There are still a few fans mad about the Giants choosing Denard Span for their outfield vacancy. It's just like Kris Benson said, "Free agents are just some other words/for ballgames left to lose," and people were sad because there were dingers left on the table. There were rabbit season/duck season debates about Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes, and the Giants somehow figured out how to squeeze another five-homer player onto the roster. It was impressive, really.
Look at the lineup now, though. It makes sense the entire way down. If you're complaining too much about Angel Pagan hitting eighth, you're not thinking about the first seven hitters enough. Also, ha ha, you know Pagan is going to hit second, just deal with it. Regardless, Span is a fine leadoff hitter*, a fast runner who steals bases at a great clip and has more than enough extra-base power* to make pitchers wary*. In his last healthy season, Span hit 39 doubles and eight triples in mostly symmetrical Nationals Park (motto: "A Baseball Park Where Baseball Is Often Played.")
Oh, asterisks. Let's just see what those are about.
Ah, right. Span missed time because of three separate injuries last year after recovering over the offseason from a completely different injury. In December, 2014, span had hernia surgery, and when he got back to baseball activities in March, he toinked his core muscle and needed surgery. He missed time with a back problem (giantsecondbasemantitis) in July and finally had to be shut down for the season after persistent hip problems.
The good news is that if he were completely healthy, he probably would have been twice as expensive, at least, and the Giants might have ran away. The bad news is, well, all of those health problems. That's four substantial injuries in one calendar year. He'll be 32.
Usually when a player is hurt, you get to do a yeah-but when it comes to his deflated numbers. "Yeah, but his thumbs fell off, so you can understand why his OBP fell 100 points. His thumbs are back on, so ..." is an easy pattern for the fan to fall into. Those kinds of correlations fit the limited evidence most of us have at our disposal, considering we're not professional scouts, swing gurus, or doctors. So if Span had a down year in 2015, it would have made a lot of sense, and it would have been appropriate to give him a we-believe-in-you bonus when it came to a projected rebound.
The thing that gets me, though, is that Span was still rather productive despite the hernia/core/back/hip concerns. He was a solid hitter. Excellent, even. He stole 11 bases without being caught. He hit .301, about the same as the previous season, while striking out less and walking more. He hit as many homers (five) as he had in any of the previous five seasons, despite playing just 61 games. If there were lingering injuries from last December that messed him up until he was shut down for the season, it was hard to tell from his batting line.
Span's defense suffered, mind you. Quite a bit according to dWAR, UZR, and DRS, and that doesn't have to be something that good health will fix. They don't have to rebound just because that's the way things were. But we're here to talk about hitting, so we can just skip riiiiight past this uncomfortable section.
I'll clear your mind with this: If Span hits leadoff, and he's followed by Joe Panik and Buster Posey, there's a strong chance that the three of them will combine for fewer strikeouts than Brandon Belt. I'm not necessarily pro-contact or anti-K, at least not as a way to measure a player's worth, but that possible factlet still amuses me. The dying embers of the Belt Wars will never really be extinguished, will they? Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our Belt-loving dead.
Span fits the contact-oriented top of the lineup that the Giants are building, and he should be fun to watch -- think Norichika Aoki with more gap power, but less potential to get lost in the visitor's clubhouse in a different ballpark four states away while rounding third base. You know what Span can do as a hitter. He's been consistent about it, even improving slightly with age.The only question is if you think he'll be healthy.
By law, I'm supposed to embed this:
But hopping over hurdles in January doesn't mean that the wrist, hip, back, or hernia bones will be healthy enough to drive a 95-mph fastball in July. There isn't a lot of specific evidence to suggest Span will be healthy in 2016, and yet there's overwhelming evidence that his body will betray him one day because of age or injury, just like it betrayed Rickey Henderson, Mel Ott, and Frank Robinson. So if you're predicting a healthy Span, you're believing in the postponement of the inevitable because you want to, and you think last season was an aberration because that makes you feel better.
Guilty! Also, I'm predicting a healthier Span because he paid his injury bill in a lump sum last year, which means he doesn't have to make any payments this year. Mostly, though, because I want to.
Denard Span, 2016 projection
Okay, fine, put me down for 10 triples. But if there were ever a season where Pagan's San Francisco-era triples record were threatened, this would be it. I'm bullish on Denard Span's 2016 season. Won't you join me?