A .289/.338/.417 second half salvaged the 2011 season for 26-year-old National Ian Desmond. After a rough .223/.264/.308 first half Washington's second-year shortstop's second-half recovery left him with a .253/.298/.358 slash for the year. Desmond led MLB SS's in K's, piling up 139 in 639 plate appearances (21.2 K%). Even as the Nats' shortstop improved from July through the end of the season, he continued to strike out far too often, 19 times in 91 plate appearances in July, 26 in 117 in August and 23 in 122 in September. As for the at bats when he made contact, however, his game turned around in July, shortly after Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson took over.
"I don't know, for whatever reason when I got here [Desmond] was kind of trying to serve the ball to right field, let the ball get deep and kind of flare these little hits into right," Johnson told reporters in early September. "He'd occasionally get some hits, but I remembered him as hitting the ball where it's pitched. The ball's inside, you get it out front, the ball's away you go the other way and kind of drop that head in there. And he's been doing that more, except sometimes when runners get in scoring position he gets too aggressive, but that's also young guy's tendencies, especially one like him who's trying to make things happen all the time."
A move to the top of the order in mid-August really got Desmond going. From August 16th when Davey Johnson penciled Desmond's name in atop the lineup for the first time since April, through the end of the season, the shortstop posted a .303/.340/.433 line with nine doubles, four HR's and a .365 BABIP. In 50 plate appearances as the first batter of the game, Desmond had a .295/.380/.500 slash.
With a drop in fly balls (from 40.9% in March/April gradually down to 23.1% in September) and an increased percentage of line drives, up from 17.6% in June and 15.3% in July to 22.2% in August and 19.8% in September there was a jump in Desmond's BABIP from .267 in June and .317 in July to .358 in August and .356 in September and Desmond hit 5 HR's in 239 plate appearances in August/September after hitting just 3 (all in April) in his previous 400 PA's.
After a September 11th win over Houston in which Desmond was 3 for 5 with a HR and 2 RBI's, Davey Johnson told the D.C. press corps, "Desi's starting to look like what I think Desi should look like." Is that good enough though? Desmond's 80 wRC+ were the third-lowest amongst qualified shortstops, his +1.4 WAR was 8th overall amongst NL SS's.
Johnson helped Desmond figure things out at the plate. Defensively, Desmond cut down on the errors, from a league-leading 34 in 2010 to 23 in 2011, which was the second-highest total in the National League and the third-highest total league-wide, behind only Elvis Andrus (TEX, 25) and Starlin Castro (CHC, 29). Desmond did cut down on his throwing errors, however, making only four this season after making 13 throwing errors in 2010. Desmond's .967 fld% was the third-worst amongst qualified NL SS's. Desmond's -5.5 UZR/150 was 8th amongst qualified SS's, though it was an improvement over his -9.4 UZR/150 in 2010.
The question asked about Desmond all season was whether the Montreal Expos' '04 3rd Round pick was a full-time major league shortstop or a future utility player. It came up at the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline when talk of moving one of the Nationals' infielders surfaced and late in the year as 23-year-old '08 19th Round pick Stephen Lombardozzi worked his way up through the organization, eventually earning a September call-up. Desmond looked a lot better in the second half, but didn't necessarily answer that question in 2011.
Will Desmond be back at the top of the order in 2012? The Nationals are reportedly still looking for a CF/leadoff man, and when Nats' 3B Ryan Zimmerman was asked recently in an interview with CSNWashington.com's Ivan Carter, the Face of the Nationals franchise said, "Desi did great toward the end of the year," as the leadoff man, but in Zimmerman's opinion, "Desi could hit 10 to 15 maybe even 20 HR's, so if he's in the leadoff spot it kind of takes some of his talent away from him." Zimmerman hasn't given up hope that there's further development to come from Desmond. Unless a move is made that changes the options Desmond's likely going to get a third season to put it all together on the field and at the plate in 2012.