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Span’s Baserunning

If you feel like I’ve been posting about Denard Span a lot, you’re right! That’s what you get for having a CF-playing leadoff hitter who keeps doing interesting things like running his own Twitter account and signing team-friendly extensions and such. So deal with it.

This time around, it’s Span’s speed and baserunning ability that step to the foreground. Buster Olney passes along some quick bits from Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information (insider only):

“Span stole only 23 bases last season (tied for 32nd in MLB), but that statistic really doesn’t give a complete picture of his baserunning ability. According to, Span accumulated 29 Bases Taken (includes bases advanced on fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks and defensive indifference), the second-highest total in the majors last season. Here’s the list of the highest from last season:

David Wright – 31
Denard Span – 29
Troy Tulowitzki – 27
Dexter Fowler – 27

Here’s another impressive stat for the speedy Span: He had a .667 batting average on bunts (10 hits, 15 at-bats), which is nearly double the major league average of .376.

As I understand it, Fangraphs’ WAR does not include baserunning, which means these Bases Taken increases Span’s actual value significantly, and I didn’t take it into account when determining whether his contract was a good one.

The aggressive base-taking skills combined with the excellent speed that it takes to go 10/15 on bunts should mean that Span has the ability to steal considerably more than 23 bases in a season; of course, base stealing is a skill that Denard may not have developed yet, but I’d be curious to see what he can do once he does.

While it’s generally considered a bad idea to try to steal bases with your best hitters at the plate (because you don’t want to take the bat out of their hands), it seems to me that the fact that Orlando Hudson and Joe Mauer both ground into a ton of double plays should encourage the Twins to work with Span-the-speedy-onbase-machine to take the next step in becoming the ultimate leadoff hitter, and start stealing second base to take the GIDP off the list of possibilities for Hudson’s and Mauer’s plate appearances.

So what do you think? Should Span be trying to steal more? How many bases do you think he’s capable of stealing in a season? 30? 40? Let me know in the comments.


10 Comments so far

  1. John March 19th, 2010 2:12 pm

    Some really good ideas here. Span is NOT going to steal with no outs. I disagree with your logic.

    Let’s say Span steals 25 bases next season (out of lets say 35) – this not an unrealistic estimate. That’s him getting caught 28% of the time.

    Joe Mauer grounded in to 13 DP’s out of 125 Opp. (roughly 10%) out of all of the Starters Joe Mauer has the 2nd highest Productive Out Percentage (behind, you guessed it, D. Span). He’s also got the highest percentage of Base Runners Scored for a full time member (Delmon Young is inhead of him… somehow)

    So what your proposing is that Span steal more with Mauer at the plate (i understand O. Hudson). Which I think is foolish. You have one of the most productive hitters at the plate, I’ll take my chances with the league MVP instead of an up and coming base runner.

    All stats are from

  2. sirsean March 19th, 2010 2:44 pm

    Why shouldn’t Span steal with no outs?

    Secondly, Mauer does put the ball on the ground a lot — call it “run and hit” instead of “stealing with Mauer at the plate.”

    The idea here is to challenge conventional thinking. Span can’t steal with nobody out, which means he’s not going when Hudson’s batting. He also can’t steal with a good hitter at the plate (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Thome), which means when Hudson makes an out (that’s not a GIDP), Span also can’t steal. At this point, that means Span is never stealing.

    And that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

  3. John March 19th, 2010 3:55 pm

    Haha no no no. It means that Span probably wont steal in the 1st inning. He’s not always the first to bat in an inning (obviously). So either there is someone on base in front of him, or there are more than no outs.

    So no, it doesn’t mean Span can never steal.

    It doesn’t challenge conventional thinking, it offers an idea of high-risk – high-reward baseball tactics with one of the best tops of the lineups in baseball.

  4. sirsean March 19th, 2010 4:08 pm

    Good point. But now we’re at the point where the only time you see a steal attempt as effective is “when Span gets to first with one out and nobody on second.” And if Span is really a 70% SB guy, that’s probably often enough. But if Span can harness his speed and aggressiveness with some better basestealing skills (not a given, but is the premise of the article), then I’d say that’s not often enough.

