Ian Desmond’s 2016 Projection & Fantasy Value

When Ian Desmond signed with the Rangers my reaction was similar to Keith Law’s. I thought the Rangers had plenty of internal options ready to left field (even with Josh Hamilton going on the DL) with Joey Gallo being the most interesting fantasy option. The fantasy takeaway from the signing is Desmond is going to play every day and should be drafted in all formats. The question is what type of numbers will he put up?

Desmond was a 20/20 player for three straight years (2012-15) and was seen as a safe fantasy option heading into 2015. However, he struggled defensively to begin the season as he committed nine errors the first month of the season. It looked as as though he brought his defense to the plate hitting .217/.287/.326 during the first month.

The defense improved as the season progressed but his hitting did not. The next three months after he hit .216/.257/.374. These are arbitrary end points, but he hit .216/.264/.362 for the first four months of the season.

The question is why were his numbers so bad? The three biggest factors were:

  1. He struck out 29.4% of the time
  2. He hit the most ground balls of his career
  3. The hard hit rate was 17 percent, the lowest of his career

The strikeout rate has increased year-over-year for four straight years and last years 28.7 percent swing and miss rate was the 16th highest among qualified hitters (just ahead of Brandon Crawford and behind Brandon Moss). My takeaway is he’s going to continue to have a strikeout rate, which will limit his batting average upside.

Last year his ground ball rate increased 5.5 percentage points (from 48.7 percent to 54.1 percent). That sounds like a lot but that’s only a difference of 15-20 ground balls. It’s difficult to identify of 2015’s ground ball rate is an outlier or if it’s the beginning of a new baseline. Since the ground ball rate was consistently high every month I’m inclined to believe it’s a new baseline.

The move from Washington to Texas is a positive because Texas is the fifth best hitters park (compared to Washington at 13th) per Tristan H. Cockcroft. From 2012-15 Desmond had a 17.3 percent HR/FB rate at home compared to 14.9 percent on the road. Playing in Texas probably gives him 1-3 additional home runs. However, the new ballpark may be negated if the hard hit rate doesn’t improve.

Usually when a hitter hits more ground balls the hard hit rate decreases too (because ground balls are usually not hit hard and if the number of them increases it has a bigger effect on the aggregated total).

I’m projecting a .244 batting average with 17 home runs, 70 RBIs, 60 runs and 16 stolen bases, which makes him the ninth shortstop overall. He’ll likely bat 6-7 in the lineup (my projection assumes he bats sixth) so he should have a good number of at-bats with men on-base. I honestly didn’t know what to project for the batting average. He’s striking out more and he only hit more than .220 in only two months last year. Desmond could hit in the .250s but the smart money says that’s unlikely to happen.

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