Minnesotans have quickly grown fond of Target Field. You can include Florida-transplant Denard Span in that category as well.
While at the new stadium, the Twins center fielder has amassed a .367/.537/.467 batting line in just 41 plate appearances while hitting a home-sickly .154/.237/.212 in 61 plate appearances away from Target Field. After Span opened the year with a 4-for-28 (.142) start in Anaheim and Chicago, his road split was even further exacerbated on the most recent tour of the country as the leadoff man has once again gone 4-for-28 (.142) since the Cleveland series at home concluded.
Without question, Span’s absence from the offense is detrimental and has been a reason why the Twins have split the six games between the Royals and Tigers. In the nine games at Target Field, Span averaged a run per game but due to his truancy from the base paths, he has scored just one run in the past six. Not surprising, the Twins gone from scoring 5.4 runs per game in the homestand to scoring 4.6 runs in Kansas City and Detroit (still above average but a drop-off nonetheless).
Even though the home/away splits might suggest Span isn’t happy with spending his nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Overland Park, his lowly road numbers appear to be the consequence of a suppressed BABIP in general. After putting together consecutive seasons of producing significantly higher BABIPs than the average, he is experiencing the inverse this year – his .264 BABIP is far below the .287 league norm. This digression from his career norm is a product of an increase in ground balls and their subsequent conversion into outs:
Span and the Gounder
Span’s BABIP on GB
AL BABIP on GB
*Data from Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com
In his first two seasons at the major league level, he had hit around 53% of the total balls in play on the ground. And up until this year, it has work for the speedy Span. In addition to finding more seams in the defense, he also legged out 23 infield hits (10th most in baseball) to supplement his numbers. This year, his ground ball rate is the third-highest in baseball (behind only Derek Jeter and Michael Bourn). At the same time, the inflation in his ground ball output has come at the expense of his line drive rate, which has plummeted to a career-low 13%. So not only has Span experienced the bitter pains of batted ball hard luck, he’s also not producing the trajectory type that typically winds up as hits 70% of the time. It is quite the double-whammy.
To be sure, there has been nothing wrong with his fundamental approach in 2010. Span has added great value through his patience at the plate, as his keen zone acumen has resulted in a copious amount of walks (16). This has led to a .360 on-base percentage heading into Thursday’s game. In all, his 2010 plate discipline numbers are on par with the rest of his career meaning he isn’t suddenly chasing after bad pitches or missing more than usual. Likewise, his well-hit average of .207 is in line with the league average (.208) so he is putting the ball in play solidly.
With a very good comprehension of the strike zone, quick wrists and strong ability to make contact, Span’s overall numbers are tied to the current fortunes of the bouncing ball. As the batted ball numbers begin to correct themselves over the course of a larger sample, he should regain his status as one of the lineup’s main run contributors.