Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scouting Report: Denard Span

Denard Span had a breakout year in 2014. He was the table setter at the top of the lineup the Nationals hoped he would be when they brought him over in a trade with the Twins. The league responded to Span’s breakout by changing up their approach in pitching to him mid-season.

In the first half the year, Span saw a lot of fastballs: 48% from lefties and 38% from righties. On first pitches, he got 61% fastballs from lefties and 45% from righties. When Span was ahead in the count, he got 59% fastballs from lefties and 49% from righties. Clearly, the book on Span was to challenge him with heat early and often. No one was afraid of Span’s power (or lack thereof) and pitchers were happy to let Span try and slap a fastball rather than try and fool him with off speed pitches. After Span’s hot streak, the book changed. He started seeing less fastballs (down to 39% from lefties, overall, and 34% from righties with corresponding decreases in first pitch fastballs and fastballs when Span was ahead in the count). Instead, pitchers gave him a higher dose of fastballs with movement: cutters and sinkers. He still didn’t get a lot of off speed pitches, as pitchers didn’t change their frequency of offerings of curves/sliders.

While Span stopped seeing as many fastballs, the locations of where pitchers put those fastballs also saw a shift. The following graphics show all fastballs Span faced during the first half the year from left handed pitchers and righties, respectively:

A lot of strikes, obviously, but a clear tendency to keep the ball on the outer half and even outside to Span. Span adjusted to this during the season, spraying some of those outside pitches to the opposite field successfully. Now take a look at the location of fastballs Span saw in the second half of the season from lefties and righties:


Still a lot of strikes, but there is clearly an outlier here. Whereas in the first half of the season, Span saw practically zero fastballs inside, both lefties and righties started mixing up their pitches with fastballs tight under the hands to Span in the second half of the year. He was still getting a steady diet of fastballs away, so these pitches inside were to keep him honest and to keep him from gearing up for the outside pitches.

For completeness sake, here are the off speed pitches Span saw in the second half of 2014 from lefties and righties and changeups from righties (he saw so few changeups from left handed pitchers the graphic isn’t all the meaningful):