It’s time to decompress the 2018 season for each of the Arizona Diamondbacks in turn, to place their season in the proper context of their career whole and to reduce their season efforts, why not, to a single letter grade. Today’s player: Daniel Descalso.
Daniel Descalso played two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and while his contributions are not likely to be memorialized overlong in Arizona, there is time enough for a quick review. Before we dive into his 2018 – let’s see what brought him to the desert.
Daniel Descalso was drafted by St. Louis in the third round of the 2007 draft – but he was “built” in the Fernando Vina Memorial Training Center from which the Cardinals have been churning out pesky infielders of Vina’s ilk for decades. (That Vina himself wasn’t drafted by the Cardinals makes the FVMTC that much more of an honor.)
These players from this school are the physical embodiment of “The Cardinal Way.” In function, they’re the gamers with dirt on their jerseys, pine tar on their helmets and tobacco in their cheeks.
They’re “clutch” – which you know not from their batting average with runners in scoring position (BABIP) – but from the rock that forms in your stomach when they step to the dish with a runner on second and your team up by one.
In form, they’re defense-first, undersized contact hitters who rarely hit for power and love playing on the road. They’re regional Derek Jeters who never got famous from a national tour. Lou Brock was the prototype and Ozzie Smith brought the style to market, but Fernando Vina proved the model was scaleable.
In the NBA, there are agitating, high-energy role players whom you love to hate but want on your team: Dennis Rodman, Ron Artest, Joakim Noah, Rajon Rondo, Matt Barnes, Tyler Hansbrough, Charles Oakley, Bill Laimbeer, Lance Stephenson, etc. In the MLB, there are Vinas.
Graduates of the program in St. Louis include Skip Schumaker, Brendan Ryan, Bo Hart, Kolten Wong, Aledmys Diaz, Pete Kozma – as well as numerous transfers brought in from outside the organization: Vina himself, Aaron Miles, Adam Kennedy, Ryan Theriot and David Eckstein. Some of these thrived more than others, but that’s education for you.
Descalso graduated in 2011 when, as a 24-year-old rookie, he was the first infielder off the bench for Tony LaRussa’s World Series winning Cardinals team.
Not a tremendous season, right? Not until you remember that the value of a Vina cannot be captured through aggregate totals or even rate metrics like wRC+, which pegged Descalso as 11% worse than your average MLB hitter in 2011. Instead, let’s break the first rule of sabermetrics and look at a small sample.
The 2011 World Series versus the Texas Rangers, game six: the Cardinals trail 3-2 in the series and 7-5 in the game by the time Descalso enters as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning. Descalso singles and stays in the game to play shortstop.
This game is famous for David Freese’s two-out, two-strike, two-run triple that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, and then his walk-off in the bottom of the 11th.
But between those shocking moments, the Cardinals trailed again by two in the bottom of the tenth, which Descalso led off with a single. He later scored on a Ryan Theriot groundout. The Cards got their second run on a Lance Berkman RBI single.
Make no mistake, David Freese was the hero of this game. It’s probably the most remarkable single-game offensive performance I’ve personally ever watched.
For his part, Descalso turned in a stereotypically Vinan performance: entered in the bottom of the eighth, went 2-2 with a run while starting the rally in the bottom of the tenth. Defensively, he played the most important position in the infield, handling the only play that came his way.
That was Daniel Descalso at his finest.