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Posted at 7:15 AM ET, 02/16/2011

History says Ian Desmond will cut down on errors in 2011

By Adam Kilgore
Morning brushback

In his first full season, Ian Desmond learned a lot about how to take care of his body over the course of 162-game grind. You can read about how he applied that lesson to his unique offseason preparation, and about his interesting outlook toward his place on the team, right here.

One thing I mentioned, but didn't get too deep into, is a topic that in some respects dominated Desmond's rookie season: his error total. As mentioned in the story, Desmond made a major league-leading 34 errors last year.

Surely, Desmond wants to cut down on that number, and history suggests he will. I looked up the 25 most error-filled seasons by rookie shortstops since 1990*, and compared those shortstops' rookie totals to their second year totals. Six of the players didn't log much time at short their second year, and three of the players were rookies in 2010.

That leaves 16 players to study. It's by no means a vast sample size, and by no means is this a be-all, end-all project. But this is what I found: 14 of those 16 reduced their errors in their second season, and 13 of the 16 improved their fielding percentage. In some cases it was marginal, and in some cases it was drastic. Here's the list:

Mike Caruso
Rookie year: 35 errors (.941 fielding percentage)
Second year: 24 (.957)

Ian Desmond
Rookie year: 34 (.947)
Second year: x (.xxx)

Wil Cordero
Rookie year: 33 (.941)
Second year: 22 (.952)

Starlin Castro
Rookie year: 27 (.950)
Second year: x (.xxx)

Alex Gonzalez
Rookie year: 27 (.955)
Second year: 19 (.957)

Rey Ordonez
Rookie year: 27 (.962)
Second year: 9 (.983)

Hanley Ramirez
Rookie year: 26 (.963)
Second year: 24 (.963)

Miguel Tejada
Rookie year: 26 (.951)
Second year: 21 (.973)

Gary DiSarcina
Rookie year: 25 (.967)
Second year: 14 (.975)

Angel Berroa
Rookie year: 24 (.968)
Second year: 28 (.955)

Cristian Guzman
Rookie year: 24 (.959)
Second year: 22 (.967)

Pat Listach
Rookie year: 24 (.966)
Second year: 10 (.975)

Everth Cabrera
Rookie year: 23 (.951)
Second year: 7 (.966)

Rafael Furcal
Rookie year: 23 (.950)
Second year: 11 (.970)

Elvis Andrus
Rookie year: 22 (.968)
Second year: 16 (.978)

Derek Jeter
Rookie year: 22 (.969)
Second year: 18 (.975)

Nomar Garciaparra
Rookie year: 21 (.971)
Second year: 25 (.962)

Alcides Escobar
Rookie year: 20 (.964)
Second year: x (.xxx)

Khalil Green
Rookie year: 20 (.965)
Second year: 14 (.971)

Jose Valentin
Rookie year: 20 (.954)
Second year: 15 (.971)

So there's some data that could be pretty instructive. Two more points on Desmond and errors:

1. Desmond's error total will not be the best measure of his defensive acumen. Desmond's excellent range means is probably ALWAYS going to make his share of errors. He gets to more balls than most shortstops, and that means he's got more chances to boot a ball or make an errant throw. Some of those balls that nick off his glove, other shortstops would not have gotten to altogether. That's not an excuse and it's not to say that Desmond didn't make too many errors last year.

2. By the end of last year, you could start to see a slice of Desmond's progress. He stopped trying to make every play. Improbable throws that once may have ended up in the second row remained safely in his glove. It was an important step, and we'll see if Desmond keeps it up in his second year.

*If you were wondering, the all-time record for most errors by a rookie shortstop was set in 1890, when Herman Long committed a cool 117 Es (with an .874 fielding percentage) for the Kansas City Cowboys. He rebounded in 1890 with 66 errors after being traded to the Boston Beaneaters. Classic change-of-scenery deal.

By Adam Kilgore  | February 16, 2011; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Morning brushback  
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Comments

Completely agree regarding the good problem of range, however, the quick analysis raises a few additional questions:
1) Is there a similar analysis of rookie year to 2nd year for RF and ZR? If anything, I think a Y2Y comparison of RF would be revealing.
2) What percentage of Desmond errors are due to poor throws (thinking that the 2010 error rate was inflated due to Donkey)?

Posted by: joemktg1 | February 16, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

It's amusing to see the lengths that Desmond apologists will go to. Those of us who have watched him play for the past five years know that the knock on him is that he makes the routine plays look hard and the hard plays look routine. The problem is that there are far more of the former than the latter.

What's more disturbing is that the organization's BEST shortstop is Danny Espinosa and has yet to be given the opportunity to win the job. Why is that Espinosa has to shift and not Desmond? Perhaps those early comparisons to Derek Jeter weren't so far off.

