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Ian Desmond’s two good months couldn’t salvage his season

Desmond was pretty good in June and July, but at other times he dragged down the lineup

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 35, Ian Desmond (-0.6 rWAR)

We’ll start with the positive: Ian Desmond was legitimately good in June and July and was a huge value to the team during a stretch where the Rockies went 28-22. In 48 games — or about 30% of a 162 game season — Desmond hit .291/.383/.534 with 10 home runs. For those two months, he more or less hit like Charlie Blackmon.

I wish there were more obvious positives. Instead, there are a lot more negatives at at least one faith-based positive. Not only that, but the negatives are so substantial that they wash a lot of the positive away. All players have hot and cold stretches, but not all players have cold stretches that turn two-months worth of honest-to-god value and still end up on the wrong side of replacement level.

If we’re picking out months in a season to illustrate a glimpse of the good, it’s only fair to identify two months when Desmond basically hit like an old Molina. During the 49 games — or about 30% of a 162 game season — Desmond played in April and August, he hit .177/.225/.328 and created a black hole in the Rockies lineup that the team chose not to do much at all about. Desmond did enough with the rest of his at bats during the season, including those two good months in June and July, to prevent his season from being a total catastrophe, but I don’t think anybody would accept that level of bad in exchange for his sliver of good.

That’s how a player can be an asset to the team for two months and still end up as the least valuable first baseman in the National League.

The conversation with Desmond can’t stop there though, and we know that because it never does. It’s clear as day that Desmond had a really poor baseball season. His saving graces are a couple of contextual statistics. He had a positive Win Probability Added, 0.23, but that still ranked just seventh among position players on the Rockies and 84th among qualified position players. He also had a positive Clutch score, on account of a couple high leverage home runs. But again, that score still ranks just seventh among position players on the Rockies, though it was a little better league-wide, coming in at 36th best. But those measures only edge Desmond’s season from “really bad” to “acceptable if you prioritize a few big moments.”

The other touchstone of the Desmond Discourse is his role in the clubhouse. The Rockies maintain that Desmond is an immensely positive presence and that he provides value to the team that isn’t captured on his Baseball Reference page. Unfortunately, the best evidence for this right now is “because the Rockies say so.” That’s not satisfying. I am 100% sure that a personality can affect a team in positive or negative ways, and I’m even willing to entertain the idea that Desmond really is valuable to the team because of intangibles.

But it’s extremely difficult to credit that to a player when the only evidence is a trusting word from people who have zero incentive to say otherwise while everything quantifiable says the opposite. If the Rockies happen to have a genius in their front office who has managed to quantify and communicate the value of a personality in the clubhouse and has made the intangible tangible, and they know that Desmond really is valuable to the team, we’ll soon know because that person will be hired elsewhere for more money very soon.

The second year of Desmond’s contract went better than the first, but it still didn’t go well. Ultimately, the analysis of Desmond’s season with the 2018 Rockies can be summarized in a sentence: It’s hard to see how the 2018 Rockies were better with Desmond than they would have been without him.