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Roster review: Denard Span

Oct 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 30

How acquired: Trade from Twins for RHP Alex Meyer, Nov. 2012

MLB service time: 5 years, 111 days

2013 salary+bonuses: $4.75 million

Contract status: Signed for $6.5 million in 2014, $9 million club option (or $500,000 buyout) in 2015, free agent in 2016

2013 Stats: 153 G, 662 PA, 75 R, 170 H, 28 2B, 11 3B, 4 HR, 47 RBI, 20 SB, 42 BB, 77 SO, .279 AVG, .327 OBP, .380 SLG, .707 OPS, 0 E, 10.2 UZR, 3.5 WAR

Quotable: “Honestly, no matter where I end up, I can look at it already on September 10 and say this is probably my best season of my career. Just considering what I’ve been through. I’ve been through a lot.” — Denard Span, who at the time was 20 games into his career-high, 29-game hitting streak.

2013 analysis: Span arrived in D.C. last winter amid some significant hype, hand-picked by GM Mike Rizzo to stabilize two long-standing problem areas for the Nationals: leadoff hitter and center fielder. But just as the season’s first four months were disappointing for the Nats as a whole, so were they for Span on an individual level. Battling some tweaked swing mechanics, he struggled to get his timing down at the plate, and the result was a .258 batting average and .310 on-base percentage on August 16, with the vast majority of his outs seemingly coming on weak groundballs to the right side of the infield.

And then Span, like the Nationals, suddenly got hot in mid-August and remained that way the rest of the year. He compiled a 29-game hitting streak, longest of his career and only one game shy of Ryan Zimmerman’s club record. The streak ended September 19 with an 0-for-4 night at the plate, but Span remained hot through the season’s final week. Over a 39-game stretch, he hit .338 with a .375 on-base percentage and .834 OPS that left his season totals closely resembling his career norms.

Despite his early offensive struggles, Span never took those woes with him out to center field, where he excelled all season. Perhaps most remarkable about his defensive play: The ease with which he made difficult plays, owing in large part to his stellar reads off the bat.

2014 outlook: If there were any questions about his future with the Nationals, Span answered them during his late-season surge. More comfortable and confident in a new league and with a new team, he should enter 2014 with much more peace of mind.

The Nationals will want to see more consistency from Span from Day One, recognizing his importance to the entire lineup. His ability to get on base creates so many more opportunities for Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth behind him, and it’s no coincidence his late surge coincided with the club’s overall surge.

This will be an important year for Span from a contract standpoint. The Nationals hold a $9 million option on him for 2015. That’s a hefty chunk to pay a leadoff hitter, but if Span performs throughout 2014 as he did during the final six weeks of 2013, he’d certainly give the Nats valid reason to retain him for another season.

  1. nats128 - Oct 9, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    That .327 OBP is still not acceptable for a leadoff man in a full season however a large improvement from when he was at .306 in June.

    The other stain on his season was his poor baserunning which he improved greatly in the 2nd half of the season. Span had the 6 caught stealing and 5 pickoffs vs 20 steals. Not a good percentage. He also had several poor baserunning decisions on getting caught in doubleplays and poor 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home decisions. Again, he was almost perfect in the 2nd half of the season. Like 2 different players.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Span shut WODL up and that’s hard to do.

    Nats128, you hit the mark on what was wrong with his season but you have to like the glimpse we saw at the end of the season. Stealing bases, clutch hits, scoring runs, and frustrating pitchers when he was on base.

    If the Nats got Choo, I would bat Span 8th otherwise Denard stays at leadoff and hope the Span of 2014 is the player we saw at the end of the season.

    Bonus was that his defense improved throughout the season with several game changing plays.

  3. Mrsb loves the Nats - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    128 – Gotta wonder if Schu may have had something to do with it….

    • knoxvillenat - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:47 AM

      Mrsb, I wondered the same thing about Schu’s influence. I will say that if Span can play next year like he did the last 6-8 weeks of this past season, then we have what we need in CF and leading off the batting order. I don’t know that I would bite on the $9.0MM option in 2015 however…..seems like an awful lot of $$$ for that role.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:05 AM

        The transformation was his entire game where he even stepped it up on defense. I remember Denard used to say he never dove for balls and he left his feet for a few in making some remarkable catches in August and September. Schu doesn’t teach baserunning and that improved as well.