Posted by: Wooden_U_Lykteneau | February 16, 2011 8:08 AM | Report abuse

"You can about how he applied that lesson to his unique offseason preparation, and about his interesting outlook toward his place on the team, right."

Maybe you can, Kilgore, but I sure can't. This is only the second sentence of your article, and already you've lost me. Learn to write, man, or find another career before it's too late.

Posted by: FeelWood | February 16, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Just adding LaRoche will cut down on errors and hopefully a year of experience will have Ian holding on to balls deep in the hole. I also kind of like the fact that if he does not cut down on his errors we have an excellent shortstop already in the game at second base.

I have heard this mentioned before by non baseball people (ie posters) and they probably won't risk it, and it would probably take some time, but with Desmond's range and arm, I wonder if there has been any thought about centerfield. There was this shortstop for the Yankees that was putting fans in danger behind first base with his throws. They moved him to Centerfield (granted he was still in the minors) and it turned out pretty well, kids name was Mantle.

Posted by: sjm3091 | February 16, 2011 8:26 AM | Report abuse

FW:

are you really that upset with grammatics and editorial errors on a blog? man, maybe you should stick with the New York Times print edition, get ink all over your fingers and have comfort that someone is taking their time to provide you with correct copy.

I appreciate reading about our team and if a word or two is missing, I can deal with it. Just like with other matters, I am still actually thrilled to have baseball in Washington and so far can deal with minor issues. Now the losing is starting to take its toll but those of us over 65 have a looooong history with losing including losing two different teams.

Thanks Adam & Go Nats!!

Posted by: sjm3091 | February 16, 2011 8:33 AM | Report abuse

The first sentence is retelling a long story in this morning's dead tree edition. Those of you expect a blog to replace a sports section are misguided. I am sure this technological mistake (as opposed to a written one) will be forgotten. As for those who feel they can do better, I hear the Times are hiring.
As for the substance of the post, Boz was saying the same thing all last season. No reason to doubt that Des will be better.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | February 16, 2011 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Uh, soon corrected.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | February 16, 2011 8:35 AM | Report abuse

FeelWood,
I was confused, too. With the offseason training AK is referencing his story in the fishwrap edition today, which is worth a read.

Posted by: natinbeantown | February 16, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

"FW:

are you really that upset with grammatics and editorial errors on a blog?"

Grammatics (whatever the hell that is) and editorial errors are one thing. Total gibberish is another. When the second sentence I read from a writer first thing in the morning is gibberish, there's a problem.

Posted by: FeelWood | February 16, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse

In regards to AK's choppy second sentence: typos which can be easily deciphered are one thing, but that sentence crossed the line. I will say that I guessed that Kilgore was referring to an article in the dead-tree edition, but it took too much reprocessing to arrive at that conclusion.

Posted by: bertbkatz | February 16, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

It was an obivous tech error people. The post has been corrected by adding "here" and the link. Gesh!!! It's about baseball not High School Journalism.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | February 16, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

This "analysis" is inane. Desmond's error total is an order of magnitude greater than almost all of the others listed. Maybe instead he should be the seventh "of the players [who] didn't log much time at short their second year." As Wooden_U points out, he's not even the best fielding SS on the big league team.

Also, there's nothing included in the "analysis" about minor league error totals for any of these guys--Desmond has always had a high number of errors, last year was not a big-league rookie year aberration.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | February 16, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Wondering why Kevin would be expecting any kind of meaningful analysis of Desmond's error history from Kilgore, a guy who can barely complete a sentence without screwing something up.

Posted by: FeelWood | February 16, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I think you do not understand the meaning of "order of magnitude". And in any event, the prediction that Desmond's errors should go down seems prery likely to prove true. Premise, supporting data, conclusion.

Posted by: whatsaNATaU | February 16, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

sjm 3091 said: "There was this shortstop for the Yankees that was putting fans in danger behind first base with his throws. They moved him to Centerfield (granted he was still in the minors) and it turned out pretty well, kids name was Mantle"

I wasn't there for that, but I was for a shortstop-third baseman for the Yankees who made 25 errors in his first 55 games (through the '69 season). He too moved to center and had a pretty fair career. In fact, he won a Gold Glove three years later.

His name was Bobby Murcer.

Posted by: rushfari | February 16, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I'd sure like to think that Desmond is going to get better, but I don't think so. In six years in the minors, he averaged 32 errors and a fielding % of 0.936. Last year 34 errors and 0.947! I think what we've seen is what we'll be getting.

Data from baseball-reference.com

Posted by: nobleman1 | February 16, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I understand the meaning of "order of magnitude" just fine, whatsa, thanks. I think you do not understand the concept of hyperbole. Adam is comparing Desmond's error totals to guys whose error totals he exceeded by more than 50%. It's not a valid comparison. And Desmond's error total last year was in line with his minor league error totals. Was that the case for the other players?

