• A Spantastic start to his season

    Heading into the 2012 season, the Twins had plenty of question marks throughout the lineup. Among those unanswered questions was center fielder Denard Span.

    The concern was Span, like Justin Morneau to a lesser extent, would be unable to play consistently throughout the season at a high level. After all, Spanís concussion in the middle of the 2011 season sidelined him for an extended period of time and, when he returned for 14 games in August and September, he provided minimal production, going 7-for-53 (.132) with 10 strikeouts to three walks.

    Nevertheless, the Twinsí leadoff hitter has had a fast start to the season, setting the tables like never before. In addition to an impressive batting average (.333) and a decent amount of extra base hits (7), heís reaching base at a very good .373 clip which gives the heart of the order someone to attempt to drive home.

    What makes Span such a valuable asset at the top of the Twinsí order is his outstanding plate discipline. For starters, he rarely expands the strike zone, instead shows off an amazing amount of restraint. According to Fangraphs.comís Plate Discipline statistics, Span has chased after just 19.6% of all out-of-zone pitches which is well below the 28.9% league average.

    By not offering at out-of-zone pitches, Span is confident that he is putting mostly in-zone pitches into play. These types of choice pitches are often within a hitterís swing zone and result in more square contact. Because of this, it is not surprising to see that Span has maintained his second highest line drive output (23%) since his first season with the Twins. Whatís more is that his 10% fly ball rate is the lowest in baseball at this juncture and he has yet to hit an infield fly ball. These are all signs of a hitter who is seeing the ball extremely well and putting the ball into play extremely well.

    Part of what is driving his success this year is his ability to go the other way rather than pulling the ball. Thereís no question that he is a rare offensive specimen is his quick wrists and patience. He can wait until the pitch is almost in the catcherís mitt only to flick his wrists and send a screaming line drive somewhere on the left side of the field. However, when Span becomes too pull happy, he winds up turning over those quick wrists and grounding out (he has a 73% ground ball rate when pulling the ball) a trait we saw far too often in his 2010 campaign.

    However, there are signs that Span, now a veteran with four major league seasons under his belt, is adapting and making changes to his approach for the better.

    NOTE: For whatever reason, TwinsDaily.com does not seem to have .gif capabilities. Please visit the post at the Star Tribune's TwinsCentric page to see the video clips.

    Compare his 2011 approach to the two clips below from 2012. In 2011, although he is going to opposite field with the pitch, he is doing so more with his upper body rather than with his legs and hips:
    Meanwhile, in 2012, watch his back leg as he draws it back towards the first base side, directing his hips towards the left side of the field:



    Pitchers have stared the 2012 season by peppering the outer half of the zone to Span. To his credit, he has succeeded by giving what they pitch him and driving the ball towards left. This is why 39% of the balls he puts into play wind up headed towards the opposite field, well above his career rate of 28%.

    Soon enough, however, teams will likely adjust their approach to Span and attempt to bust him inside more often in attempts to keep him from focusing on going away with every pitch. The Royals, while their pitching staff is struggling worse than the Twins, have moved towards using video scouting more often than in-person scouting. If the Royals advanced video scouts have picked up on this, they may implement a game plan this weekend that will result in Span being pitched inside more frequently.

    Watch for Span to continue to go away with pitches out over the plate but keep in mind Kansas City will likely attempt to shut him down by busting him inside.
    This article was originally published in blog: A Spantastic start to his season started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Sending me to the Strib to see your video clips feels like cruel and unusual punishment.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      I know, I completely agree. How dare I send you over there to use up one of your precious few "free clicks", right? In all honesty, we need to remedy that so I can post the video clips here.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Love this stuff Parker. I guess when I watch Span hit, I don't see him using his legs at all to generate any of the force behind his swing, or at least, not nearly in the way most players do. I see a swing that's all arms and wrists (but very quick ones). To me, this is why he goes the other way so much and often times inside-outs pitches on the inner half. His front foot always stays planted perpendicular with the batter's box through his swing (stays closed), instead of opening up to get hip rotation, which will also tends to help you go the other way more often and get better outer-half plate coverage. Not worried at all about Span at this point.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Good to see Span healthy and productive again. Nice thing is that he is actually hitting lefties this season in an ok clip (like he has always done before last season.) Could be a good building block, could be a better trading block; we'll see how it ends up.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great article, and I feel Span is one of the most under-apprecited MN sports figures ever. The guy is a legit top 10 CF, and I don't get the concept of trading him for relief pitching, or anything else than an elite starting prospect...I don't get it.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      ...one of your precious few "free clicks...
      That and I don't own a super computer or have unlimited amounts of free time. I don't know much about computers but I do know this, back in the early 80's I designed on a computer with 4 megs ram. On large drawings it would sometimes take a full minute or more to change views. Now I draw with 2000 megs and get real time response for all but my very largest drawings. But I go on the strib's site now and it takes way way too long to flip pages. That may have to do with my security software...I don't know. And I really don't care. Because between that and my opinion of the general tone of their blogs and reader comments, that site has become insufferable to me.

