Is Desmond MLB's best shortstop?

Is Desmond MLB's best shortstop?
November 10, 2012, 2:00 pm
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Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond had by all accounts a breakout season for Washington in 2012. He upped his batting average and power numbers significantly, and in turn cut down on errors which had always been his most glaring flaw. The combination of improvements he made turned him into a National League All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove finalist.

Desmond was one of the best players on the N.L. East champion Nationals and, with a closer look at the numbers, may have been the best shortstop in the majors in 2012.

Take a look at Desmond’s 2012 stats and where they rank in baseball among shortstops:

.845 OPS – 1st in MLB

.292 BA – 3rd in MLB (1st in NL)
25 HR – 1st in MLB

73 RBI – 2nd in MLB

21 SB – 7th in MLB
72 R – 7th in MLB

Tops in the league in homers and OPS, and with 21 stolen bases to complement, no one at the position provided the tools Desmond did in 2012. He, at least at the moment, is arguably the most versatile shortstop in the majors.

Desmond reaching this height was aided by several factors. For one, Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins are older and not the MVP’s they used to be. Jeter and Rollins both had solid years, especially for their age, but Desmond’s youth gives him better range and a higher upside. Desmond also posted his numbers despite missing 32 games to an oblique injury.

Another thing working in Desmond’s favor was the absence of Troy Tulowitzki for most of the season. The Rockies’ shortstop is a two-time winner of both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He had posted three consecutive seasons of at least 27 homers and 92 RBI before missing most of 2012.

Even if Desmond’s distinction is the league’s best shortstop is qualified in that way, he represents a type of player that is much more rare than it was just a few years ago. Few teams have shortstops than are very good defenders and produce at a high level at the plate quite like Desmond.

If you go ten years back to 2002, Desmond’s numbers wouldn’t stack up quite as well. Back then five different shortstops hit at least 24 homers and three posted at least 120 RBI. Desmond’s OPS would rank fifth instead of first and his runs scored would place 15th.

Offensive numbers around baseball are down overall since 2002 which was during a sort of heyday for power-hitting shortstops. And as the league has changed, fewer and fewer shortstops like Desmond have emerged. While the position has moved more towards a focus on defense with few players being big producers at the plate, the rarity of Desmond’s talent is clear.