also available at www.SethSpeaks.net –
With Nick Punto out with injury so much this second half, it appears that some Twins fans feel the need to find a new player to bash for any and all reasons. It appears that that guy is Denard Span, at least for the foreseeable future. Some of it is earned. He is not having a good season by the high standards he set in his first two seasons. His OPS+ of 122 in 93 games in 2008, and his 114 OPS+ in 145 games in 2009 were remarkable standards. An OPS+ of 100 is league average, so he was well above that with OPS of .819 and .807. In 119 games so far in 2010, his OPS is .691, and his OPS+ is at 88.
I don’t think OPS is the best stat to look at when looking at a leadoff hitter. Most leadoff hitters do not have the power to have a high slugging percentage which is half of the OPS equation. However, I believe that the On-Base Percentage half of the OPS equation is very important for a leadoff hitter. After posting OBP of .387 and .392 his first two seasons, his OBP is just .337 in 2010. That is significant.
Defensively, we knew he wasn’t Carlos Gomez in centerfield. He certainly wasn’t going to be like Torii Hunter or Kirby Puckett out there. That said, I think we all assumed that he would be better than he has been. Too many times he has been tentative. Carlos Gomez was horrible at running routes to fly balls, but his incredible speed more than made up for it. Kirby Puckett wasn’t as fast as Denard Span, but he got tremendous reads on fly balls and too charge of centerfield. Outfielders are going to make errors. They all have a couple of bad drops throughout a season, and lose a ball or three in the lights/sun/high sky. It happens. However, Span did such a nice job in the corner outfield positions his first two years that the move to center field should have been easier.
And Span’s base running has not been terribly good or smart. He has been picked off more than a half-dozen times. That really wasn’t an issue his first two seasons, although as someone who monitors the minor leagues, it was definitely an issue for him throughout his minor league career, including in AAA.
So, has it been a particularly good year for the Twins leadoff hitter and centerfielder? Not at all. Not even an optimist like me can spin it to make it look like Span is having a good 2010 campaign. But there are several things to consider before judging too harshly, or at least some numbers that you may want to consider, just food for thought.
Let’s start with the offense, and I looked at a few numbers to compare Span to. I didn’t compare him to other centerfielders. That doesn’t make much sense. I mean, to compare Span to someone like Josh Hamilton doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’s a #3 hitter. So, I compared Span’s numbers in 2010 to those of other leadoff hitters in 2010. Actually what I did was compared Twins leadoff hitters to other leadoff hitters around baseball, with the understanding that Span has been the team’s leadoff hitter in about 95% of their games.
OPS – .701 ranks 17th among the 30 teams.
OBP – .337 ranks 14th among the 30 teams.
IsoD – .071 ranks 10th in the league.
GB/FO – The 1.26 ground outs to fly outs is 7th in the league.
So again, Denard Span has some disappointing numbers compared to his numbers in previous season. No question about that. However, I think that when we take a look at the production compared to league average leadoff hitters, we see something different. He has been very average in 2010. His OPS is just below the middle of the pack. Again, when power is factored in, his numbers aren’t as high. Consider that he may have lost two or three home run balls in centerfield, and realize that he already has a career high in doubles and seven triples, and those numbers could be a little higher. On base percentage is huge, and he has taken a large step back. However, he is right about average among the league’s centerfielders. I thought looking at his Isolated Discipline would make sense too. That is simply his on-base percentage minus his batting average. In the two previous seasons, Span was at .093 and then .081. This year it is down to .071 which is still not bad at all, and it is still in the top third in baseball. It also indicates that his lower numbers are directly attributable to batting average. A leadoff hitter should ground out more than he flies out. It is cliché, but you want speed guys to hit the ball hard and low, and he is doing that.