Desmond's fielding % is the third-lowest of any of the players included. The 2 with lower fielding %s didn't last as shortstops--Caruso was out of the league after his 2nd year. And presumably you are familiar with Cordero seeing how you are such a big Nats fan.

The point is the "supporting data" is incomplete and flawed.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | February 16, 2011 10:55 AM | Report abuse

To those who say that based on Desmond's minor league error rate that there is no reason to suggest he will improve at the major league level:

Derrek Jeter averaged 46 errors per 162 games played in the minor leagues. Even in his last full season in the minors ('95 Triple-A), he made 29 errors and had a .953 fielding mark.

We all know he's done pretty well with the Yankees since then.

Ian Desmond averaged 47 errors per 162 games played in the minors. In his final year in the minors he made 28 errors and finished the year with a .954 fielding percent.

Why is it that Jeter improved to Gold Glove status yet Desmond, with virtually the same minor league defensive stats, is relegated to never improve defensively?

Minor league fields, because of pebbles, poor maintenance, bad lighting, etc., lend themselves to errors. Major league fields do not. Further, first baseman in the minors are more likely to field like, well, Adam Dunn did with the Nationals.

No, I don't think Ian Desmond has Derrek Jeter's glove, but I do think he will become a super-rangy shortstop who will still boot an easy play now and then, making 17-20 errors per year while looking like an acrobat from Ringling Bros.

And with an infield of Wilson Ramos, Adam LaRoche, Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman, I'm not sure you're going to find many teams with a better defensive infield.

Posted by: rushfari | February 16, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

rushfari-all kinds of things are possible, but Jeter averaged 19 errors in 7 minor league seasons, and Desmond 32 in 6. I really don't think that's due to pebbles! I agree that this infield is one of the best in the league and certainly the best in the last 5 seasons, but I still don't see any gold gloves in Desmond's future. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by: nobleman1 | February 16, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Where's POOPY_MCPOOP? I figured he'd say how great JJ Hardy is by now and how Ian cries every night because he is a Natinal.

Posted by: Handsome_John_Pruitt | February 16, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

The Yankees moved Rodriguez to third base to allow Jeter to stay home.

Perhaps the Nationals are not as dumb as you think and Rizzo knows that Espinosa can play shortstop as well, but the TEAM is better with him at second and an improving Desmond at SS?

I love fans that KNOW a player's true capabilities to a certainty and exclude any thought from their minds that the experienced scout and GM of the team hasn't seen more and doesn't know more about these players.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | February 16, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

People, people ... take a breath. Now, raise thine eyes from thy holy stats and watch the game. Please!

Ian Desmond started fielding much better after the All-Star break. I saw it.

You know what else I saw?

Jimmy Rollins (when he came here for the series highlighted by Ryan Zimmerman's walkoff) could not field balls to his left. Specifically, he could not get to balls further than what he could reach without physically relocating his body more than maybe a step to his left.

If he couldn't reach for it he didn't get it.

It felt and looked to me like he was overplaying his position to the left a bit to make up for it, but there is no way on God's Green Earth that I am in any way authoritative regarding someone else's infield positioning, situationally or otherwise (admittedly a run-on sentence, but not unclear).

I will however stick with my visual observation that Rollins' leftward movement was restricted.

Why is this relevant? And relevant to what, anyway?

Well, I knew Rollins had been a Gold Glove SS, so I looked up his fielding pct. It was .982, similar to the previous three GG years (.985 .988 .990).

Then I saw he played only 88 games. I looked up why: three generalized leg injuries (not clear what type or severity or even which leg).

I saw Ian Desmond go very far to his left AND right. He made many chancey throws in the first half of the season, many of which were scored as errors.

Now, here is where the relevance comes in: stats pointed me toward information about Rollins' injuries, but not why he was so frequently injured. And stats can't say why Desmond made those throws.

Someone said Desmond's ending fielding pct may have been similar to those of his prior minor-league seasons. Someone else confirmed what was obvious, that his second-half fielding pct improved over the first half due to a reduction in chancey throws.

But why did Ian Desmond reign in his game?

Was it a leaping increase in fielding maturity? My gut tells me "nahhh." Was he all excited at first over playing every day, and then got used to it? Nahhhh. And the Donkey was there all year.

What I saw: Ian Desmond made chancey throws because he was trying hard to win games. The second half of the season was when the team's priority changed from winning games to playing better baseball.

The whole team fielded better, and just looked like it played better.

I think these things are probably true because of what I saw.

Posted by: OldDad | February 16, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the last sentence should read "because of what I saw, I think these things are probably true," or maybe "I think, because of what I saw, these things are probably true."

Aww, now you've got me all self-conscious over my grammar.

Posted by: OldDad | February 16, 2011 2:25 PM | Report abuse

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