Friday, August 13, 2010

A look at Denard Span's walk drought

To say that Denard Span has had a rough 2010 season might be a significant understatement.
Spring training started with him lacing a foul shot off of his own mother, then he got off to a slow start brought on by struggles to hit on the road and, to top it off, teammate Orlando Hudson taught him what the capital of Thailand is at full speed. Now, he hasn’t drawn a walk in over a fortnight.
Although his walk rate has never been particularly outstanding, it has remained above average in his first two seasons with the Twins. This ability to coax a walk gave Span a two-pronged threat at the top of the order, able to reach base either through a hit or a walk thereby supplying him with an on-base rate of near 40%. However, this season is the first in which his walk rate has dipped below the league’s norm and with it, so too has his on-base percentage suffered.
Over the course of the past two weeks, the Twins have witnessed Span’s OBP slowly erode. After scratching his way back to a .350 OBP with a decent month of July, that figure has since plunged down to a new low of .336 for Span. This decline is due in part because of a depressed BABIP but also responsible is the dip in his walk rate. In the past 13 games played Span has not been dealt a free pass in a stretch of 59 plate appearances, by far his longest stint without one since coming up from Rochester in ’08.
The explanation for this recent disappearance in his walks is because opponents are attacking the strike zone early in the count more frequently. Since the date of his last free pass, teams have started him off with a strike in 57% of his plate appearances. What’s more is that since August 1st, pitchers have been increasingly aggressive, throwing him a strike in over 70% of his plate appearances and putting him in the pitcher’s debt immediately.
After the first pitch
Count 0-1
Count 1-0
Through July 27th
July 27th – August 11th
As you can see, part of this is self-inflicted as Span has opted to watch more initial strikes pass by then he did earlier in the season: 
Span’s first pitch taken
Through July 27th
July 27th – August 11th
For the most part, Span has been a very patient hitter in his career. Since arriving at the major league level, the Twins outfielder has demonstrated a keen understanding of the strike zone and has avoided chasing after pitches that fail to enter that regulated airspace. According to, in the past three calendar years Span has offered at just 18.4% of all out-of-zone pitches, the seventh-lowest in baseball during that time. This is notable not only because not swinging at potential balls is a prerequisite for a walk, but also leads to more favorable counts for the hitter.
With this aspect of his game removed, Span has been forced to hit his way aboard often behind in the count – a proposition that has been equally as difficult in that time. Since July 27th when he last walked, Span is 14-for-57 (.246). This absence on the base paths has resulted in Span scoring just four runs in those past 13 games. By comparison, Hudson, who bats directly behind Span, has scored five times in the past four games alone. As the top of the lineup fixture, the Twins need Span to figure out ways to get on the bases regularly in order to become a run-producing force he has been in the past.