Can Denard Span Solve the Giants' Center Field Problem?
The San Francisco Giants hope they've found someone that can span their massive outfield for the next few years.
Yes, I promise I'll log off after you're done reading this.
On Thursday, the Giants signed former Washington Nationals center fielder Denard Span to a three-year, $31 million contract, good for an average annual value of just over $10 million a season. It is expected Span, who will be 32 years old next season, will be the team's starting center fielder.
It's a low-cost move for San Francisco that could work out very nicely for them, given the hole they had there last year and the relatively cheap contract in terms of years and dollars. However, the deal will largely depend on whether Span can stay healthy or not.
Last year, Span played in just 61 games for the Nationals and accumulated a mere 275 plate appearances, the fewest since he became an everyday Major Leaguer in 2008. He suffered from a hip problem that shut him down for virtually all of the final three months of last year. When he did play, he was still effective, batting .301/.365/.431, a slash line right in line with what he has done with the Nats in the two years previous.
When healthy he's a table-setter, a guy who makes a lot of contact and generates a lot of extra base hits. Although he had just 17 doubles and no triples last year, he had 39 doubles and eight triples in 2014 and a league-leading 11 triples and 28 doubles in 2013. And he also had a decent walk rate (9.1%) for a guy who isn't much of a threat to hit the ball out of the park.
His weighted runs created (wRC+) of 120 last year was right in line with the 117 he put up last year, and from 2012-2014, Span was worth 3.4, 3.4 and 4.0 fWAR.
In other words, when he's healthy, he's been one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. But is he healthy? Span recently took to Twitter to prove his hip is doing just fine now.
I'm jus sayin 👆🏾🙏🙌🏾 pic.twitter.com/b7QYRXfSuR
— Denard Span (@thisisdspan) January 4, 2016
The Giants certainly hope he's healthy, because if he is, he'll help shore up an area that was a big problem for San Francisco last year.
Lowest OPS From CF - National League Teams Last Season Reds .541 Giants .679
Denard Span: .778 OPS in last 2 seasons
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 8, 2016
Last season, Angel Pagan played 123 games in center and put up a slash line of .262/.303/.332 with an OPS of .635, hitting 21 doubles, three triples and three homers. Gregor Blanco also saw some time in center, hitting .289/.378/.415 in 43 games there, but was a substandard defender, more suited to a corner outfield spot on a part-time basis.
With the exception of his injury-ravaged season last year, Span has held his own against left-handers, hitting .269/.337/.357 against them in 2014, and he has a slash of .274/.351/.365 against left-handers for his career.
And from 2012-2014, Span has batted .285 as a lead-off hitter, tied for fifth-best in baseball during that "span" among players with at least 1,000 plate appearances. His .339 OBP during that stretch was ninth-best among lead-off hitters, his 68 stolen bases were tied for third, his 23 triples were second and his 100 doubles were far and away the most of any other lead-off man (Ian Kinsler's 85 were second-most).
But that was all when Span was healthy. If he can maintain that health in 2016 and beyond, the Giants will have gotten themselves a steal in Span, as they embark on their quest for yet another even-year World Series title.