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Ian Desmond is a confident individual. He established that during the winter by rejecting an extension worth $107 million in order to pursue a greater prospect—the chance to hit the open market at age 30 as the best shortstop available. So five months later, why does Desmond look out of place on the field? And should his prospective suitors share in his uneasiness?

To some relief, Desmond remains a reliable hitter. He's batting .300/.354/.433, good for what would be a career-best .309 True Average. But when people have talked about Desmond during April, the conversations more often than not have been about his defense. Desmond has not, to put it kindly, looked like a nine-figure shortstop; rather, he's erred a majors-leading eight times—an average of one error every eight or so chances, according to Baseball-Reference.

More concerning than Desmond's error total is the diversity of his misplays. He hasn't muffed one tough play after another, nor has his trouble stemmed from an isolated aspect of his defense. Instead Desmond has been an equal-opportunity botcher, flubbing remote and routine chances, all while his hands, feet, arm, and approach malfunction. He's dropped a pop-up after barging in late, he's had hops and throws clank off his glove, he's taken odd approaches and displayed bizarre footwork, and he's sailed and spiked throws:



Additionally, Desmond has experienced the dropsies—even with catchers and pitchers running:



If a random prospect slipped as often over a three-week period as Desmond has, scouts would recommend moving him to another position. But we know Desmond isn't sliding off shortstop anytime soon, and that he has more than enough arm, hands, feet, and athleticism to vindicate that decision. We also know defensive metrics, however untrustworthy, dovetail with the prevailing wisdom about Desmond's defensive arc over his career: rough at first, but better recently—perhaps to the extent where he's an asset with the glove (rounded to the whole number):

Season

FRAA

DRS

UZR

2011

-4

-3

-4

2012

-15

-6

4

2013

5

-3

4

2014

4

2

0

So what do we make of Desmond's defensive slump—and more importantly: should teams change their valuations of him because of it? The answer might be nothing and nope.

Though Desmond isn't normally a one-man blooper reel, the tendency to mess up has always been part of his game. Teams are familiar with it, and fans should be too, seeing as how it's been public knowledge for more than a half-decade. Kevin Goldstein wrote in February 2010 that Desmond vexed scouts with "his ability to make good plays and then boot routine ones." What's more is this isn't Desmond's first rough April. In fact, it would be weirder if Desmond were having a good defensive April, as Chelsea Janes reported:

He has committed 122 errors in his career, 30 of them in April. He has committed seven or more errors in three of the past four Aprils, and is well on his way to a fourth in five this season. He committed seven errors in April 2013 and eight in April 2014. Even his three errors in three-game pace isn’t entirely unprecedented: In 2010, he committed three errors in his first four.

Provided we accept that teams are at peace with Desmond's at-times frantic defensive play, then the pertinent question is no longer whether they'll change their valuations based on this month, but rather: is there a way to explain Desmond's consistently poor Aprils? Let's try.

Theory no. 1: Desmond's Aprils are little more than noise
Why it works
: Categorizing any extreme performance, good or bad, as statistical variance is almost always accepted—especially when there's no obvious alternative explanation.
Why it doesn't work: While randomness can masquerade as a pattern, not all patterns are randomness in disguise. Maybe Desmond's Aprils aren't at the point where you can ascribe a greater meaning to them, but they're beyond the threshold where they seem to be coincidence.

Theory no. 2: Desmond is a slow starter
Why it works
: Desmond for his career has been a better hitter during the second half, and April is his second-worst month by OPS. It's conceivable that he carries those struggles to the field (or vice versa).
Why it doesn't work: Desmond hasn't had issues at the plate this April, and two Aprils ago he recorded 15 extra-base hits in 103 at-bats. Though he doesn't always start well, his offensive struggles in April are minor compared to what he does in the field. This is reaching.

Theory no. 3: Desmond doesn't take spring training seriously
Why it works
: An extension of no. 2. If you work with the idea that Desmond doesn't get enough reps in spring, or that he doesn't put enough effort into those reps, it's reasonable to think his blunders are the result of re-adjusting to game speed.
Why it doesn't work: Nobody takes spring training seriously. Were Desmond a bigger slacker than the typical player, you'd think one of his three managers—Jim Riggleman, Davey Johnson, or Matt Williams—would have said something, or set him straight. That's not to say it's an implausible explanation, its just not overly convincing.

Theory no. 4: Desmond is more prone to funks than the normal player
Why it works
: You might reckon that, for whatever reason—mental or physical—Desmond doesn't recover as well from an error as the typical player, who can boot a ball and forget it about before his next chance. Ergo the flurry of miscues.
Why it doesn't: Last week this column focused on Pedro Alvarez, whose fielding troubles progressed to the point where he moved to a lesser position. Desmond, to his credit, has always righted himself after his stormy Aprils. As former Royals skipper Dick Howser once said, "You make a lot of mistakes at shortstop; the important thing is to be able to come back." Desmond exhibits that resiliency. And besides, wouldn't he prone to making a lot of errors in other months, too? Reaching.

Theory no. 5: All or parts of the above
Why it works
: This explanation always works.
Why it doesn't: No, no. This explanation always works.

Obviously there could be merit to one of those explanations that, from an outsider's perspective, looks outlandish or overly suggestive; there's no way to prove it, though, so we have to stick to what we can verify. That is, Desmond is a talented player with a lengthy enough track record for him to impersonate Kurt Stillwill every April without receiving a benching or demotion to another spot. He is, in essence, a franchise shortstop who for stretches (and unexplainable reasons) resembles a minor-league shortstop to begin each season. If Sam Miller ever completes his Baseball's Seven Wonders series, Desmond deserves a spot; only then will things make sense.

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luchok
4/24
I have a running argument with some friends on my contention that the Nats will not win a WS with Desmond at SS. It is not just April, though April is the worst. Last season he committed 4 errors in August and another 4 in September
Ifrazer
4/24
I remember reading an article some years ago about Troy Tulowitzki having a similarly tough beginning of the season. (Though I can't remember the specific angle on it, nor where it was from. I think Fangraphs.) But with that in mind, and with Tulowitzki rebounding to his place as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, that precedent at least gives me some optimism re: Desmond. Sometimes guys just get the yips, or there are just a bunch of random errors compounded.
newsense
4/24
On Tuesday, Desmond made one of the greatest deep into the hole behind third base and perfect throw with momentum in the opposite direction I have ever seen. You have to have a guy like that play SS.
sbnirish77
4/25
Interesting that Desmond and Castro have made just about the same number of errors over the last 3 years but we get a 5-point defense of Desmond while Castro is headed out-of-town to accommodate the wunderkind Addison Russell.