        I just saw a back to basics approach of hitting fastballs and hitting them as line drives. Span’s flyball rate was almost an automatic out until August where he popped some HRs and a few doubles and triples off the wall.

        He could really help his game if he could bunt for singles.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    I don’t want Choo. He doesn’t add anything to OF defense, and has a position only if they move Werth to 1B — which I don’t think anyone, including Werth, is ready for. At the 8th spot in the order the things Span is good at are wasted as he is “protected” by only the pitcher. In 2015 Choo might be a worthwhile acquisition (if, for example, the Nats declined their option on Span — but from my observation Choo is a lousy CF) but not for 2014.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      Why would you put Choo in CF? He has limited range. In RF he is a good option. Nats have Span in CF.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:52 AM

        When Choo played RF for the Indians in 2010 he was a +6.1 UZR. Werth was a -8.8 UZR this year.

        2014 projections are starting to come in and Steamer predicts Choo will go from a .423 OBP to a .382. I don’t know about any of you, but I would LOVE that! By the way, Choo stole the same amount of bases that Denard did at 20 but scored 107 runs! Denard only scored 75 and Steamer is unfortunately projecting Denard to regress to 72 runs for 2014.

  5. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Ghost — I think you are unfair to say Span’s late performance was a “glimpse.” Over the last 64 games he was .302/.337/.413. He had better-than-his full-season nos. in July, August and September. He really had only one truly crappola month, June. If you say the last three months are truly representative you have a really good LO man and a top-drawer CF.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      I wasn’t trying to be negative. Using “glimpse” as a look into the future. I love what I saw and it reminded me of the August and September of 2011 that Ian Desmond had.

      I’m feeling good about Span but wouldn’t hesitate to move him to the #8 if Rizzo got Choo. That’s no knock on Denard but you upgrade where you can. Denard certainly is my CF.

      As Mark said in his Beltway video, the hole is at 1st base and IMHO that could affect getting a new OF to move Werth.. Rizzo can upgrade 1st base three ways either through a new 1st baseman acquisition, moving Werth or a platoon of ALR/TyMo.

      Something has to give.

      • Doc - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:49 AM

        So Ghost, I was wondering where Choo would fit into your scheme of things. Not much of a fielder.

        Speaking of fielders, did you see DSpan’s UZR, 10+??? Wonderin’ how that stat fits with other CFers??? Man he was fun watching in the field in ’13.

        Like to see Billy Burns in CF at some point. Guess I’ll have to take a trip to Syracuse or Harrisburg.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:58 AM

        Doc, I just answered you above at 10:52. Choo is a lousy CF but he’s a good RF and according to FanGraphs was a +6.1 UZR in RF in 2010 for the Indians. In comparison Werth was a -8.8 for the Nats this year in RF.

        You have to put your players in their vest positions. The Reds needed a CF with Bruce in RF. I commend Choo for doing what the team asked of him.

  6. sjm308 - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    Hate to use this as a reason to be optimistic about Span but the reality is, both he and LaRoche will be playing for future contracts (its all about the money). I think that will play to the nationals favor although in thinking while I am typing, Morse had that same scenario this past season and failed miserably. I loved Span’s defense from the first week and I think it only got better. I also loved the earlier comment about WODL in that it was frustrating to read post after post about Mr. Spans failures and I was just so glad to see him succeed.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      SJM you must’ve missed yesterday’s revelation that Morse is having wrist surgery. He started 2013 en fuego and then was hit on his wrist. He was never the same the whole season after the injury.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      Also glad you liked my WODL comment. Span unfortunately in June validated the criticism but when he turned around his season in dramatic fashion WODL wouldn’t let up or even compliment him. It became a hatred thing.

