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Desmond in the two-spot

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Looking at Roger Bernadina's voyage through the batting order yesterday got me thinking about Ian Desmond. He tore it up in his late-season 2009 debut with Nationals, dazzling us in 89 PA with a .280/.318/.561 batting line, hitting 4 HR, 7 2Bs and 2 3Bs.  That was good for a 130 OPS+, and he did it with a not-luck-inflated .292 BABIP.  That's promising for a middle infielder, no?  His scattering of PA were about half at 2nd in the lineup, and the rest split between 6/7.  Interestingly enough, he hit worse at 2nd than at 6/7--his OPS+ hitting second was only about 100.

This year we've all noticed Desi on a bit of a tear in the second half.  He's also moved up to the 2-spot after spending most of 2010 near the bottom of the order.  How has his performance changed? Is he benefiting from lineup protection and better pitches?  Is he getting more playing time?  Is he getting used to the league?  An attempt to sort it all out after the jump.

Desi's current 2010 batting line is decent for a SS:

Split PA AB 2B 3B HR SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip sOPS+
2010 Totals 489 447 27 3 9 14 4 .282 .320 .416 .736 .328 101
Generated 9/12/2010.

He's putting up league-average offense (101 OPS+) in a premium defensive position--nice!  While his .328 BABIP looks slightly high compared to league average, his expected BABIP (based on speed and hit-type breakdown) is actually .330, so his overall numbers look legit--he's not just getting lucky with where the hits fall.  Here's how he's doing versus where he is in the order:

Split PA AB BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
Batting 2nd 169 154 .331 .370 .494 .863 .375 134 134
Batting 6th 49 44 .227 .255 .318 .574 .250 56 55
Batting 7th 94 90 .289 .290 .433 .724 .343 95 103
Batting 8th 148 134 .254 .304 .388 .692 .298 88 101
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2010.

Desi had a few PA in other spots, but there weren't enough to have reliable stats, so I didn't include them here.  Note that tOPS+ is Desmond's OPS+ in that spot compared his overall OPS+ for the season (so >100 is above average for him). The sOPS+ column is Desi's OPS+ compared to league average in that spot in the order (meaning >100 is above league average in that spot).  Ian has clearly been doing better in the 2-spot than lower in the order; he's right about league average hitting 7/8, but well above league average hitting 2nd.  Even correcting for his lucky BABIP hitting second, he'd still be hitting 290/330/435 which is slightly above league average.

Now let's take a look at how he's been doing over the course of the season:

Split PA AB BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
April/March 78 69 .246 .307 .406 .712 .302 94 93
May 98 92 .272 .296 .402 .698 .289 89 90
June 86 81 .222 .259 .309 .567 .295 55 55
July 80 73 .274 .300 .452 .752 .304 102 102
August 111 101 .347 .385 .465 .851 .393 132 135
Sept/Oct 36 31 .355 .400 .516 .916 .407 149 156
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2010.

Again, tOPS+ is Desmond's OPS+ for the month compared to his overall OPS+ (>100 = above average for him, in that month), while sOPS+ is his OPS+ compared to league average (>100 = above that month's league average).  Desi's clearly been on a late-season tear!  He was below-average at the start of the season, positively slumpy in June, above-average in July, then hitterrific since August.  He's been quite lucky with his BABIP lately, and adjusting his stats to conform to his expected .330 BABIP, we get .290/.330/.390 in August and .285/.330/.420 in Sep/Oct.  That's actually below league average for Aug and right around league average for Sep/Oct--his recent surge looks an awful lot like a lucky hot streak.

As a final piece of the puzzle, let's try to add up all the elements in one place, adding PA/G to show playing time plus the position in the order where Desi had most PA during the month:

Split PA PA/G Bats BA BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
April/March 78 3.4 6/7/8 .246 .302 94 93
May 98 3.4 7/8 .272 .289 89 90
June 86 3.2 7/8 .222 .295 55 55
July 80 3.2 8 .274 .304 102 102
August 111 3.8 2 .347 .393 132 135
Sept/Oct 36 4.0 2 .355 .407 149 156
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/12/2010.

Well, that looks like a big mess.  Desi hit better in later months, months where he mostly hit in one spot in the order, and months where he had more playing time (except for July).  He also hit best in months where he hit 2nd and was lucky.  I'm not sure whether we can say that hitting 2nd and getting more playing time has been as good for Desmond's performance as much as being lucky (that high BABIP) has been good for his performance.

Of course, this is not to imply that Desmond is actually a bad hitter.  Even factoring out his good luck with where the hits fell in Aug/Sep, he's still a league-average hitter, which is a nice bonus for a competent defensive SS.  As you slice and dice the stats into finer and finer pieces (by month, by order, etc.) you're going to hit spots that are lucky and spots that are unlucky--recall from the top of the article that Ian's luck has been neutral over the whole season.