Earlier in this story stream, I took a preliminary look at Ian Desmond as a potential free agent candidate at the 2B position because of this Fangraphs article that Desmond would be a better alternative than Howie Kendrick. In the poll at the bottom of the article, it was a close race between Ian Desmond and not making any more signings. Signing Desmond would mean the Diamondbacks forfeit the 39th pick in the draft and the Nationals get a draft pick at the bottom of the first round. As we all know, Desmond had a horror show season in 2015 where it seemed that all of his struggles piled on top of each other.
There is a lot of risk when it comes to signing Desmond, especially to a long-term deal. I am in favor of a shorter term deal, something in the realm of 2-3 years that would allow for the team to plug this hole and take pressure off top prospect Jamie Westbrook to develop. The risks include the factors causing Desmond's struggles in 2015 being permanent, an unsuccessful transition in the field at 2B, or being plagued by injuries over the entire length of the contract. Now the question becomes does the benefit outweigh the risk? Desmond will likely command a contract north of $12M a year, I suspect more than $15M a year for a team that is desperate enough.
Taking a look into Desmond's struggles, first we look at his plate discipline numbers.
*Stats provided by Baseball Information Solutions via Fangraphs
Using plate discipline numbers, there's no real correlation to why the wheels suddenly fell off in 2015, but these numbers can be somewhat concerning. From 2014 to 2015, Desmond has swung at more pitches in and out of the strike zone and has made contact at a more frequent rate. His swinging strike rate dropped 0.6%. So plate discipline probably isn't the culprit for his struggles, even though his strikeout rate ballooned the last two years. Maybe Desmond gets rung up a lot by the umpire on borderline pitches.
Like I said in the comments section of the previous Desmond article, his hard hit rate dropped from 32% to 28% while his soft hit percent jumped from 16% to 20%. That likely factored in why his BABIP dropped from .326 to .307. His career BABIP is .322, so there is reason for optimism that it could tilt up. Even with some expectations of a possible regression of BABIP from .307 towards his career rate of .322, it may be that Desmond has lost a bit of bat speed. That is a legitimate question to ask because Desmond is now 30 years old.
To answer that question, MLB.com's Andrew Simon tried to answer the question of why Desmond hasn't been signed yet. In the article, it mentions that Desmond averaged 91.6 MPH as his exit velocity, which placed him 36th in the league. Looking even further into that, Desmond generated +4.1 MPH exit velocity in 2015, a number that measures the difference in exit velocity and pitch velocity. That mark put Desmond 20th in MLB, which would likely be his top selling point for a potential bounce-back campaign. The article also includes a graph correlating exit velocity to wOBA.
The graph predicts that Desmond should have posted a wOBA around .345-.350 in 2015 based on his exit velocity and the .294 figure he actually posted is more due to bad luck. However, the plot is a complete scatter, so the correlation is unreliable as well. I do believe he is likely due for a decline in bat speed because of his age in the future, but the 2015 drop off seems unexplained by looking at exit velocity. The article later points out the Diamondbacks as a potential fit at 2B if Desmond is willing to make the position change. MLB Statcast listed Desmond as a 5-tool player, with their criteria being this:
Hitting: Batting exit velocity of ≥ 110 mph
Hitting for power: Home run distance of ≥ 425 feet
Fielding: Route efficiency of ≥ 98 percent
Throwing: Throws of ≥ 85 mph
Running: Top base running speed of ≥ 21 mph
With Desmond having a terrible platform season and legitimate concerns about his game, the Diamondbacks could swoop in and try to sign him for cheaper than it would have been a year ago. Desmond turned down a 7/$107M offer from the Nationals prior to 2014, which looks bad in hindsignt since the Nationals traded for his replacement and Desmond is still looking for a team in late January. For anyone wondering, that's $15.3 million per season. I'm not sure teams are going to try to offer him that much.
So where would be the reason for optimism for a bounce-back year for Ian Desmond? In 2015, he had a horrific first half where he batted .211/.255/.334 on a .279 BABIP. Desmond is not particularly known for being good in the first half of the season with a career .250/.293/.415 slashline. In the second half he batted .262/.331/.446 on a .346 BABIP and produced a 113 wRC+. I'm not sure why Desmond struggles in the first half, it may be due to weather of all things, but you're hoping that warmer weather in Arizona and a more hitter friendly environment will get Desmond to replicate his 2nd half performance over the course of the year.
In 2015, the Diamondbacks fielded a combination of Aaron Hill and Chris Owings at 2B, with Owings taking up most of games between the two. Aaron Hill showed to be a reliable bat off the bench in the 2nd half of 2015 and Owings' offense fell off a cliff due to big changes in his swing and shoddy plate discipline. The team's other internal options include Phil Gosselin and Brandon Drury. Gosselin has flashed a strong bat the last two seasons, but you wonder how reliable that sample size is with only 261 career appearances and no more than 118 in a single season. The Diamondbacks could experiment with Brandon Drury at 2B and hope that he winds up being the best option. Now the question becomes do the Diamondbacks go for the possible win now move and forfeit their top pick to sign Desmond or do they take the plunge with unproven options at 2B. I'm more in favor of the latter, but there is a valid argument for Desmond. It's a high-risk, high-reward type situation.