously? If Desmond ends up with a career like DJ has had so far, will you be complaining, Sue?

  7. Ernie - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:25 AM

    Can we just stop anointing people to different positions before they earn them? Seeing Espinoza in the field tonight made me remember what a shortstop is supposed to look like. I'm not saying the position has to be his, but why do we have to rule it out already? Why do we declare that Maxwell is a great player before he can even hit over .200? Why do we decide that Nyjer is a "natural" center fielder before we see what a terrible arm he has and what a bonehead he is on the bases? Why do we declare that Bernadina is a left fielder before he's even played 30 games there? Why is Storen the closer of the future before he's had even 10 save opportunities? My guess at why we do this? We (the organization) have no idea about the answer to any of these things, so we feel defensive and have to appear more sure than we really are. The same way we're so sure that it's always best to follow righty-lefty rules in batting and to give guys rest or playing days regardless of their performance. This is a team that follows rules rather than results. We declare what the answer is before we see what plays out on the field.The last few weeks have really soured me on Riggleman. There's very little being done to test out the future. We just keep following the rules that got us a .400 season and talking about how great a guy everyone is. The first rule I'd change? The one that says you need consistency at manager. Make that change, dump Riggleman, and I'll be interested to see what other rules are just delusions…

  8. Harper_ROY_2010 - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:32 AM

    Riggs also annointed Desmond the super utility man playing all over including the outfield in Spring Training and Rizzo CRUSHED that thought, Riggleman might make it to the All-Star break next year…I for one pray for the switch Espinosa is better offensively and defensively!

  9. dale - Sep 21, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    Well said, Ernie, even though I don't agree yet about Riggleman. Espinosa is certainly having a hard time making contact now, but his fielding has been sensational. With about 13 games left in the season now is not the time to tell Desmond that he may be switching to second base next year, Riggleman does not want to stir that pot yet.

  10. A DC Wonk - Sep 21, 2010 at 3:52 AM

    My understanding (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) is that Ian has one the biggest ranges of any SS in the NL. If that's the case, it's a mistake to simply look at his errors — when some of those very plays might have been singles with other SS's.

  11. N. Cognito - Sep 21, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    Just because it'll start out with Desmond at short and Espinoza at second doesn't mean it will stay that way. They could easily play themselves into a swap of positions, and, as young as they are, they could still play themselves off a major league roster.

  12. Sue Dinem - Sep 21, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    Nope. Not quite. Not even.Thank the folks at Fangraphs for these numbers which rebut the assumption that superior range offsets subpar execution:Desmond has made just 43 OOZ (out of zone) plays out of his zone, which is 9th among SS's with 600 innings played (which gives us 15 qualifiers in the NL). His RZR (reverse zone rating) is 11th, his ErrR (Error Runs) is 15th, and his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is 14th.@FOTB – Knowledgeable fans have known for more than a decade that Derek Jeter the hitter and Derek Jeter the fielder are on opposite ends of the spectrum. That's not a knock, it's a fact.

  13. Anonymous - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Sue, you left off the fact that despite all the numbers you listed, Ian is still valued at almost 2 full wins ABOVE replacement level this season by fangraphs. They also have his perceived value at over $7mil. This leads me to believe there are still a lot of kinks to be worked out in their ratings if he can be rated so highly and poorly simultaneously.

  14. U-Hoo - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    How many of Desi's errors might have been saved if we had a better glove at first? I wonder how many errors Pujols saves his fellow infielders every year with great scoops?

  15. FOTB - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    Sue,Thanks for that "fact" about DJ. Count me among those "knowledgeable fans" who have been following DJ since 1995 and know very well of his defensive limitations. Nevertheless, let me re-ask the question that you failed to answer: If Desmond ends up with a career like DJ has had so far, will you be complaining? If the answer is yes, then that's fine. I would completely disagree, but that's no matter. We're all entitled to our opinions. If the answer is no, however, then shouldn't you really find some other player to use to disparage Desmond?

  16. natsfan1a - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Would not Rizzo, as well as Riggleman, have input on the decision about who plays where in the future?

  17. Anonymous - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    I've been part of a group with season tickets since '05; we currently have 4 $60 seats in the lower level behind the Nats' dugout (row 129L). We had 6 seats until this year; I'm worried we may not be able to sustain 4 seats next season. If the team reduced ticket prices in all sections of the stadium, including sections like ours, it would be much easier to get renewals. On the positive side, I will say I've been really impressed with the service we've gotten this year. The "Red Carpet Points" program has been terrific, allowing us to see games in the Diamond Club section for free. The agents have gone out of their way for us and been very responsive to last minute requests, including decent seats for some of Strasburg's early games.

  18. Sue Dinem - Sep 21, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    @FOTB – I failed to answer that question because it is specious and it is a straw-man argument that ignores the topic of discussion: defense. That's the same reason I didn't reference WAR, which factors in offense. I'm referring strictly to defense (read: fielding and throwing), a facet of Desmond's game in which his above-average athleticism and range masks (read: does not offset) his below-average execution.

  19. FOTB - Sep 21, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    "Maybe Riggs is just saying this to massage what many believe to be a very fragile ego, in which case then perhaps the early comparisons to Derek Jeter may not have been so wrong." Sorry, Sue. I thought your original statement (above) implied that DJ had a fragile ego and perhaps Desmond did also. I didn't realize your statement referred to DJ's defensive limitations.

  20. Anonymous - Sep 21, 2010 at 5:20 PM

    Uh Mark, you should ask Mike Rizzo the same question. I'm not sure but I think perhaps he would have a different answer after last night's game. As I recall Riggleman was going to make Desmond a utility guy, try him out in right field because Cristian Guzman would be starting for him at shortstop. Wonder how that got changed? Don't listen to Riggleman he is often wrong.

  21. Josh - Sep 21, 2010 at 9:29 PM

    Just so you know: 2.0 WAR is considered to be an average major leaguer. The "replacement" in "wins above replacement" means "with a AAA player."

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