    Maybe the lineup is good enough that steals shouldn’t even be a significant part of the offense. I don’t know if that’s the case, but in case it isn’t, I hope Gardy is willing to pull some baserunning tricks out of his hat.

  5. John March 19th, 2010 5:25 pm

    Haha don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t want him to steal. I just don’t want us to be having to take many more chances than we took last year to get a guy on second with such powerful bats behind him. Of course he should steal. I think he could get 30 this year as a full time player and a maturing one. I just think we need to be careful playing greedy vs. playing Twins baseball.

  6. sirsean March 19th, 2010 6:14 pm

    “Twins baseball” has proved to be a moving target over the course of the decade. The only thing that’s been close to constant, aside from Gardy, has been “winning baseball games” and “losing playoff games.”

    Obviously, when the heart of the lineup is clicking, Span doesn’t have to do anything but get on base — the thing is, I don’t think it’s fair to expect the big hitters to hit big all year long. They’ll go through slumps. And when they do, my hope is that Span’s basestealing skills have developed to the point where he can spark something (in some cases by stealing his way into scoring position).

    At this point, he’s close to the only guy in the lineup with the speed or talent to do it.

  7. John March 19th, 2010 11:57 pm

    Speed yes. Talent? Come on man, I love Span too, but that’s ridiculous. He’s young, still untested. Could he be more talented? absolutely. Do I think he is? Hmmm.. 2 former MVP’s, Cuddyer (another MVP candidate), Kubel (a GREAT baseball player), O. Hud. Sure- He is faster than all of them- but that’s about it. Any guy in that lineup is capable of starting a spark.

    There’s a big difference from what your advocating now to what you were before. Before you wanted Span to steal more right off the bat and generate offense because our 2-4 hitters hit into too many double plays. And now you’re advocating Span to steal more when the offense is in need of a spark. On this I would have to totally agree and throw my Twins hat in the air with a hoorah!

  8. sirsean March 20th, 2010 6:11 am

    He’s 26 years old — as in, not that young any more and nearing his peak years — and has 2 years of experience in the major leagues, every day of which was spent as one of the more productive outfielders in the AL.

    And is it really ridiculous to think he doesn’t have the talent to steal more bases? Obviously he has speed — but being 2nd in the MLB in Bases Taken indicates good, aggressive baserunning.

    If you think it’s “ridiculous” to think that “speed and good, aggressive baserunning” is a good platform on top of which to build a base-stealing skillset, fine. I disagree, and in fact I think it’s precisely the mold from which you want to build your base stealers.

  9. Randy Moist March 21st, 2010 9:31 pm

    What up, love this blog. Got linked to it by a whiny Joe Posnanski article.

    I’d like to point out that Span did not get 10 hits on 15 bunt attempts. He got 10 bunt hits on 27 attempts, check fangraphs. I may be a little confused myself, but I think the discrepancy is either in Sac bunts not counting in AVG or bunts going foul not being counted, or perhaps both. Either way, that .667 AVG looks more like a .370 OBP to me.

    As for Bases Taken, I’m not sure what that tells me, if anything. I think both of these are Olney misusing and cherry-picking stats. He still looks pretty fast, considering speed score and such. And I’m in agreement in regards to being more creative with using his speed, minimizing DPs would be worth some risk.

  10. sirsean March 22nd, 2010 7:31 am

    Hey, I was hoping we’d get some new readers out of that somewhat misguided link from Posnanski. Welcome!

    I think the way people usually look at it is that a sacrifice doesn’t count as an at bat, so to get the denominator in this case you’d look at TOTAL BUNTS – SACRIFICE BUNTS, and divide the BUNT HITS by that; that seems to be where 10/15 came from; obviously it’s possible that some of those bunt hits came on sacrifice attempts, so it’s kind of a tricky mix. But I don’t have a big problem with it.

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