Let’s begin with this agreed-upon point: Ian Desmond is a hard-working (well paid), all-around nice guy. The Purple Dino Pod referred to him as a “personal all-star.” My intention here is not to add to an already-substantial “Ian Desmond Pile-on”; rather, I’d like to point to a different problem, which is front office denial.
When it comes to their struggling first baseman, the Rockies remain ever hopeful in the face of mounting contrary evidence. These were Bud Black’s comments in today’s The Athletic: “Ian has some strength to the swing. . . . When he gets it going, there’s going to be some damage.“ Nolan Arenado echoed Black: “I think Ian’s going to be just fine. . . If people saw the work he puts in and the effort he puts in, I don’t think they would be questioning him or booing him. He works extremely hard.”
Obviously, Ian Desmond’s manager and teammate need to have his back — who wants to play in a clubhouse where that’s not the case? But it’s impossible to see this as anything more than a variation on that most hopeful of Rockies mantras: “You just know he’s gonna hit.” It’s a case of baseball magical thinking.
The story of Desmond’s being a hard-working, nice guy doesn’t make him a better player, and his challenges as a player are well documented.
Through six weeks, Desmond’s batting average is a slim .178. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer line drives than any qualifying player in baseball. He is reaching base barely more than twice in every 10 trips to the plate. He did not hit a ball in the air to left field all season until Sunday.
Statistics provide a different way of telling stories, and the data is considerably less hopeful when describing Desmond’s performance. The outings in Washington, New York, and Denver last night are statistical anomalies. Moreover, there’s enough data to move this from a typical slump to a convincing trend.
Groke then gets to the real problem:
In hindsight, Colorado’s quagmire at first base extends back to the winter. Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich passed on free agents Carlos Santana and Logan Morrison, among others. Santana is now hitting .189 with the Phillies, Morrison .183 with the Twins. Mark Reynolds, Colorado’s first baseman last year, finally signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals last month.
McMahon’s spot on the opening-day roster might have been premature, despite an impressive spring. But he gave the Rockies an option at first base in case Desmond struggled. When they both faltered, Desmond won out by reputation. He has proved himself: he is a two-time all-star and three-time Silver Slugger.
And for now, he is the only first baseman on the roster.
So here we are.
Rockies fans have every right to be cynical about “You just know he’s gonna hit” statements and to boo bad decision making by management. Last year, the Rockies made it to a wild-card game; this year, the players and the fans want to go back; the current data suggests that managerial magical thinking isn’t working.
Meanwhile, every time Ian Desmond goes out to hit, Jeff Bridich should stand in the on-deck circle because those boos are for him, really, and, anyway, we just know he’s gonna hit.