First, a quick exercise. Place yourself back in time to two weeks ago. I tell you that after 10 games, Prince Fielder has an OPS of .551, Rougned Odor an OPS of .536, Mitch Moreland an OPS of .523, and Ian Desmond an OPS of .269. Furthermore, I tell you that Shin-Soo Choo is on the disabled list for 4-6 weeks and Robinson Chirinos for 10-12 weeks. I then tell you that the Rangers are 5-5 and only a half game back of the AL West lead. A quick show of hands: How many of you would believe me?
If you raised your hand, you're either almost ready to cash in on last night's Powerball winnings, or you're lying.
Yes, we're talking insanely small sample sizes and singling out a few guys while leaving out other details. Even still, we have last season's Comeback Player of the Year, one of 2015's young breakout players, a 1st baseman coming off of a career season, and the biggest free agent signing of the offseason. Shin-Soo Choo had one of the strongest finishes in baseball last season, and Robinson Chirinos was the team's starting catcher. A lack of productivity from those players -- whether due to ineffectiveness or injury -- would seem, on paper, to be a sure recipe for disaster.
Fortunately for the Rangers, they have some guy named Nomar Mazara to fill in while Choo is out. Catcher is one position you can usually patch up from an offensive standpoint. And for the most part, everyone else listed is due for regression to the mean -- in this case upward.
Of course, by now, you've noticed by the headline that I've chosen to focus on only one of those players, one Ian Desmond.
Desmond, a relative newcomer to most Rangers fans, was a late free agent addition after it was revealed that Josh Hamilton would miss the start of the season. A shortstop by trade, Texas signed him to play the outfield. Initially, the thought was that he would be strictly in left field, but it appears we could see him increasingly in center field as Jeff Banister sees fit.
And truthfully, the outfield experiment is the least of the worries Texas should have regarding Ian Desmond. Thus far, he's easily been the best defensive outfielder on the team. Other than an interesting misplay in left field during yesterday's series-finale in Seattle, he hasn't really looked overmatched in the outfield, even looking sensational at times.
His story at the plate, however, is a different story. As mentioned above, he now sports a shiny .269 OPS. His wOBA of .134 is 5th worst in MLB for qualified players. In fact, he's got more plate appearances than any of the players "ahead" of him on that list with 42, and you've got to go down to Kevin Pillar at 27th to even find anyone else with 40 plate appearances.
In other words, it's fair to say that Ian Desmond is struggling more than any other Major League regular right now at the plate. If you're a glutton for punishment, you could also look at his wRC+ of -34 -- that is, 134 percent below league-average -- or his 13 strikeouts in 10 games, putting him on pace for 211 strikeouts.
He won't get there, even if for no other reason than it would surprise me to see him play all 162 games. Nonetheless, this GIF from Tuesday night's game seems to perfectly encapsulate the struggles of Desmond thus far.
That's a 90 mph fastball from a left-handed pitcher, placed right in Desmond's wheelhouse. And he totally whiffs on it.
To be fair, and to reiterate, we're only 10 games into the season. A BABIP of .154 is almost certainly not going to hold up. Desmond is going to start seeing some hits fall, and his huge swing will result in some hot streaks (as well as cold streaks). It just so happens that his season started on one of the cold streaks.
The real problem we run into is that, at this point in his career, this is just who Ian Desmond is. His strikeout rate crept up from 22.1% in 2013 to 28.2% in 2014. Then it jumped up once again in 2015 to 29.2%. So his 31.6% that he's put up thus far in 2016? Probably not all that far out of line from what we can expect from him, especially since strikeout rates tend to stabilize at around 60 plate appearances. Even with some improvement, we're probably still looking at a player that strikes out in about 30% of his plate appearances.
At this point, the biggest obstacle facing Ian Desmond is simply making contact. He's put 26 balls in play, and it's resulted in 4 hits. If we're being honest, one of those hits was a weak roller against Seattle that he simply beat out with speed.
All told, at $8 million, Ian Desmond isn't a huge deal as far as sunk costs go. He's going to get better than he has been in his first 10 games in a Texas uniform. How much better? That remains to be seen. It's going to be a matter of him managing to make more solid contact going forward. It won't surprise me terribly to see a day off in his future.
I want to see Ian Desmond have some measure of success here. He's been fun to watch in the outfield, and his raw athleticism is impressive. With that said, I do wonder how the outfield picture looks a month from now if he's still struggling and Texas has Choo and Hamilton back in the fold. It's too early to say, but it surely can't get any worse.