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Ian Desmond is trending down

With only a few weeks left before spring training, Ian Desmond remains one of the higher profile unsigned free agents of the offseason. A look into his recent trends may explain why.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Expos (that's right, those guys) drafted Ian Desmond in 2004 and he remained with the team as they relocated south of the border. Over the course of seven seasons in DC, Desmond accumulated 17.4 fWAR, including consecutive seasons of four wins or more from 2012 through 2014.

The Nationals offered Desmond a qualifying offer after 2015, and he is still searching for that seemingly elusive multi-year deal. The difficulty in Desmond's situation is his skillset is clearly eroding, and a deep dive into the numbers gives some insight as to why.

Entering into his age-30 season, Desmond is on the wrong side of the hitter's aging curve. His production has steadily declined over the course of the last three seasons, and his differentiating skill as a speedy shortstop has eroded as well. Desmond only posted 13 stolen bases last season, despite having stolen at least 17 in each year as a regular starter. That number is also significantly down from his peak, where he stole 20+ bases in four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014.

Unfortunately for Desmond, speed is not the only easily identifiably declining skill. A comparison of the last three seasons is not a pretty sight, and per FanGraph's Steamer projections, it does not look like he'll be bucking the trend in 2016.

2013 27 158 655 168 20 22.1 21 .280 .331 .453 .784 .173 .336 86 116 .341 4.8
2014 28 154 648 151 24 28.2 24 .255 .313 .430 .743 .175 .326 79 108 .329 4
2015 29 156 641 136 19 29.2 13 .233 .290 .384 .674 .151 .307 62 83 .294 1.7
2016 Steamer Projections 30 141 591 127 18 27.8 13 .236 .294 .390 .685 .154 .304 60 87 .299 1.4

Desmond has started at least 154 games in each of the past three seasons, but all of his numbers have trailed off including his power, stolen bases, runs created, and all three triple slash categories (batting average / on base percentage / slugging percentage). His wOBA is down nearly .150 points since 2013, and instead of being an above-league average hitter, his wRC+ has taken a dive from 116 to a meager 83.

Steamer projects some numbers to stabilize; the strikeout rate, OBP, slugging, ISO, and BABIP are expected to be slightly better than last season, but the overall production and WAR is projected to be about the same or slightly lower, more aligned with 2015 than 2014 or 2013.

Per Brooks Baseball, one area that Desmond is struggling in particular is against offspeed pitches. His numbers against the changeup have steadily declined over the past three years and he is not nearly hitting as many curveballs for extra bases as he had been previously.

Year Pitch Type BAA SLG ISO HR
2013 Change .352 .722 .370 5
2014 Change .294 .569 .275 4
2015 Change .192 .442 .250 3

Over the past three years, Desmond's batting average plunged from .352 to .192 against changeups, his slugging lost almost .300 points, and his isolated power dipped by .120 points.

The offspeed issues are not only confined to the change. Desmond's numbers in the past three years have fallen off a cliff when facing southpaws' curveballs.

v. LHP Curveballs Swing Percentage Whiff Percentage
2013 33.33% 7.14%
2014 55.36% 17.86%
2015 54.17% 20.83%

The swing percentage has nearly doubled in recent years against lefties' curves and the whiff percentage has increased nearly 300 percent!

In addition trouble against changeups and curves, 2015 also saw a bottoming out against the cutter, where his slugging dipped from a near .520 mark to .370. White a cutter is technically classified as a ‘fastball' it often can act as a slider so can be viewed outside of the typical four seamer and sinker / two seamer.

Year Pitch Type BAA SLG ISO
2013 Cutter .333 .519 .185
2014 Cutter .289 .519 .231
2015 Cutter .261 .370 .109

A look a the numbers show some insight as to why Desmond may be still be on the beach instead of packing a moving truck to another MLB city. While there are some issues here that cannot be mitigated (the speed is likely gone and never coming back), an adjustment against offspeed pitches would serve Desmond well. If teams wait long enough and Desmond does make specific adjustments, he could end up being a steal this offseason, though it will require some significant work to buck the trend of recent years.


Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.