2012 Player Review: Ian Desmond
The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Our list continues with the emerging talent up the middle, Ian Desmond.
We’ve written several times in this space about the candidacy of Adam LaRoche as the Most Valuable Player, not just for the 2012 Nationals, but for the entire National League. However, if any Washington position player could challenge LaRoche for that title, it would be the Nationals 2012 breakout star, Ian Desmond.
After flashing signs of his potential during a 2009 September call-up (where he went .280/.318/.561 with seven doubles and four homers in 82 at-bats), the shortstop’s numbers fell short of those levels in his first two full Major League seasons. All of that changed in 2012, though, as the 27 year-old saw his talents at the plate and in the field come together to land him an All-Star selection. Despite playing through an oblique injury that hampered his production towards the end of the season’s first half and sidelined him for nearly a month in July and August, Desmond still posted career highs in hits (150), doubles (33), home runs (25), runs scored (72) and RBI (73). His OPS+ of 126 was higher than Ryan Zimmerman’s, Bryce Harper’s and Jayson Werth’s, ranking just slightly behind LaRoche for the team lead.
For some greater perspective on the caliber of Desmond’s season, consider the following. Despite playing just 130 games, he was one of only seven National Leaguers (and the only National) to post a 20-20 season, joining reigning MVP Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Andrew McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins.
And while his overall numbers were solid in their own right, Desmond seemed to come up biggest whenever the pressure was turned up. Until Werth’s thunderous, walk-off home run ended Game 4 of the NLDS, Desmond’s come-from-behind, game-winning blast with two outs in the ninth inning on May 2 to beat the Diamondbacks was Washington’s lone walk-off home run of the season. The shortstop also drove in 31 of his 73 RBI (42.5%) with two outs, including three from the eighth inning on in a rousing, 12-inning victory over the Mets on June 5.
And then, of course, there was the defense. After committing 34 errors in his first full season in 2010, Desmond cut that number to 23 the following campaign and again down to 15 this year. His improved consistency, along with his proclivity for highlight reel plays, earned him a Gold Glove finalist nomination. Desmond’s pure athleticism and reflexes led to tremendous plays like the one below, also part of that June 5 performance:
He showed off his range as well this year, with diving grabs like this one in September:
Desmond carried his success into the postseason, staking claim as Washington’s most consistent hitter in the NLDS. He batted .368 (7-for-19) in his first taste of playoff action, continuing to emerge as a leader for this young Nationals squad.
As a player just entering the prime of his career, there is no reason to believe Desmond’s 2012 season was a fluke, and if he is able to play a full season in 2013, the Florida native will have a chance to improve upon the benchmarks he set this year. As he enters arbitration for the first time this year, he remains under team control for the next three seasons, giving Nationals fans at least that much time to watch him continue to grow into his full potential.