How about his defense? And, I am still one who is skeptical of any defensive metrics, but many are starting to buy into them. UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and UZR/150 seem to be the metrics that more and more are subscribing too (and you can find them and many more stats at fangraphs.com). Let’s look at how Denard Span compares to other centerfielders around baseball:
UZR (0 is average) – 2.6 – this is 8th among regular starting centerfielders and above average.
UZR/150 – 3.9 – this is also 8th in the league.
RZR – .940 – according to this, Span is #2 in baseball among CF.
To add a little perspective to those numbers, Torii Hunter’s UZR this year is -3.9, and his UZR/150 is -5.5. Matt Kemp is by far the worst with a UZR of -15.6 and a UZR/150 of -21.2. Again, certainly not a great or elite center fielder, but Denard Span, by these metrics, is playing at a slightly better than average level.
Last night in the reactionary or over-reactionary social media form of Twitter, many Twins fans were talking about the fact that Denard Span didn’t make a leaping catch at the wall that turned out to be a double. Would Torii Hunter have caught it? Maybe. Would Carlos Gomez have caught it? Probably. But in this one case, Span didn’t make the catch. Should he have? That’s debatable. Twitter was all a-Twitter with people bashing Span (again!), and that’s the point where I started realizing that he has become the new Nick Punto. If making leaping catches at the wall have become expectations, then I definitely think that we have been spoiled as Twins fans by the CF defense.
Has Denard Span had a good 2010 season? Of course not. No one is insinuating that he has. He wouldn’t tell you that he’s happy with his season. Has it been disappointing year for him? Absolutely.
But should Twins fans give up on him? Of course not!! He’s 26 years old. He has been one of the best leadoff hitters in the game the last two years. Right now, he is in a funk both offensively and defensively as well as on the base paths. It’s not pretty, but the Twins would be crazy to quit on such a talent, such an athlete. He will be just fine.
As I said on last night’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast, he has been one of the more disappointing members of the team this year. I would put Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and the Twins medical and training staff ahead of him. But I did note that for the Twins to win the AL Central and advance, Span will have to pick it up. It would be great if for the final four weeks of the season, Span can find his 2009 form and be a force at the top of the order. He is absolutely capable of it. He has done if before and will again.
What do you think? Is this just me being too positive again? Have you given up on him?
Here are some notes from Monday’s minor league games:
- Rochester 0, Lehigh Valley 7 (6 innings) – This game was rained out after six innings, and based on how well it was going for the Red Wings, that is just fine. Cole DeVries was called up to make the start in place of the promoted Nick Blackburn. He went 2.1 innings and gave up three earned runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out three. Jose Lugo then gave up three runs on four hits and five walks in 1.2 innings. Tim Lahey then gave up one run on three hits and two walks in 1.1 innings. The Red Wings managed six hits, and Erik Lis hit a double.
- Beloit 6, Burlington 4 – James Beresford went 3-4 with a walk and his 18th double. Wang-Wei Lin hit his fifth and sixth doubles. Steve Liddle added his 12th home run. Clint Dempster started and gave up four runs (2 earned) on seven hits and a walk. He struck out three in five innings. Brad Stillings came on and gave up one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings. He struck out five. Eliecer Cardenas picked up the save with a scoreless ninth.
- Elizabethton 9, Bluefield 6 – Danny Ortiz had a big game! He was 3-5 with his 13th doubles, his ninth and tenth homers and four RBI. Oswaldo Arcia went 3-5 with his fourth steal. Kyle Knudson went 2-3 with two walks. Andy Leer was 2-5 with his 14th double. Jean Mijares made the start and gave up two runs on five hits in five innings. He walked just one and struck out nine. Adam Achter made his professional debut and gave up four runs on five hits in 1.1 innings. But of the four outs he got, three came on strikeouts! BJ Hermsen got the next five outs. Jose Gonzalez struck out two in a scoreless inning for his sixth save.
- New Britain, Ft. Myers and the GCL Twins all had games postponed by rain.
Any questions or comments on the Twins or the minor league system? Feel free to leave your questions and comments here.