Ted Leavengood: Desmond is Nationals’ rock-solid rock star

You will not find his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated nor Rolling Stone, but Ian Desmond is a rock star. He is a rock, one of the most solid players on the Nationals roster, and he is emerging as a star who deserves to be recognized as such.

Desmond’s WAR rating currently stands at 5.2 for the 2013 season. Wins Above Replacement - or WAR - is the blue ribbon of baseball analytics. FanGraphs is one of two Web sites that provide ongoing WAR ratings. WAR provides one magical number that aggregates the total performance of a player and purports to tell all. Even its detractors, like Jim Caple at ESPN, admit that its ability to integrate the defensive performance of the player with advanced offensive metrics makes it an essential tool in understanding the overall value of a player.

FanGraphs rates Desmond as the 16th best position player in the majors. Immediately above him are Adrian Beltre and Shane Victorino. Just below him are Robinson Cano and Yadier Molina. It is almost as though there is this secret life that Desmond leads where he pals around with Superman, but only the in crowd knows about it.

Here is what Desmond club members need to know. According to FanGraphs, he is the best overall position player on the Nationals roster. Jayson Werth is next best Nationals player, ranking 45th with a WAR rating of 3.4 in 2013. Desmond is the best shortstop in baseball, though when healthy, Troy Tulowitzki has a higher WAR, but not by much.

Last season Desmond’s WAR rating finished at 5.0 and he was 23rd on the list of all position players in both leagues. By comparison, Bryce Harper in 2012 was No. 31 on the FanGraphs list with a WAR of 4.8, but his number has fallen to 3.1 for 2013.

Key to Desmond’s value is his consistency. He is seldom hurt and his numbers for 2012-2013 are remarkably the same. As a result, Desmond ranks 10th among all position players with an aggregate WAR of 10.2 for the past two season. Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutcheon, David Wright and Robinson Cano are above Desmond, but just a few places beneath them, right after Joey Votto, is Desmond.

It is his bat, for the most part, but he is no slacker with the glove. Yes, in the first few weeks of the season, Desmond made seven errors in 18 games. Since then, he has made only eight at one of the most demanding positions in the game and his highlight-reel plays have been frequent this year and last.

FanGraphs uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) to assess a player’s value in the field. It uses a Range Factor, sureness of his hands and other factors such as turning the double play. Desmond’s UZR for the 2013 season is 6.7, which places him seventh overall among all shortstops in both leagues.

There has not been a shortstop as good as Desmond in Washington since Joe Cronin was sold to Boston at the end of the 1934 season for $225,000. It was the end of competitive baseball for the old Nationals franchise and it should not happen again.

Desmond was paid only $3.8 million in 2013 and $512,500 in 2012. He has been a huge bargain, but that will end after this season. Washington will have to pay for Desmond to play, whether it is via arbitration or a long-term contract. Ten-year deals for players like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have become a bugaboo, but teams have to pay to play.

Desmond likes to think of himself as a blue collar player. He is the first on the steps to greet his teammates after a home run. He is rock-solid and while there are no sure things in baseball, or in life, betting on the 27-year-old Desmond to continue to perform at high levels should bring odds about as good as they get. He may not get the ink the local media reserve for Harper and Stephen Strasburg, but for Desmond, the only ink that matters will be on the bottom line. That is where Desmond deserves to get his and Nationals fans should hope he gets it.

Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released in June 2011. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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