For stretches of his Nationals tenure, Denard Span has been maligned for his declining on-base percentage atop the team’s lineup. His .327 on-base percentage last season was just below league average for a leadoff hitter, and had declined from previous seasons.
This month, Span has made great strides to dispel those notions. He entered July with 22 walks. And in 23 games this month, he has drawn 16. Only two hitters in baseball — traditionally high on-base-percentage players Paul Goldschmidt and Giancarlo Stanton — have drawn more walks than Span.
During the Nationals’ nine-game roadtrip alone, Span walked 10 times, including a four-walk game on Sunday in Cincinnati and a two-walk effort on Wednesday in Miami.
“I think it just comes from being in a good position to hit,” Span said. “Obviously that results in me seeing the ball better. It’s been a good feeling because I haven’t walked like this in a while. I know that this is something I’m capable of doing. My walks have been down the last three or four years. It’s just good that I’ve been able to see a lot of pitches and confident to hit with two strikes and just trusting myself just to get into deeper counts.”
Span’s more upright batting stance this month has propelled him into this scorching hot stretch. He is hitting .363 (33 for 91) with four doubles this month. His season slash line is up to .288/.348/.393, better than the league average leadoff hitter this season (.268/.329/.395). His on-base percentage is now third-best on the team behind Jayson Werth (.374) and Adam LaRoche (.368).
Span is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (25 percent compared to 28.1 percent last season) and making more contact on pitches inside the zone (96.2 percent compared to 95.3 percent last season), according to FanGraphs.com. His line drive rate is up to a career-high 28 percent, the best indicator of Span’s is hitting better.
“I’m in a pretty good position to hit,” Span said. “I think that’s allowing me to see the ball a lot sooner, a lot better and lay off some good pitchers’ pitches, and put the balls in play that are strikes.”
Take Span’s final at-bat in Wednesday’s narrow win as an example. In the top of the ninth, the Nationals had a 4-1 lead. Span came up with two outs and one on. Left-handed reliever Dan Jennings was on the mound. Span didn’t give in in a crucial situation. He fouled off five pitches and took a close ball four for a walk. He worked Jennings for 10 pitches.
“I was not giving away that at-bat,” Span said. “I was obviously going up there trying to get a hit. Just grinding away an at-bat. Hoping to get a double to get Danny in. Just grinded a walk to get [Anthony] Rendon up, a righty vs lefty. That’s me right there. When I’m doing stuff like that, 10-pitch at-bats, getting on base, stealing and scoring runs. That’s my game.”