In 2009 he had his first opportunity to be an every day player and Denard Span did not disappoint. He hit .311/.392/.415 and many in the Twins organization thought they had found themselves the lead-off man and center fielder of the future. In 2010 Span took a step back, posted an OPS almost 130 points lower than 2009, and reached base less than 1/3 of the time, due in part to a drop in his walk totals, despite 30 more plate appearances. Heading in to 2011 Span was primed to rebound from a disappointing season and anchor a Twins outfield that included Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer, but sub-par defenders in the outfield corners. Unfortunately Span sustained a concussion midway through the season and played just 70 games. Despite coming back from his concussion down the stretch, Span hit just .132/.179/.245 in the 2nd half of 2011. Span was not thrilled with his post-concussion statistics but was happy to be back with the ball club and felt that coming back allowed him to head into the offseason on a positive note. While news regarding Span’s health has been virtually non-existent this winter, I expect Span to return to Ft. Myers healthy and ready to return to his 2009 form.
Bill James doesn’t project Span to come all the way back to his 2009 numbers, but he believes he will be better than he was over either of the past two seasons. Part of James’ projection is based on a rebound in Spans BABIP numbers back to .322, which is more in line with his previous MLB and MiLB numbers prior to 2010. This is probably a safe bet if Span is once again healthy and seeing more pitches at the plate, as he has shown himself to be a patient hitter throughout his career. James also predicts a higher walk rate for Span than he has had in the past couple of years, just shy of 10% at 9.7%. Not only will this put Span on base more frequently, but if he continues to bat in the lead-off position it likely gives the Twins’ 2-4 hitters an opportunity to see more pitches from the opposing starter in the first inning, helping the Twins to get out to early leads, something they struggled to do in 2011. While the 8 home runs Span hit in 2009 was probably an anomaly, James projects Span to hit for a little bit of power with 4 home runs, 5 triples, and 16 doubles. Defensively, Span has improved each of the last three years, despite playing the most demanding outfield position. If Revere is indeed playing along Span in left field, some of the pressure will be off of Span in center and he should continue to post positive dWAR numbers in 2012 to go along with a rejuvenated offensive game. Using the Simple WAR Calculator, I project Denard Span to be worth approximately 2.8 WAR, due in part to increased walk numbers, a BABIP back up to .310, and 135 games played. If Span spends any significant amount of time in left or right field his value will be suppressed, but he still profiles as a 2 WAR player, even as an everyday corner outfielder, despite his lack of power. Denard Span is signed to a team friendly $3 million dollar contract in 2012, so even if he is worth just a single Win Above Replacement Span is still providing value to the Minnesota Twins.
Like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, being healthy is going to be a big part of Denard Span’s value in 2012. While the Twins are better suited to handle a significant absence from their center fielder, Span’s departure from the line up will put either Ryan Doumit or Trevor Plouffe into every day duty, reducing the team’s ability to cover any potential pitfalls from the M & M boys.