      I think I may be in a bitchy mood this morning.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      @Paul - I did link to it to save you time but here it is again if you wish to peruse it: http://www.startribune.com/sports/tw...149188805.html
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Good to see Span healthy and productive again. Nice thing is that he is actually hitting lefties this season in an ok clip (like he has always done before last season.) Could be a good building block, could be a better trading block; we'll see how it ends up.
      Span is one of the last guys I'd like to see traded. Most teams, except the wealthiest who can try to assemble an all-star team, need to try to acquire above-average talent at some of their positions, and aim for average for the rest, to try to compete for a World Series. Span is one of those above-average players at his position, along with Mauer and (hopefully) Morneau and Willingham. (Signing Jamey Carroll would be an example of "just try not to hurt us" averageness.)

      Span also has the good contract that leaves you leeway for the rest of the roster - whatever griping we may have about the $100M budget, Span is part of the solution and not part of the problem there.

      Sure, if some team knocks you over with an offer, you have to listen - that's true of everyone on the roster. But to think replacing an above average CF is easy, is the path to long-term mediocrity, not improvement. I hope no one thinks Denard Span is to Ben Revere as Anthony John Pierzynski was to Joe Mauer.
    1. TwinsFanLV's Avatar
      TwinsFanLV -
      What about the bottom of the ninth, Wednesday night, down a runm when he struck out to end the game? Was that Spantastic?

      All of these stats are pure b.s. Winners get the job done when it matters. If I managed the team, Span wouldn't be in tonight's lineup.
    1. TwinsFanLV's Avatar
      TwinsFanLV -
      Slight correction: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, BASES LOADED, Span strikes out. Twins are 5-14 (The only stat the really matters).
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      What about the bottom of the ninth, Wednesday night, down a runm when he struck out to end the game? Was that Spantastic?

      All of these stats are pure b.s. Winners get the job done when it matters. If I managed the team, Span wouldn't be in tonight's lineup.
      Yeah, because one at bat is a true representation of Span's actual skill set.
    1. ssp833's Avatar
      ssp833 -
      No slight correction allowed - you messed up your chance to make your point by leaving out the details. You're out of the lineup tonight.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by TwinsFanLV View Post
      If I managed the team, Span wouldn't be in tonight's lineup.
      I'm gonna jump out on a limb and say there's a pretty direct correlation and causation between that statement and the fact that you don't, in fact, manage the team.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Sure, if some team knocks you over with an offer, you have to listen - that's true of everyone on the roster. But to think replacing an above average CF is easy, is the path to long-term mediocrity, not improvement. I hope no one thinks Denard Span is to Ben Revere as Anthony John Pierzynski was to Joe Mauer.
      No, I do not think that Revere is as good as Span is at this point... Span is a 2-3 win player, Revere is an 1.5-2.5 win player. So I think that the biggest drop is like 1-2 wins. Adding a 2-3 win pitcher and maybe another 2-3 win player, it will be an overall win for the Twins this season and beyond, if you factor Revere in this season or Benson/Hicks/Morales later...

      They are 2 things that worry me about Span (and I do like him a lot, but you got to sell high) : a. his BB% has been dropping the last few years (he seems more aggressive and less patient - and the numbers confirm that. His PAs average 3.75 Ps vs close to 3.9 a couple years ago, and his out of zone swinging % has been increasing) and b. he seems to have mental lapses on the bases occasionally (and I looked it up to confirm it and has negative base running runs recently.) I know it is nit picking on a good player, but they got to sell high to fill other holes since they can quasi replace him (at least after this season for sure). This team has been selling low on everyone (Young, Slowey, Mijares, etc) and it is about time they stop doing that.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      Revere is an 1.5-2.5 win player.
      This is the source of our disagreement and I doubt we'll get past it.
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Parker, thanks for the link. I didn't see your original link in the article and appreciate you reposting it to help a guy with my vast powers of observation.

      Very unusual swing that kid's got. I normally drag my rear foot forward a bit so I thought since my foot is mobile I'd try moving it like him. Boy did that feel weird. I wonder if that came naturally or if he developed it. Do you know?
    1. TwinsFanLV's Avatar
      TwinsFanLV -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Yeah, because one at bat is a true representation of Span's actual skill set.
      5-14 is reflective. Teams don't pay players for statistics. Fans don't buy tickets for statistics. Every single Twins fan at Target Field, Wednesday, was paying to see a win, not hear a bunch of excuses.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      They are 2 things that worry me about Span (and I do like him a lot, but you got to sell high) : a. his BB% has been dropping the last few years (he seems more aggressive and less patient - and the numbers confirm that.
      That could be a red flag, but throw out the mess that was last year, (and I'm only playing devil's adovcate here) perhaps he has been told to be more agressive this year seeing as the team has a legit OBP guy batting behind him in Carroll this seaon.
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