Danny Espinosa's recent slide (.203 / .264 / .301 post All-Star game) and Ian Desmond's recent return from purgatory (.250 / .315 / .393) has some fans lumping the two guys in the same "young, good field, still need to learn to hit" bucket. Even the team sometimes seems to treat these guys as a team within a team, the MI cornerstones to a playoff run. While I wish that were the case - the reality is still that Danny is likely to be a starter (with some level of success) in this league for years, while Ian is more likely to be a bench player. Let's go over why this year Danny doesn't equate to last year's Ian, despite the similar nice start and late slide.
Danny's a better hitter:
Through 125 games in their rookie season Danny was hitting .231 / .313 / .414. Ian was hitting .279 / .316 / .413. Seems pretty similar right? Except the average offensive player has dropped even further this year. What was a slightly below average year in 2010 is now an average year. To be perfectly clear you'd rather have Ian's 2010 in 2011 than Danny's year. It is more productive but Ian didn't have that line in 2011. He had it in 2010. That matters even though seemingly one year shouldn't make that big a difference.
Danny has the better peripherals with an isoOBP of .082 compared to Ian's .037 (Danny walks, Ian doesn't) and an isoSLG of .183 to Ian's .134 (Danny has more power). A lot of Ian's worth is tied up in singles.
You could argue that Ian was a bit lucky too. His BABIP was .317, which isn't crazy but it was .292 in 2009 and .292 so far this year so it's more likely his "natural" BABIP is going to be just under .300. However, we can't really say if Danny is lucky himself. It doesn't seem that way (BABIP of .274) but that could be exactly where he should be.
All in all Danny has shown himself to be a slightly better hitter so far with a month to pick things up while rookie Ian slides away.
Danny's a better fielder:
This isn't even a question. I can toss out the numbers if you like
2010 Ian : 34 errors, .947 F%, -10 Total Zone rating, -8.8 UZR
2011 Danny : 11, .982, -2, 3.2
but anyone watching this team knows this as fact. This year's Ian has made solid strides, but he's still not the fielder at short that Danny is at second.
Danny had better minor league numbers:
Ian : .259 / .326 / .388 career
Danny : .270 / .365 / .455
I don't expect Danny to be a .270 type hitter in the majors. But with his patience and power, he only needs to hit .250 or so to be a very good offensive 2nd baseman. Ian doesn't have much power and hardly any patience. He NEEDS to hit .280 or so to be that useable at short. .260+ just to be average. Danny doesn't need to be as good as he was in the minors. Ian needs to be better. The latter is a TALL order for someone who should be peaking stat-wise right around now.
Danny is younger.
Half a year younger true but it's half a year.
Where does Ian have Danny beat? He's a better baserunner, though Danny is no slouch there.
The conclusion is obvious. Danny is better. The leash Danny gets needs to be longer because the base skills he has are better. It's fine for the Nats to move on from Ian in about... oh 240 hours or so because his upside isn't that "up" and the data saying he's not going to hit those modest goals is getting to be plentiful. Danny's struggles are his own and the Nats don't need to do anything with these two guys as if they were a pair.
In the Post, Ryan Core-B compares moving Desmond to maaaybe what it would have been like if the Tigers moved Trammel. His case is that the Nats need to give Desmond a whole nother year. He does add a caveat or two (Trammel more highly touted, didn't have as many of atbats if they dealt him after his first year - which is curious why he only goes one year into Trammell's career considering he didn't get good until full year 3, but whatever) but he leaves out two very important things.
(1) Trammell did not regress offensively his second year, like Ian has - he was stable.
(2) Ian Desmond is 25 to be 26 at the end of the season. Alan Trammell was 21. That's a HUGE difference. Trammel had years to get better. Desmond is entering his peak years.
Don't feel bad for Ian, he's had 300+ games in the major leagues as a "tryout". Most guys don't get anything close to that. You have other prospects breathing down your neck, conflicting goals and veteran-loving coaches forcing slightly better 30+ year olds into your position. Ian got a fair chance, which is more than a lot of guys get. It's time to give someone else the same break.