Colorado Rockies

How Ian Desmond 'stepped up big' by stepping away from 2020 MLB season

How Ian Desmond 'stepped up big' by stepping away from 2020 MLB season

Programming note: Watch "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on NBC Sports Bay Area on Friday, July 3 at 8 p.m.

Ian Desmond has bigger things on his mind than playing professional baseball, yet he's not turning his back on the sport.

The Colorado Rockies outfielder announced Monday on Instagram that he won't play in MLB's shortened season amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Desmond instead will remain in Sarasota, Florida with his pregnant wife and four kids, working to get local youth baseball "back on track." The 34-year-old, who is biracial, said the fields he grew up playing on suffered from years of neglect, exemplifying baseball's inaccessibility reflective of societal inequality.

"Why can't we support teaching the game to all kids -- but especially those in underprivileged communities?'' Desmond wrote. "Why aren't accessible, affordable youth sports viewed as an essential opportunity to affect kids' development, as opposed to money-making propositions and recruiting chances? It's hard to wrap your head around it.''

Desmond is stepping away from MLB to do the kind of work that Dave Stewart is innately familiar with. Stewart, a former A's pitcher and current NBC Sports California analyst, has worked extensively to help children in underserved communities. The A's community service award is named for him as a result of that work. 

Stewart, who is Black, believes Desmond is rising to the occasion in a way that this moment requires.

"I said, 'Man, this brother stepped up.' " Stewart said on "Race In America: A Candid Conversation," which airs Friday at 8 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

"It's the first thing I thought of. He stepped up, he stepped up big. He had things that obviously had been bothering him for a long period of time. He voiced the things that were bothering him, he voiced the things he thought needed to be addressed in baseball, but he also made baseball aware and the world aware that if I read it right, he's got a baby on the way, he's got children at home, I'd much rather be safe spending time with my family teaching these kids how to play the game. And in the meantime, baseball handle your business is the way I took it. Baseball, handle your business."

[RACE IN AMERICA: Listen to the latest episode]

Desmond said some of his formative memories occurred on the fields he's trying to revitalize, but they weren't all happy. He wrote that he "never felt fully immersed in Black culture" growing up with a white mother, but still identified as Black when asked because of the prejudice he experienced. Desmond recalled his high-school teammates chanting "White Power" before a game, and his eventual grade-school classmates needed to be told in a school-wide meeting that he was enrolling.

In the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody last month, Desmond felt he could be silent no longer. He pointed to MLB's distinct lack of Black owners, front-office executives and managers, noting that about 8 percent of players are African American while racist, homophobic and sexist jokes are all-too-normal in clubhouses and unwritten rules that aim to create conformity all-too-often stifle Black players from being themselves.

MLB has "a minority issue from the top down," Desmond wrote, and former A's pitcher Edwin Jackson said it was "empowering" to see his one-time teammate address it.

"That's something we love to see," said Jackson, who played with Desmond on the Washington Nationals in 2012. "That's something that is sad that we had to suppress those feelings for so long from being afraid to speak up. For him to be able to speak up now and not be afraid anymore, I love to see that. I love to see that, and I wish we could have that for more people. It's brave. It takes a lot to do, to express your feelings to the world about how you feel, it takes a lot to do that."

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Jackson said he spoke with Desmond about the decision, and that it's very reflective of his former teammate's overriding feeling.

Desmond simply has had enough.

"He wants to express himself and show you his values, what he values and the order he has his values in," Jackson said. "His family comes before the game. His life comes before the game. It shows that he's put a lot of his emotions on the back burner because of baseball. He's tired of it, he's switching roles. He's putting his family first and he's putting himself first, beyond the sport that we play."

Five Giants hitters who've had much more success when visiting Rockies

Five Giants hitters who've had much more success when visiting Rockies

The Giants and Rockies play 19 times every year, with three series at Coors Field and three at Oracle Park. Those games could not possibly be any more different. 

