Even Without Speed, Desmond Jennings Valuable for Rays

By Robbie Knopf

Desmond Jennings was hobbling. He got thrown out at second base to lead off the AL tiebreaker game at Texas because he simply could not run like he normally does. IN the second inning of the AL Wild Card Game, Jennings looked completely out of defensively as he failed to cut off Ryan Raburn‘s line drive. He was clearly hurt. Why was he in the lineup? For speed-oriented players, isn’t it additionally important to let them recover from hamstring tightness like Jennings experienced because they can do so little when their speed isn’t up to par? The answer to that question could very well be yes. However, Desmond Jennings continues to prove that he is not just a speed-oriented player.

In  the Wild Card Game against the Indians, it was Jennings’ two-run double off Danny Salazar that was the single most significant hit in the Rays’ victory. On the day, though, Jennings actually went 2 for 3 with a pair of walks, wrecking havoc on the Indians even with his speed out of the equation. In fact, Jennings’ numbers on the season tell a different story than a player whose game is built around speed. Jennings hit to a .252/.334/.414 line (108 OPS+) with 31 doubles, 6 triples, 14 homers, 54 RBI, and 20 stolen bases in 28 attempts in 602 plate appearances. You can see the 20 stolen bases, but Jennings was not that great as a basestealer. Instead, he stood out for his power from the centerfield position and even at times for his plate discipline–he drew 64 walks on the year. Jennings does have his flaws, striking out too often for a leadoff-type hitter and playing enigmatic defense in centerfield even when healthy, but on the whole he shows flashes of being a five-tool player who can do everything well. The Rays certainly wish that Jennings could be a stolen base threat now–his last stolen base was a month ago today, September 4th. But even without that, Jennings does many things to help the Rays win and there is no one they would rather have patroling centerfield.

The difference between Jennings and his predecessor in centerfield, B.J. Upton, is quite simple: both show a diverse range of abilities, but Jennings shows them more consistently. Upton would show power one year, speed and plate discipline the next, and then look lost for most of the following season. Desmond Jennings is far from a perfect player, but you know what he is going to give you. His raw power may not measure up to Upton, but the extra-base hits he delivers will come year after year. Jennings may alternate between being aggressive on the first pitch and working counts, but at the end of the season, you know he will have 50 or 60 walks–something Upton did quite often but while striking out 40 additional times. Desmond Jennings his peaks and valleys, but on the whole he provides the Rays with plenty fo value even when the stolen bases don’t come and the occiasional mistake is made in centerfield thanks to the rest of his abilities. Unlike a purely speed-oriented player, hobbling Desmond Jennings doesn’t mean stopping him. If pitchers want to do that, they better execute when he comes to the plate.