There was much obsessing last season over Ian Desmond’s 34 errors – kind of like there used to be over Shaq’s missed free throws. His total was the highest by a shortstop in a decade … and became an apt symbol for the Nationals’ continuing struggles.
Which got me thinking: What exactly was the impact of all those miscues? Did they really cost the Nats a lot of games? With a slicker fielder at short, might the team have finished closer to .500 – closer, that is, than 69-93?
So I started going through box scores – scribbling down the circumstances and effect of each Desmond “E” – and the results were truly astounding. I’ll give you the details in a minute, but first let me drop this bombshell: The club probably would have been better off last year if Ian had made more errors. Why? Because in the games he was guilty of one, he hit .327, slugged .582, hit seven of his 10 homers and had an OPS of .939. Those are the kind of numbers Alex Rodriguez put up early in his career, before he started doing, well, whatever it was he did.
It was funny watching Desmond’s reaction at Space Coast Stadium on Saturday when I told him of my findings. No joke: You would have thought he was on Death Row, and I was the phone call from the governor.
“You’ve just lifted this huge weight off of me,” he said. “I didn’t do the research like you did, but I always felt my fielding didn’t hurt us that much. I mean, obviously, errors can kill a team. I’m not saying it’s OK to make them. But if you watched our games, you could see the errors didn’t do that much damage.”
Not at all. Consider:
● 16 of Desmond’s 34 errors – almost half – resulted in no runs being scored. The pitcher had to face an extra batter, but the Nationals got out of the inning unscathed.
● The last error he made that contributed to an unearned run came on July 29 – the 102nd game. In the last 60 games he committed 10 errors, but none of them had any effect on the scoreboard.
● His errors cost the Nats perhaps three games, and only one actually caused the winning run to score (May 15 at Colorado).
See? His glove wasn’t that destructive. It just seemed that way.
It was also, let’s not forget, his first full season in the majors. And as manager Jim Riggleman pointed out, “Most young shortstops come into the league making some errors. Usually time solves that, and we anticipate that will happen with him. I love the way he plays. He did a lot for our ballclub – and anybody who watched us knows that.”
Errors aren’t necessarily the byproduct of bad hands or poor mechanics. Sometimes a player’s competitiveness can get the best of him, and he’ll try to make a Web Gem when he really shouldn’t. A fielder can also pick up a few errors if he has above-average range – as Desmond does – because he’ll occasionally run down a ball others wouldn’t and be left with a difficult throw.
“I want to win so bad,” he said. “In the first part of the year, I’d be out there telling myself: If I can make this play, I can get the momentum shifted back in our direction. But momentum also comes from making routine plays – or from holding the ball [instead of letting ’er fly] and making the next play.
“In the second half I thought I did a little bit better. And in the offseason I worked hard to come up with a little different … not method, but I’m trying to slow things down. I want to be like [Derek] Jeter, [Troy] Tulowitzki and be the consistent guy, but at the same time I want to be myself – and make play others can’t make.”
As for Desmond hitting like a Young A-Rod in the games he committed errors – who can explain that? (Some of the hits came before the errors, by the way, and some came after. So it’s not like you can say: Whenever he booted one, he tried to make up for it with his bat.)
Anyway, check out these statistics:
● In the 28 games Desmond made an error (in some games he made more than one), his stats looked like this: .327 average, .582 slugging, .357 OBP, .939 OPS, 7 2B, 7 HR, 17 RBI.
● In his 126 error-free games, meanwhile, his stats looked like this: .253 average, .342 slugging, .296 OBP, .638 OPS, 20 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 48 RBI.
When he didn’t commit an error, in other words, he was Alcides Escobar or Cesar Izturis at the plate. Humongous difference.
“It’s like Brett Favre,” Desmond said. “People always talked about him throwing a lot of interceptions, but look at all the success he had in his career. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not comparing myself to Brett Favre. I’m just saying you have to play right on that edge if you want to be great. And that’s what I’m trying to do, play right on that edge.”
So maybe we should all lighten up on the kid. In fact, maybe we should say: Heck, Desi, don’t even worry about the errors. Make one today, make one tomorrow, make one anytime.
Popeye has his spinach, Ian Desmond has his errors.