Though It Didn’t Merit IL Stint, Daniel Descalso’s Ankle Injury May Have Wrecked His Season

When Jed Hoyer joined McNeil & Parkins on 670 The Score Thursday afternoon, most of the talk centered around the big-money topics. Ian Happ‘s promotion and where he would play; Addison Russell‘s focus and future with the team; Kris Bryant‘s health; Ben Zobrist and Brandon Morrow potentially returning. But it was something about the club’s least-used player that caught my attention.

I’m speaking, of course, about Daniel Descalso, who Hoyer said had fallen into some bad habits after getting banged up over the course of the season. He first battled a shoulder injury during spring training that had him iffy for the Opening Day, but an ankle injury on May 4 seems to have completely wrecked his season.

Prior to leaving that game with a bum wheel, Descalso was hitting .253/.340/.386 with a .316 wOBA, a 94 wRC+, and seven extra-base hits (5 doubles, 2 homers). Nothing spectacular, but those numbers included a 1.079 OPS, .449 wOBA, and 180 wRC+ with runners in scoring position. Descalso was every bit the legendary clutch performer the Cubs had hoped they were getting when they made him their key offseason target.

Then came the game against the Cardinals on May 4, after which he’s been a shell of himself. He was not placed on the IL, which has become something of a disturbing trend for this team, but instead rested for one whole game before serving as a pinch hitter over his next six games played.

In the time since the injury, Descalso has slashed .114/.228/.139 with a .182 wOBA and a wRC+ 6 (yes, SIX) that includes just one extra-base hit (triple). He’s been much better than that with RISP, but his .612 OPS, .274 wOBA, and 66 wRC+ only look good because his overall numbers are hot garbage.

And in case you’re worried about samples, the latter came over 93 plate appearances while the former was 94.

I mean, what the hell? Maybe taking time off wouldn’t have mattered and we’d have seen this drop-off regardless. Or maybe, and I know this may come off as the conspiratorial ramblings of a madman, Descalso should have been placed on the IL in order to properly rest and rehabilitate his ankle. Sorry for posing such a wild theory, I’ll try to tone it down moving forward.

It seemed silly to me when someone suggested to me that maybe the Cubs were keeping Descalso around because they realize they messed up by not putting him on the IL and they’re sort of making it up to him. While I believe that’s a little too hard to swallow as a primary driver of Descalso’s continued employment in Chicago, it’s not outlandish to believe that’s part of the thinking.

Hoyer spoke about Descalso’s leadership and how his career is an indication that he can turn things around offensively. Even during his putrid performance of late, he can still draw a walk and maintains and OBP that is literally double his batting average. And his RISP stats, while not good at all in a vacuum, do represent a marked improvement from his overall numbers.

So even as the calls to DFA him grow louder — and I know, I’ve been in there leading them — there is a glimmer of hope that Descalso can get back to what he was. At the same time, Hoyer also said while speaking about Morrow “hope is not a plan.”

You know what should be a plan? Putting guys on the injured list when the situation dictates. Listen, it’s cool that they may want to be macho and play through it or whatever, but losing Descalso for 10 days or two weeks is a helluva lot better than watching him shrink into a corn cob that you can only afford to play when the situation becomes so dire that no other options exist.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, nor is it the first time I’ve bitched about it. Happ’s promotion will likely cost the Cubs a reliever, which means Cole Hamels being reactivated will come at the expense of a position player. Even as much as the Cubs like Descalso and love doing what they can to keep players in the organization, would they see fit to option Albert Almora Jr. or David Bote instead of designating the elder statesman?

Ooh, I know: The Cubs could pull the most poetically just move of all by coming up with a phantom injury and finally put Descalso on the IL. Your move, Epstein.

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