Colorado Rockies: Ian Desmond is on pace to have the worst season ever
There have been 19,248 players in Major League Baseball history. Many of those players wish to have careers like Ian Desmond has had. He’s twice been an All-Star, thrice been awarded a Silver Slugger and has been on a playoff team four times.
This season, Ian Desmond is doing something else, something that if he did it, he would find himself at the bottom of spreadsheets and stat books for decades.
Through 39 games played for the Colorado Rockies this season, Desmond has slashed .170/.213/.355 with 6 home runs and 17 RBI. There are some dumbfounding peripherals too, like the one flyball he’s put into the air in play to his pull-side since early September of 2017, his 65.3% groundball rate, 0.15 walk to strikeout ratio and a first-pitch swing rate of nearly 38 percent.
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There are also some dumbfounding comparisons like the fact that Desmond’s OPS (.568) is around the two different everyday Rockies players’ slugging percentage (Nolan Arenado’s is .588 and Charlie Blackmon’s is .558). Or that Desmond’s .170 batting average isn’t even the lowest batting average of a Rockies regular at the moment.
Due to a combination of how much he’s played—39 times in 41 team games—, the positions he plays being power positions—first and left field—, and just how bad he has been—33 wRC+—Desmond is on pace to have the worst season ever…of anybody.
At least by total WAR accumulated.
The Rockies have played a quarter of the MLB slate and Desmond has a -1.0 fWAR. The lowest fWAR in the history of baseball for a single season is -4.0 by Jim Levey in 1933 for the St. Louis Browns, who later became the Baltimore Orioles. That came on the heels of his 1931 season, which is fourth worst of all-time at -3.3. In sum, Levey finished his four-year career with a -8.2 fWAR.
Another note about Levey: he became a running back for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Pirates (later to be named the Steelers). He played in 13 games while playing baseball. He rushed the ball 55 times and gained 133 yards while also scoring two touchdowns.
Of course, Levey’s versatile career came in an era where there were only 154 games played so his 140ish games per season actually saw him do worse per game than Desmond is now. Either way, a quarter of four is one, meaning Desmond is on pace to tie Levey for the worst fWAR season ever.
Still, anything worse than -2.5 fWAR in a given year lands you on the last page of Fangraphs which Desmond is steaming toward. In fact, nobody has bottomed below negative three since Cristian Guzman did it in 1999.
Ian Desmond’s start has been so bad that if you include every qualified season in MLB history Desmond’s 33 wRC+ is 22nd worst of all-time. That includes 18 players below him who played under rules where five, six, seven, eight or nine balls meant you got a free pass, depending on the year. It’s in 1889 that four balls became a walk, since then Desmond’s 33 wRC+ is fourth worst of all-time.
Ironically, the only player that’s been as bad as Desmond in the past 75 years is Kole Calhoun who has a wRC+ of 6 in 2018. The other two names behind him, include our old friend Jim Levey and Billy Hunter’s 1953 where he pieced together a wRC+ of 29. Both Levey and Hunter played for the Browns.
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Players have accumulated 89,136 different hitting seasons in Major League Baseball history where they registered at least one at-bat, Ian Desmond is on pace to have the worst one ever. Like Desmond, many would wish to have athletic careers such as Levey’s.