We've played a month of baseball. Denard Span was signed to play at least 18 months of baseball, hopefully with some postseason months added on. We've seen five percent of Span's Giants career. Five percent into the Watchmen movie, I was sure it was going to be the greatest movie ever. Five percent into that sandwich I got once with a fingernail in it, I hadn't discovered it had a fingernail in it.
Five percent into almost anything, you have very little idea of how the other 95 percent is going to go, good or bad.
So this isn't to slam Span or say he's hopeless. That's silly. He has an above-average OBP and more walks than strikeouts. Those are good, positive signs, especially coming from a player who missed so much time last year.
And this isn't about his defense, which is getting predictably confusing marks. UZR hates him, DRS thinks he's alright, and dWAR is actually positive. The eyeball test matches perfectly with the Inside Edge scouting: He's not going to make extraordinary plays, but he'll make all of the close ones. That's an improvement for the Giants, and we're happy to have it.
This is just a note about Span's start, and how I'm hoping this isn't the player the Giants are getting for the next three years. The good news is that I'm fairly sure it isn't, not unless his various maladies have changed his swing and/or approach. Because something's different about this version of Span.
To the stat cave!
If you've noticed that Span seems to be rolling over a lot of balls to second base, you're not alone. Whenever a left-handed hitter makes you think, "Aubrey Huff in 2011!", he's probably doing something wrong. The stats agree that something is different. Let's start with line-drive percentage, which can be a temperamental stat that relies on different humans to determine what is or isn't a line drive. But the ball isn't coming off his bat this year as it was in 2015, so it checks out.
|Line drive %||21.5||23.9||23.9||17.9|
That could be anything from a mechanical problem to general fatigue one feels when recovering from a gila monster bite. The same goes with his rate of soft contact:
|Soft contact %||19.1||21.1||19.7||25.5|
We can see that he's hitting the ball without as much force as he'd like, but that rate is easily the worst of his career. He was a much slighter individual when he came up with the Twins, which is completely expected, but he was still hitting the ball harder than he has been in the first month of the season.
It probably wasn't a gila monster bite, though. He's just pull-happy.
|% of balls hit to opposite-field||27.9||28.7||31.4||22.4|
There we go. Stats and eyes, working together surprisingly well, like french fries dipped in a milkshake! He's not getting pitched differently, but the results are much different. He's pulling the ball more, and it's leading to more grounders.
|Ground ball %||52.6||46.2||50.5||57.9|
Grounders probably aren't the goal for any hitter, save for maybe a couple different Billys around baseball. Span is hitting more of them, with fewer line drives.
Conclusion? Dunno, seems like something that can happen over a four-week stretch and be forgotten with a different, improved four-week stretch. The eye is still there. Nothing is different with his contact rates or swing rates. And eventually, the hope is that he'll start slapping the ball to left more and pulling the balls he should be pulling.
It's the likeliest scenario. A physical problem that would lead to this seems far less likely than a swing or approach that needs retooling. It happens to every hitter, so I'm pretty sure we shouldn't freak out over a lackluster Span span.
Just think about what the lineup will look like if Span gets hot. It's a beautiful, hopefully achievable dream.