WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Ian Desmond #6 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on September 24, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
It's not just Ian Desmond who has to cut down on the K's in 2012, and it's not just the strikeouts the Nats' shortstop has to limit. Desmond's 139 K's were the most by a shortstop in 2011 and combined with Jayson Werth's 160 (2nd amongst RF in MLB), Danny Espinosa's 166 (1st amongst MLB 2B), Michael Morse's 126 (a disappointing 7th league-wide amongst 1B) as Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson put it this winter,"[We] struck out too much, tried to do too much, didn't make pitchers throw the ball in the strike zone, didn't hit the fastball as well as we should have, a mountain of things, a few things defensively, but I think we definitely can get there and a good Spring Training and a good start..."
The Nationals, as a team, led the majors in K's. K's with men on base. K's with men in scoring position.
The Nationals are counting on the 26-year-old Desmond being able to cut down on the strikeouts, get on base more often as the leadoff hitter and limit the errors at short. The '04 3rd Round pick committed 11 fewer errors in '11 than his league-leading 34 in 146 games at short in 2010, managing to cut the throwing errors down from 13 to 4 in his second full season in the Nationals' infield, but his 23 total errors were still the second-most by a shortstop in the NL though, and his 19 fielding errors were tied for the league-lead with the Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus. Desmond's -5.5 UZR/150 at short was the third-lowest in the NL amongst shortstops with at least 1000.0 innings at the position last season.
Desmond's middle infield partner, Danny Espinosa, committed 14 errors on the season, 10 fielding, 4 throwing, the second-highest total among NL second basemen behind both Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks with 15 E's. Espinosa's +0.9 UZR/150 was the 12th best in baseball amongst qualified second basemen. Espinosa, in his first full season (or at least the first half of it), produced at the plate though, hitting the second-most HR's on the team, driving in the second-most runs, finish with the fourth-highest wRC+ (104 to Morse's team-leading 147 wRC+ and Desmond's 80 wRC+) and he finished his first full MLB season above Morse at +3.5 fWAR on the year as Nats' most valuable fWAR player.
Desmond's offensive numbers, however, were about what he produced in his first full season in 2010 but down from .269/308/.392 with 27 doubles and 10 HR's to .253/.298/.358 with 27 and eight. He also K'd 30 more times (139 K's) in 639 PA's than he had in 609 PA's in 2010 (109 K's). Desmond really salvaged what was a dismal offensive year in the last two months of the season, putting together a .295/.329/.424 line with 12 of his 27 doubles and five of his eight HR's on the year coming in the final 54 games. The offensive resurgence coincided (at least partially) with a move to the top of the order from August 17th on, with Desmond posting a .305/.342/.437 slash after Davey Johnson placed him back atop the order.
The Nationals are hoping that trend continues, since they failed to find the center fielder/leadoff man they were said to be looking for this winter and as of now (before Spring Training's even started) plan to go with Desmond as the leadoff man again to start the 2012 season. Desmond started the 2011 season as the Nationals' leadoff man, going 9 for 50 with two walks and 12 K's before he was moved out of the top spot in the order. Desmond has a .289/.373/.489 line in 51 career PA's as the first batter of a game, a .278/.314/.405 line overall when batting first.
Bill James' projections have the third-year infielder putting up a .268/.317/.394 line in 2012 with 28 doubles and 10 HR's. Desmond told MLB.com's Bill Ladson he's confident he can produce as the Nationals' leadoff hitter. Desmond's K rate was up last year (from 19.0 K% to 21.8%), his power was down (.124 ISO to .104 in 2011), he cut down on the errors but still made too many. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson seemed to have inspired confidence in his shortstop late last season when he put him back at the top of the order, and he liked what he saw, telling reporters, "Desi's starting to look like what I think Desi should look like." Have Nationals fans seen the best Ian Desmond he can be? Can he last as the Nationals' leadoff man this time around? Are there any better options on the roster?