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Desmond’s 20-20 season puts him in rare company

Sep 23, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Over the weekend Davey Johnson was asked who the MVP of the 2013 Nationals was, despite their ups and downs this year, which player was the biggest reason they still managed a competitive season. He noted Jayson Werth, but said the discussion can’t be had without mentioning shortstop Ian Desmond.

On Sunday night Desmond stole two bases in the Nationals’ 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins, giving him 21 on the year. That makes him just one of eight players this season to hit both 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, and two of them (Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen) are MVP candidates.

That’s rare company. But given this is Desmond’s second season reaching those marks, he now holds an even rarer place among shortstops in MLB history. Desmond is one of just seven shortstops all time to have two 20-20 years in their career, and the list of names is quite impressive.

1.    Hanley Ramirez – 4 seasons (2007-10) – Age 23-26
2.    Jimmy Rollins – 4 seasons (2006-12) – Age 27-33
3.    Alex Rodriguez – 3 seasons (1997-99) – Age 21-23
4.    Derek Jeter – 2 seasons (2001-04) – Age 27-30
5.    Barry Larkin – 2 seasons (1991-96) – Age 27-32
6.    Alan Trammell – 2 seasons (1986-87) – Age 28-29
7.    Ian Desmond – 2 seasons (2012-13) – Age 26-27

Desmond has proven his 2012 breakout season was no fluke. He’s hitting .286 this year which is more than adequate given his other skills, and he leads the Nationals in RBI (80), doubles (38), steals and games played (153). Throw in Desmond’s ability in the field – he was a Gold Glove finalist last season – and he’s one of the best players at his position in baseball today.

Desmond’s consistency this year is a reason Johnson believes he’s been so valuable. The only month this season he’s hit under .280 was May and he still posted three homers and 12 RBI. In the season’s other five months he’s been Washington’s most steady offensive player in a year that saw the team go collectively super hot or super cold.

The Nationals shortstop has come a long way from 2011 when his future with the team was in question. He committed too many errors and didn’t produce the power numbers to justify his low batting average. Now he’s a more complete player and he’s been so for two seasons.

Also a leader in the Nationals’ clubhouse, Desmond is appreciative of the time and work it took to reach this point. He blossomed a bit later than most stars in the game and doesn’t take his success for granted.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s definitely a blessing,” he said. “I wasn’t always headed down this road in my life. I’m just fortunate. I try to take every day as a blessing and try to do the most I can every day.”

The next step for Desmond and the Nationals is likely a contract extension, as general manager Mike Rizzo had this to say about him in April:

“We don’t discuss negotiations with players and that type of thing. But we feel Ian is one of our leaders. He’s one of the guys that is our core players and he’s a guy we’d like to be with the Nationals for a long time.”

Just entering his prime, Desmond could be a big part of whatever the Nationals accomplish in their still wide open window of contention.

Mark Zuckerman contributed to this story

  1. Doc - Sep 23, 2013 at 11:40 AM

    Of Desi’s success, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

    For me, he’s the heart of the team, and accordingly, has been going in that direction since he first put on a Nats’ uni.

    I think that we’ll see a few more 20-20 seasons.

  2. TimDz - Sep 23, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    It would be nice to see him inked to a long term deal. Given the difficulty he had earlier in his career and given the fact that the Nats stuck with him, I could see a bit of a discount coming in exchange for some long term security.

  3. adcwonk - Sep 23, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Desi is exhibit A in the rebuttal that Davey hurt the team with “teachers pets.” The more accurate description is that Davey recognizes talent, and plays those players in his belief that they will realize their potential.

    And so: Desi is one such player. Lots of folks here, in 2011, wanted the Nats to get rid of him, and have Espi take over as SS — remember? The argument was: if he hasn’t gotten it by now, he never will. Davey was right, and the Nats benefited. Davey’s response? To tell Desi: chill out, you are my SS.

    Davey did similar things with a number of players — including lobbying hard and getting Bryce called up — insisting that Harper was major league ready — at the beginning of last season while Bryce was hitting poorly in AAA.

    Sometimes it doesn’t work out (Espi), but more often than not it does.

    • Sonny G 10 - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:08 PM

      Personally, I wouldn’t count Espi out. If he ever gets his head screwed on right, he could still be a great player. It just probably won’t be for the Nats.

  4. tcostant - Sep 23, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Just reminders me how special Alfonso Soriano 40-40 was here, I was their when he stole the 40th bag and it was a big deal.

    The Nats are playing so well, I wish the season wasn’t near over…

  5. JamesFan - Sep 23, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    He plays at a high level every day, and he gets better every year. Next year should be sensational for him. Of course they will sign him long-term. He is a defining player on this team. I just do not know where he should bat? Second, fifth, sixth? I don’t see him as third or fourth.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      You don’t want Desi changing his approach. He seems very comfortable in the 5 or 6. I see this for 2014:

      1. Span
      2. Werth
      3. Bryce
      4. RZim
      5. 1st Base
      6. Desi
      7. Ramos
      8. Rendon

  6. Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 23, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Quite the player and an impressive person. I’m glad I stuck up for him in 2011 and in the 2011 off-season. Davey really had a profound impact on his career.

    I would say 90% of the people here in 2011 wanted him gone. Many wanted Espinosa as the teams shortstop. One person said trade JZim, Detwiler and throw in Desi to get BJ Upton. Comical.

    It’s fine praising Desi because he has earned it but don’t be a hypocrite like you supported him during his struggles of 2010 and 2011!

  7. Theo - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    After 2011, I thought our lineup should be:
    C: Ramos
    1B: Fielder
    2B: Espi
    SS: Desi till Rendon was ready
    3B: Zimm
    OF: Harper
    OF: Werth
    OF: Morse

    The obvious mistake was to not have trust in Desi, though by the time Rendon was ready he ended up proving himself, and to believe in Espi. Getting Fielder would have been great but too expensive for Rizzo.

    Rotation was:
    Stras
    JZimm
    Lohse
    Peacock
    Milone

    Did better here, Lohse would have been a great signing. Obviously Rizzo’s trade for Gio was not something I imagined.

    This is why us armchair GMs and managers do not have a job while Davey and Rizzo do.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:21 PM

      I wanted Lohse and guess what, if the Nats took him over Haren the Nats would be the Wild Card. My 4th outfielder was Coco Crisp for 2012. He may end up with more HRs this year than Harper and Span combined plus more Steals.

      Anyone can make wild trade proposals but you make your living in drafting and key Free Agent signings and use trades to move surplus.

      At the end of this season, the 5th starter, lousy bench, and lefty relievers were the difference in the early off-season for Rizzo.

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