The headline on this column may not feel particularly bold, seeing as Ian Desmond finished 2014 as the No. 1 shortstop in fantasy. Still, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume he’ll be behind the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez in the majority of 2015 preseason rankings.
In a way, this is completely fair. Both Tulowitzki and Hanley have higher ceilings year-to-year than Desmond, while Reyes has been a top option at the position for nearly a decade. What sets Desmond apart is his ability to stay on the field, compared to his competition among the top few shortstops.
In his five full major-league seasons, Desmond has played fewer than 154 games just once. In a way, health is a skill, and it’s one of Desmond’s many weapons in fantasy. There’s no one else at shortstop that fantasy owners can trust to both stay healthy and produce elite numbers year-in, year-out. Just take a look at the top five fantasy shortstops over the past three years:
- 2014 – Desmond, Reyes, Alexei Ramirez, Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins
- 2013 – Jean Segura, Desmond, Elvis Andrus, Tulowitzki, Hanley
- 2012 – Rollins, Derek Jeter, Reyes, Desmond, Hanley
The players who appear on two of those lists are Reyes, Tulowitzki, Hanley and Rollins. The only player on all three lists is Desmond. A big part of the reason Desmond finds himself on all three top-five lists is the fact that he just completed his third consecutive 20 HR/20 SB season. Since I’m in the mood for lists today, here’s the list of players who have gone 20/20 since 2012 (listed from most HR to fewest HR):
- 2014 – Todd Frazier, Desmond, Carlos Gomez, Brian Dozier, Michael Brantley
- 2013 – Mike Trout, Hunter Pence, Gomez, Coco Crisp, Will Venable, Andrew McCutchen, Shin-Soo Choo, Desmond
- 2012 – Ryan Braun, McCutchen, Trout, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, Desmond, Alex Rios, Hanley, Rollins, Carlos Gonzalez
The first thing that jumps out here is that 20/20 seasons are becoming increasingly uncommon. There were ten 20/20 guys in 2012, eight in 2013, and just five in 2014. The other big takeaway? The only players who appear on two of these lists are Gomez, Trout and McCutchen. The only player who appears on all three lists, again, is Desmond. The only other shortstops that even appear on these lists once are Hanley and Rollins, back in 2012.
The only shortstop who has been a top-five fantasy performer at the position for three consecutive years is also the only player in baseball with three straight 20/20 seasons. Starting to see why I’m feeling pretty comfortable talking about Desmond as the top shortstop in fantasy?
Throughout 2012 and 2013, analysts everywhere were predicting regression in Desmond’s batting average. (He finished those two seasons with averages of .292 and .280, respectively.) The reason was his high strikeout rate, which soared to 28.2% this year, shattering his previous career-worst K-rate — last year’s 22.1%.
As a result, the batting average did indeed drop, down to .255. However, partially due to his career-best 7.1% walk rate, Desmond still scored 73 runs — the second-most of his career — and after driving in a career-high 91 runs, the dip in his batting average hardly even mattered.
I understand that Tulowitzki is one of the best players in baseball regardless of position. However, do you really want to roll the dice on a player who has averaged just 88 games per year over the last three seasons, or would you rather take the guy who’s a virtual lock for 150+ games and a 20/20 season?
I’ve owned Desmond in a dynasty league for years, and I still hadn’t realized how uniquely productive he’s been, until I sat down to write this column. He’s the only player in baseball with three consecutive 20/20 seasons, and the only shortstop with three top-five fantasy seasons in a row. How much more does he need to do to demonstrate he deserves the top spot on the list?
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.