Over the weekend Davey Johnson was asked who the MVP of the 2013 Nationals was, despite their ups and downs this year, which player was the biggest reason they still managed a competitive season. He noted Jayson Werth, but said the discussion can’t be had without mentioning shortstop Ian Desmond.
On Sunday night Desmond stole two bases in the Nationals’ 5-4 win over the Miami Marlins, giving him 21 on the year. That makes him just one of eight players this season to hit both 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, and two of them (Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen) are MVP candidates.
That’s rare company. But given this is Desmond’s second season reaching those marks, he now holds an even rarer place among shortstops in MLB history. Desmond is one of just seven shortstops all time to have two 20-20 years in their career, and the list of names is quite impressive.
1. Hanley Ramirez – 4 seasons (2007-10) – Age 23-26
2. Jimmy Rollins – 4 seasons (2006-12) – Age 27-33
3. Alex Rodriguez – 3 seasons (1997-99) – Age 21-23
4. Derek Jeter – 2 seasons (2001-04) – Age 27-30
5. Barry Larkin – 2 seasons (1991-96) – Age 27-32
6. Alan Trammell – 2 seasons (1986-87) – Age 28-29
7. Ian Desmond – 2 seasons (2012-13) – Age 26-27
Desmond has proven his 2012 breakout season was no fluke. He’s hitting .286 this year which is more than adequate given his other skills, and he leads the Nationals in RBI (80), doubles (38), steals and games played (153). Throw in Desmond’s ability in the field – he was a Gold Glove finalist last season - and he's one of the best players at his position in baseball today.
Desmond’s consistency this year is a reason Johnson believes he's been so valuable. The only month this season he’s hit under .280 was May and he still posted three homers and 12 RBI. In the season’s other five months he’s been Washington’s most steady offensive player in a year that saw the team go collectively super hot or super cold.
The Nationals shortstop has come a long way from 2011 when his future with the team was in question. He committed too many errors and didn’t produce the power numbers to justify his low batting average. Now he’s a more complete player and he’s been so for two seasons.
Also a leader in the Nationals’ clubhouse, Desmond is appreciative of the time and work it took to reach this point. He blossomed a bit later than most stars in the game and doesn’t take his success for granted.
“It's pretty cool. It's definitely a blessing,” he said. “I wasn't always headed down this road in my life. I'm just fortunate. I try to take every day as a blessing and try to do the most I can every day.”
The next step for Desmond and the Nationals is likely a contract extension, as general manager Mike Rizzo had this to say about him in April:
“We don’t discuss negotiations with players and that type of thing. But we feel Ian is one of our leaders. He’s one of the guys that is our core players and he’s a guy we’d like to be with the Nationals for a long time.”
Just entering his prime, Desmond could be a big part of whatever the Nationals accomplish in their still wide open window of contention.
Mark Zuckerman contributed to this story