When the disappointment of the Washington Nationals 2013 is talked about and
solutions for 2014 bandied about one of the main solutions people have is to
sign a corner outfielder, move Harper to center, and Span to fourth outfielder.
This isn’t a bad idea in some cases. Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz could
both be had on relatively short and cheap deals, but most people don’t want
short cheap deals. They want one of the two Boras clients, Choo or Ellsbury.
Neither of those would be a good signing. Both will cost a draft pick, both
will be expensive, and both will want long term deals, and as far as Choo goes
he is in the midst of one of the better seasons of his career. This is the
exact wrong moment to sign a player as a free agent, especially when they are
represented by Scott Boras.
While it isn’t a bad idea to sign
someone to start in the outfield and have Span as a fourth outfielder, it isn’t
a good idea either. The first year with a new team, in a new league can be a
rough season for many players. The exact reason is unknown but Span is not the
first, nor will he be the last, player to go to a new team and struggle in
their first season; and Span’s struggles have been odd. Against right handed
pitchers he is the player he has always been, but against left handed pitchers
he is different. For his career Span has a .738 OPS against right handers and a
.725 OPS against left handers. Hardly a difference at all, but in 2013 he has a
.763 OPS against right handers and a .426 OPS against left handers. Ask yourself
this question when judging those numbers: what is more telling the 128 plate
appearances in 2013 or the 977 for his career?
2013 is the worst offensive season of
Denard Span’s career. As it would be noted with any player having a career year
in the positive direction it should be noted with one having one in the
negative direction that this type of season is hard to repeat. Regression to
the mean happens in all directions. Span has an OPS against left handed
pitchers nearly .300 points off of his career average. That is a statistical
anomaly if one ever existed, and to despite the offensive woes Span is still
the fourth best position player on the Nats by fWAR. The reason for this is
because baseball is not a game played only in the batter’s box.
Talk to any casual fan about what has
plagued the Washington Nationals and one of the first responses out of their
mouth will be Michael Morse. The team misses Michael Morse. This might be hard
to explain to the common fan but Michael Morse was not a useful player for the
2012 Nats and would have made the 2013 Nats worse. In 2012 Morse had a 0.0 fWAR
meaning he was a replacement level player. He hit plenty of homeruns and was a
good offensive player, but he was horrendous in the outfield, and as a Seattle
Mariner in 2013 Morse has been even worse and is worth only -0.4 fWAR. That is
nearly a two win drop off from Span and his 1.4 fWAR. If looking through
culprits in fWAR the biggest missing piece from 2012 to 2013 is Danny Espinosa
who had 3.4 fWAR in 2012, and Nationals second basemen have combined for -0.4
fWAR in 2013.
Span is a brilliant defender. He
shouldn’t lead off on days the Nationals are facing a left handed pitcher, but
that isn’t on Span. He doesn’t fill out the line-up card. In total both Harper
and Werth have hit better than Morse, and Span has played defense to a degree
that more than makes up for his struggles against right handed pitching. With
all things considered the Washington Nationals 2013 outfield is vastly superior
to the 2012 version. Most of the Nationals issues with every day players is on
the infield, but that is a tale for another time. Denard Span hasn’t been the
lead-off hitter the Nationals have wanted, but he has been the defensive center
fielder they have needed, and giving up on him after one poor season against
left handed pitching would be a mistake.
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