The ones in San Francisco tend to end with scores like 4-2, 2-1, or, in one wild case last year, 8-5. In Denver, it's predictably a free-for-all. There are normal games, to be sure, but the Giants also won one game last year at Coors Field by a score of 19-2. Another win was 11-8, and there was a 12-11 loss mixed in. 

That's the norm in the season series every year, with wild swings depending on where they play. There's just one real exception, and you know him well. Extrapolate Nolan Arenado's career stats at Oracle Park over a full season and you have 29 homers, 45 doubles and 95 RBI, albeit it with a .819 OPS that's nearly 200 points lower than his career mark at home.

Arenado breaks Giants' hearts no matter where he faces them, and they'll see the digital version of the third baseman in tonight's PlayStation simulation on NBC Sports Bay Area. Tonight's game would have been played in San Francisco, so it likely would have been low-scoring. 

But the Giants-Rockies matchup got us thinking: Which Giants would benefit most from switching ballparks? If you go through the roster, there are some serious outliers. Here are five Giants who stood out for their career numbers at Coors:

Buster Posey

Put Posey on the Rockies for a full season and he might take a run at his second MVP award. In 73 career games at Coors Field, Posey has a .368 average, .435 OBP and .610 slugging percentage that's 172 points higher than his mark in home games. He has 14 homers, his most in any ballpark other than Oracle. 

It all makes perfect sense. Posey has a middle-of-the-field approach, and while Coors is known for being a launching pad, it also has a massive outfield that provides Posey plenty of green to aim at. His .368 average there is the highest among active players and sixth-highest in the ballpark's history for players with more than 250 at-bats. 

The ballpark was particularly helpful in 2012 when he won his MVP award. Posey went 16-for-33 in Denver that year with three homers and nine RBI. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Donovan Solano

Like Posey, this veteran infielder has a solid approach that's tailor-made for the outfield at Coors. Solano went 9-for-18 last year with three homers and five RBI. He first played there in 2012, and overall he has a .306/.328/.597 slash line as a visitor.

Last year's demolition of Coors helped Solano become just the second player since 1979 to hit .400 on the road (minimum 100 plate appearances). He hit .402, joining Ichiro, who batted .405 on the road in 2004. 

Billy Hamilton 

There are others with better numbers -- most notably, Mike Yastrzemski loved Coors as a rookie -- but the new Giants center fielder stands out because he has never been known for his bat. At Coors Field, however, Hamilton has an .875 OPS in 18 games and a .382 OBP that's well above his low career mark (.297). 

Hamilton has never homered at Coors but has six doubles and two triples. He is a perfect 8-for-8 stealing bases. He's a perfect fit for the ballpark defensively, something that'll be fun to watch if the Giants ever make it there this summer. A ball in the gap could put us on inside-the-park watch, too. 

Evan Longoria

He has played most of his career in the American League, but he definitely took advantage of those rare trips to Coors Field, picking up 13 hits and three homers in nine games there while with the Rays. 

Longoria has kept that going as a Giant, and overall he's a .347 hitter in 18 starts at Coors Field, with a .405 OBP, .636 slugging percentage and six homers. Longoria even has four triples, his most in any ballpark other than Tropicana Field. 

[RELATED: Could Luciano make Giants roster? Zaidi considering it]

Wilmer Flores

Gabe Kapler will have some appealing options at first base for his first trip to Denver as a Giant. Brandon Belt has 10 career homers there, including a shot into the third deck a few years ago:

Flores, the right-handed newcomer, has had even more success from an OPS standpoint. He has a 1.054 mark in 15 career games in Denver, buoyed by a .423 on-base percentage. He has driven in 13 runs in just 46 at-bats there. 

