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Exclusive: Why the Yankees Passed on Ian Desmond

March 1, 2016

There was a low-ish offer tendered early in free agency, the core of which was 4/$50M, but the Yankees never seriously pursued Desmond beyond that. Why? Once the Angels sewed up Andrelton Simmons (Desmond’s polar opposite), among the traditional big-spenders the Yankees, who have a need at shortstop, seemed to have the field to themselves. So why not give Desmond something closer to the 4/$80M he was seeking?

TL;DR version: Contact Rate.

In 2015 Desmond seemed to have a year of two halves:

Ian Desmond 2015 1H: 212/254/336 7 HR, 2 SB, .280 BABIP, 5% walk rate

Ian Desmond 2015 2H: 257/328/438, 12 HR, 11 SB, .340 BABIP, 10% walk rate

Well, that second half looks greatly improved  across the board, but a number that actually fell was contact rate. Desmond struck out 31% of the time in the first half, and 33% of the time in the second half.

The Yankees thought that the BABIP jump, then, might be an extra-strong sign that the 2H was “lucky”.

We’re not sure we agree, as Desmond’s good wheels suggests his historical .322 BABIP is legit. But we’re not running contracts for the Yankees, so, hey.

Here’s a nasty trend:

Ian Desmond, Contact Rate % by Year 2011-15: 76, 78, 76, 69, 68

If the next four numbers are mid-to-high-60s, what that’s worth when his defense is a liability? Apparently 4/$50M.

The Yankees are already wondering what they’re going to get out of A-Rod this year, who crushed 33 dingers last year but saw his contact rate fall off in the second half. Ordinarily a small sample size doesn’t scare you, but A-Rod is 40 and is probably required to pee into cups more often than he’s allowed to piss into toilets. If A-Rod is becoming Adam Dunn, they don’t need a second one.

The Yankees’ SS prospects are still a year and a half away at least, but Jorge Mateo should start this year in AA and could be up July ’17. A large investment in Desmond, then, made no sense.

This desk happens to think the Rangers did pretty well for themselves in a low-risk deal for Desmond to play left, but moving middle infielders with pop to corner outfield spots is no sure thing (cf: Ramirez, Hanley; Soriano, Alfonso). Oddly, the alleged defensive upgrade was what didn’t translate with HanRam and Soriano (Soriano was adequate after the switch, but not in any way plus). Given Desmond’s defensive challenges, it’s a nice bit of business for Texas, but hardly a sure thing.



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