Friday, June 18, 2010

What is wrong with Denard Span?

When looking at the roster of the 2010 Minnesota Twins, one would be able to find a handful of players that have underachieved through the first 66 games of the season.

Joe Mauer's lack of power, Jason Kubel's lack of batting average, J.J. Hardy's non-existent offensive production, and Jesse Crain's lack of consistency out of the bullpen are all issues that have plagued the Twins throughout the 2010 regular season.

However, perhaps the most disappointing and surprising struggle that has appeared for the Twins has been that of Denard Span. Span, who emerged onto the scene two seasons ago in 2008 to become this team's everyday center fielder and leadoff man, has had a decent season thus far - but it certainly has not met expectations set forth by himself, the Twins, and the fans.

Span's current line of .278/.351/.359 is not bad, but it certainly leaves plenty to be desired. Among all qualified Major League Baseball Center Fielders, Span has the 18th best wOBA - after having the 3rd best wOBA a season ago.

Back in early May, Over the Baggy's Parker Hageman talked about Span's hand placement within his swing and how it had been affecting his ability to elevate the baseball. It was a legitimate concern for Span, but he seemed to right the ship by hitting .353/.403/.462 during the month of May - following a brutal April in which he hit just .211/.339/.278.

In the month of April, despite his struggles, Span still managed to find himself getting on base at a decent clip. Not great, but decent; and in May, he was one of the best hitters in the American League. However, the month of June has been a brutal one for Span. Granted it has been just 58 at-bats, Span has been Nick Punto-esque as far as his offensive production is concerned.

In the month of June, Span is hitting just .224/.250/.276, including a 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio - that included a 1-for-26 road trip to begin the month of June.

So one needs to ask - what is wrong with Span so far in 2010?

Well, after dissecting the basic numbers, let's take a look deeper into Span's 2010 season.

BB%: 9.3% (10.4% in 2009)
K%: 11.6% (15.4% in 2009)
ISO: .082 (.104 in 2009)
wOBA: .330 (.359 in 2009)
BABIP: .309 (.353 in 2009)
GB/FB: 2.41 (1.89 in 2009)

If you notice, I highlighted two different statistics that are the most significant. One, which is Span's ground ball-to-fly ball ratio has jumped significantly since 2009. Span's GB% has jumped to 58.2% after sitting at 53.1% in 2009. In addition to that, Span has seen his FB% drop from 28.1% to 24.1% over the last year.

So what does that mean? Well, it leads into the other statistic that I highlighted - Span's batting average on balls in play. As you can see, it has dropped - and dropped significantly. Why? Well, Span has been giving himself less opportunity for balls to 'grab some green' as he has pounded the ball into the ground more often than not - resulting in easy out opportunities for the opponent.

The AL average for BABIP is .297 thus far in 2010 - so Span remains above average in that department, but the increase in GB% has obviously been an issue towards Span's production so far in 2010.

Could it be his hand placement, as Hageman dissected earlier? Possibly. I would love to see an updated breakdown of this.

Another issue that has plagued Span is a lack of plate discipline. Despite walking 17 times in 90 AB's during the month of April, Span has walked just 2 times in 58 June at-bats. As you may have noticed above, Span has seen his BB% drop by almost one-third when compared to 2009 - and it has been become more an issue over the last two months.

So what does this all mean? Well, while a number of Span's statistics are very similar to his first two seasons at the Major League level, there has most certainly been in a change in Span's approach at the plate. While his contact numbers remain similar both within the zone and out of it, Span is no longer walking as much as he had been - as well as his batted ball placement has changed as well.

Span is an important part of this team's offense - that is pretty obvious. In the month of June, the Twins have scored one less run than their season average (3.6 to 4.6 rpg), with Span's struggles (especially on the road) being a huge part of that.

With the Twins lead in the American League Central down to just 1.5 games over the Detroit Tigers, the Twins are in for a fight - meaning they will need Span to return to the Span of old in order to remain in contention for a division championship.

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