Why Giants would be at big disadvantage in NL West with new DH rule

Why Giants would be at big disadvantage in NL West with new DH rule

The Giants didn't plan to have a designated hitter in 2020, but now that the rule change is all but assured for a shortened season, they're actually in pretty decent shape

The obvious solution is shifting Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson into that spot on a regular basis, as they were set to split time anyway in an effort to keep both veteran outfielders healthy. The addition of the DH also would open at-bats for Pablo Sandoval, who should be 100 percent healthy if the sport resumes in July, clearing a bit of the infield logjam created by the additions of Yolmer Sanchez and Wilmer Flores. 

Buster Posey would surely soak up plenty of DH at-bats, and it's possible the rule change could lead to Joey Bart making the "Opening Day" roster. With his power, Bart could even be an option to DH at times if the Giants don't feel the glove is ready. 

A DH would help the Giants score more runs in 2020, but will it actually help them win more games? They would be at a disadvantage against AL teams that were planning for this all along, and it's possible that adding one more hitter would actually widen the gap in the NL West. 

FanGraphs took a look at rosters recently and determined the Giants would be right near the bottom of the NL in terms of gains from a universal DH. Here's how we think they would stack up against the rest of the division:

Los Angeles Dodgers

The good news is a shortened season would give some hope to the rest of the teams in the division, who would have no chance of keeping up with the Dodgers' depth over 162 games. The bad news is that a universal DH gives some of that edge right back. 

The Dodgers could move Joc Pederson, who hit 36 homers last year, to DH and still have an outfield of Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock. Or could give most of the DH at-bats to Max Muncy and still have an infield of Bellinger, Gavin Lux, Corey Seager and Justin Turner. They could give Turner, 35, additional rest and replace him with Chris Taylor or Kiké Hernandez. They could use the DH to keep Betts or Bellinger in the lineup for both ends of a doubleheader. 

The Dodgers being the Dodgers, they will do all of these things. Any way you slice it, this helps them. They have the most talented lineup in the league, and they might benefit more than anyone from having an additional hitter. 

Colorado Rockies

They're pretty similar to the Giants, in that a DH could best be used getting older players off their feet. First baseman Daniel Murphy certainly could use a bat-only role, and 33-year-old outfielder Charlie Blackmon would benefit, along with 34-year-old Ian Desmond. 

The Rockies could fill the ensuing hole at first by moving Ryan McMahon, who hit 24 homers last year, around the infield, allowing extra time for Brendan Rodgers, a 23-year-old infielder who is one of the top 30 prospects in the game. 

This is where you might see the biggest impact in the standings. The Giants finished ahead of the Rockies last year and expected to do so again, but the DH certainly helps the Rockies more than most NL clubs. 

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

San Diego Padres

They've spent years trying to figure out what to do with Wil Myers, and this could solve that problem. The Padres would also be able to hide Jurickson Profar's glove at times, and there are certainly nights when they would be better off using Francisco Mejia at DH and letting the other catcher, Austin Hedges, handle the young staff. 

The Padres have a weird glut of outfielders who are talented but not stars, and the DH would probably benefit that group quite a bit, particularly Josh Naylor, a good young hitter who has struggled defensively. Newcomer Tommy Pham was the designated hitter 21 times last season in Tampa Bay. 

Overall, the Padres definitely would have an edge over the Giants in a game with a DH. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

The answer here is simple:

OK, OK, the Diamondbacks probably won't do that. Bumgarner hit just .127 last year with two homers, but you can bet he'll convince Torey Lovullo to give him at least one day as the DH. Perhaps even against the team that let him go to a division rival ...

The Diamondbacks have a strong all-around roster, one that should compete for a postseason spot under any rules, but they won't hugely benefit from a DH. Jake Lamb seems to be the best solution, and perhaps being a DH would allow him to stay healthy and get back to his 2017 (30 homers, .844 OPS) ways.

[RELATED: Five Giants prospects who had underrated seasons]

The Diamondbacks might actually be hurt by this more than any NL West team. They were hoping to chase down the Dodgers, and giving the Dodgers a DH while also taking away the advantage Bumgarner had over other pitchers certainly favors Los Angeles.