After a rough start to the 2014 season, many, including me, questioned whether Denard Span should be replaced as the Washington Nationals leadoff hitter. Then the calendar turned to July, and anyone who had concerns should have been mollified. People have spoken about how Span has been crucial to the team’s success, but after looking at the numbers, I’m shocked at just how good he’s been.
Over the season’s first three months, Span posted a .265/.312/.388 slash line. While that’s major league caliber, the .312 OBP is nowhere near where you want your leadoff hitter. Since July 1, no one on the Nats has been hotter, and few people in baseball have been better, posting a .377/.455/.421 line. On the surface, those numbers are impressive enough. The company that Span joins with those numbers makes it even more staggering.
Among MLB center fielders, no one has been more valuable than Span over the last month. With 1.4 WAR in that time, he’s been more valuable than names like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Gomez. Take a moment to consider that. Clearly, I’m not saying that Span is better than those players as a whole, but he has been over the last month, and that not the world’s smallest sample.
Only Chicago White Sox “rookie” slugger Jose Abreu has gotten on base at a higher clip over the last 30 days, and he leads by just four points (.472 to .468). Compared with all major leaguers in that period, Span has been the fourth-most valuable player in baseball, trailing only Abreu, Jason Heyward, and Carlos Santana. That’s pretty good company. Span also has a strikeout rate below 10% on the season, so even when he’s struggling, he’s putting the ball in play.
The Nationals have an option on Span for the 2015 season worth $9 million. Given his late-season successes over the past two years, it’d be hard to imagine Mike Rizzo not picking up such an inexpensive option on Span. Even if the Nats center field prospect Michael Taylor is MLB-ready to start the season, it’s hard to imagine him bringing more value than Span.
All statistics are from FanGraphs with value determinations by fWAR.