Who Is The Real Denard Span?


Denard Span burst onto the scene in 2008 and really came out of nowhere to post very good numbers in his first major league season. They were especially heartening given his career .716 OPS in the minors. The next year he continued and posted strong numbers, and it looked like he was not only the Twins leadoff hitter for the next few years, but one of the best leadoff hitters in the American League. Then came last year, where he posted a below average season with the bat, one that was by far his worst of his major league career. So which is the real Denard Span? First, a table:

The first thing that jumps out at you should be that his wOBA has declined each year. Defensively I think Span is both overrated and underrated. There are people who think he takes horrible routes to balls, can’t throw anyone out, and generally looks lost out there. Then there is the group who sees his spectacular catches and concludes he must be a gold glover. The real answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle. I think his instincts improved over the course of the year in CF (though I wouldn’t call them great) and while I do think he takes poor routes sometimes and has a poor arm, he has the speed to generally make up for that.

Hitting wise, the first thing to look at is the BABIP. It was just .294 last year, and using Fangraphs’ xBABIP calculator Span’s expected BABIP was .341. That is a lot of hits left on the table due simply to luck. (well, not simply, I think anyone who watched a lot of Twins games could tell you he hit a lot of groundballs that weren’t hit very hard, but there were still a lot that should have gone through).

To look at his wOBAr compared to his wOBA, Span certainly got unlucky last year. Marcel has him projected for a .337 wOBA, which would still be lower than 2008 and 09, but obviously a big step up from last year. I think it sounds about right, though I would bump it up a bit because Marcel doesn’t give Span’s plate discipline enough credit here in my opinion. In any event, if you were worried about his performance at the plate last year, expect to see it improve in 2011