Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Contemplating Denard Span

Check out the averages in Tuesday's starting lineup for the Twins.

Only Drew Butera — who is not a regular and is also not a bona fide major league hitter — had a lower on-base percentage than Denard Span. (Butera was also the only one with a lower slugging percentage, although nobody expects Span to hit for power).

When your leadoff hitter has the lowest OPB of your regulars in late August, something is wrong.

Dick Bremer has noted repeatedly Span's problems on the road. I'm noticing something else — his decline (to roughly league average) with two strikes on him.

Two strikes is a tough time to hit. This year, American League hitters with two strikes — 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, 3-2 — are hitting .186/.259/.279/. Last year, they hit .190/.262/.289.

There is no such thing as a good two-strike hitter. I put that in italics to emphasize the point. Joe Mauer is a career .327 hitter and a notoriously patient hitter. In his career, with two strikes, he hits .259.

Back to Span. Last season, he had 300 plate appearances that reached two strikes — 44.3 percent of his plate appearances (which is considerably less than the league average). In those 300 PA, he went .235/.333/.323 — strong numbers for two strikes.

This year: .193/.266/.249 — and more than 46 percent of his plate appearances (the league average this season is 47.9 percent) are reaching two strikes.

He's getting to two strikes more often, and hitting worse when he gets there. (With less than two strikes, he's hitting .333.)

That's not the sum and total of his decline this season — his baserunning and defense are different issues — but it's a significant part.


  1. The AL average OBP is .329. When eight of your nine players in the lineup have better than average OBP, that says you have a great lineup. Maybe Span shouldn't be leading off, but there have been a lot of statistical studies that show the order is not nearly as important as who is in the lineup. The Twins are second (by one point) to the Yankees in OBP, so they certainly have an excellent lineup.

  2. Ed. I sense a Twins team losing their intensity in a number of ways. Nothing scientific, just the look in their eyes as they go to the plate. More fear and hesitation than fire.

  3. SoCal: Your comment suggests that I wasn't very clear. I agree completely with your points on the lineup: Batting order is overrated, the Twins OBP is strong, etc.

    I'm not suggesting that Span shouldn't be the leadoff hitter. I'm merely looking at one aspect of his disappointing season — disappointing in comparison to what he did in 2008-09, but perhaps not disappointing in comparison to what he did in his minor league days.

    Las year he was one of the best leadoff men in the game. Now I'm wondering what his true level is, and that's not a conclusion I'm going to draw immediately.