      • jd - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Ghost,

        I am a big Choo fan (who wouldn’t want a player who gets on base at almost a .400 clip?) and I also don’t mond the idea of Werth at 1st base but what do you do with the $12 million man you have under contract for 2014? I agree with SJM that LaRoche is likely to have a much better year in 2014 based on his desire to secure another contract. I think Werth to 1st as a worthwhile thought for 2015.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:08 AM

        JD, in reality LaRoche is a big expensive domino. I just don’t have a good vibe on him. I felt he mailed it in for 2013 much the same as the condition he came in for 2011 was a back breaker. If you had to point at 1 guy for the failure of not making the playoffs for 2013 it was LaRoche. It wasn’t just offense, it was defense too.

        Haren played 1 in 5 games, LaRoche was there every game and his final numbers were awful for a premium offensive position.

  7. jd - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    I also want to see Harper moved to right field permanently. I think his arm is wasted in LF and I think he’s an overall better outfielder than Werth right now.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:59 AM

      All stats agree with you. Davey for some reason didn’t make the move.

      • therealjohnc - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        This was discussed in Spring Training. Harper was in LF while learning how to play the OF – when to hit the cutoff man, when to throw through, etc. Even Werth acknowledged that he & Harper would be swapping positions at some point.

    • Jw - Oct 9, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      Werth was fine in right field. For one thing, he knew better than to run into walls.

    • sjm308 - Oct 9, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      Agree totally with this – I wanted Harper to start last year in right. This will be his 3rd position change at the major league level in 3 years but thankfully, he is young enough and talented enough to do just that. I think this will be his final position change for some years to come.

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Span is under contract for some cheap dollars. $6.5 million for Span is pretty much a steal at this point. When healthy, he is putting up 3 WAR. That is likely to cost more than $10 million on open market. Choo, a 31-year old OF will likely cost more than $13 million a year and sign a multi-year deal. GoSM, I do not understand why you are using 2010 RF numbers for Choo, and not his 2012 numbers (which are atrocious btw). I do think that we will eventually need to move Werth from OF but I think it is a bit early. First of all, we have to address the problem of developing good position players.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:55 PM

      Choo I’m RF in 2006 was a +4.9 then in 2007 didn’t play much and was a combined OF at +2.0. In 2008 he was a combined -1.9 and in 2009 a combined -1.0 and then a dramatic improvement to a +6.3 in RF in 2010. In 2011 he was still a +2.1. I can’t explain why his ratings dropped to a -16.7 in 2012. Was he injured? When numbers are skewed that far you have to wonder.

      He isn’t a good CF but he was moved there and did what he was asked to do. Chances are it will make him into a better corner OF for the future.

    • jd - Oct 9, 2013 at 1:34 PM

      Faraz,

      Actually 3.0 WAR pays between $15 mil and $18 mil so yes Span is a bargain and a half and if he puts up decent numbers in 14 we should pick up his extension for 15 . Span isn’t part of the problem he is part of the solution.

      • Joe Seamhead - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:10 PM

        Faraz, I agree.
        Ghost, I loved your WODL comment!

  9. Joe Seamhead - Oct 9, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    Denard Span is the best CF this franchise has ever had. He seemed to have had a tough time getting comfortable at the plate and on the bases, but once he did he showed what he was he was capable of.Gold Glove worthy? I think that he’ll get votes. I disagree with Ghost on Span in that I thought his “D” was infallible all year right out of the blocks.
    As to RF, I think Werth will still get the lion’s share in 2014. Yes, Harper has a better arm, unquestionably. But he still is raw in the OF and he has stated that he doesn’t get good reads in right. Give him another year primarily in left. As to Werth’s future? I personally think that it will be Jayson making the move to 1B, not Ryan Zimmerman.

  10. letswin3 - Oct 9, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    If we were to pick up Choo, I see Werth agreeing to move to first base without a whimper. He agreed to hit leadoff when we needed a leadoff guy, he “explains” the need to cover first base to a defending all-star pitcher, he mentors a kid every day to the nuances of playing the outfield, he played many days when maybe his wrist or hammy were barkin…….the guy is just a “team first” kinda guy. And he understands the dynamics that a change like that could offer too….one, plus one, plus one can sometimes total 4 or 5. We simply can’t depend on ALR at first, and we can’t platoon him there……that pretty much leaves “the highway”. So yes, trade for a first baseman, sign one out of free agency or ask Jason to accept that charge, but don’t risk a promising season to a guy that looks to have little left in the tank.

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