Spanning Is the New Santangeloing: A Brief Review of Washington Hit Streaks

There have been many impressive offensive feats performed in the last few weeks by the Washington Nationals in the midst of their hot streak, which now has them four and a half game out of the last Wild Card spot, currently held by the Cincinnati Reds. Arguably the most impressive of said feats is the 24 (and counting) game hit streak by center fielder Denard Span, which is good for fourth in Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos history, right behind just-retired Vladimir Guerrero and current teammate Ryan Zimmerman, and has propelled the Nats to a 19-7 record during the streak.   Here’s how Span’s streak looks:
 

Rk Strk Start End Games AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SO BB SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
1 Denard Span 2013-08-17 2013-09-13 24 101 16 38 5 2 2 7 12 6 2 1 .376 .413 .525 .938 WSN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 9/14/2013.

 
Not too shabby, eh?   Now, let’s take a walk down (recent) memory lane and take a look at how Span’s production — batting average (BA) and on base plus slugging percentage (OPS) — during his hit streak compares to similar Nats (as in Washington, not Montreal – sorry Canada!) hitting streaks. Moving forward, I am only considering hit streaks of 15 games or more, courtesy of Adam LaRoche, Cristian Guzman, Span, Ian Desmond, HDIB? great Nick Johnson, and Zimmerman:
 
WSN 15+ Game Hit Streaks By BA and OPS
 
Not surprisingly, Span’s batting average is reasonably high, with his OPS reasonably low compared to his fellow Nats streakers, which makes sense, given Span’s lack of power and so-so (for a top of the order hitter) on base percentage. Fair enough.  
 
Something’s missing.  
 
I seem to recall an 18 game hitting streak in there somewhere, in the annals of Washingreal history.  
 
Ahh, yes, F.P. Santangelo told me many many times over the course of Span’s hitting streak once he had an 18-game hitting streak.  
 
Ribbing aside, let’s take a look at Nats 15+ game hitting streaks — along with Santangelo’s 18-gamer — again by batting average and OPS:  
 
WSN 15+ Game Hit Streaks By BA and OPS (and FP)
 
OK, cool — we see some interesting trends here, namely, these guys are going out of their minds not only with their batting averages, but their overall power. Now, let’s break down OPS into its constituent parts — on base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG) and add that to AVG and OPS and then look at these streaks in comparison to each player’s career averages for these four stats, yes?  
 
Difference Between Hit Streak and Career AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS
 
With this, we see that while Santangelo’s hitting streak was impressive, it is definitely the outlier in comparison to the other streaks; his streak production was in such great contrast to what he normally accomplished hitting-wise, even when compared to his fellow streakers. Conversely, Span’s hitting streak, as well as Johnson’s, more closely trend with their career averages.  
 
What does this mean? Probably nothing; while it would be easy to say that the differences between streak averages and career average is some reflection of each player’s inherent hitting talent, that is a bit of a slippery slope and something that the data as presented can’t really speak to. Variables such as opponent defense and even pitching match ups all cloud the data enough to not warrant too many brash statements made about the data here. What is interesting are Zimmerman’s streaks and how he went about each — while some were driven more by his ability to make contact and not much else, others were marked by his ability to generate runs with his swings.  
 
Taking one more step back historically, how does the Washingreal data compare to other teams?  
 
Let me tell you, with the help of Baseball Reference’s Play Index. Looking at the modern era — 1916 to current day — I provide below the number of 15 game or more hitting streaks for each organization. I then averaged them over the years of interest to give an idea how frequently over the franchise’s modern era a big hitting streak occurs:
 

Team Yrs 15+ H Streaks Strk/Yr
STL 93 170 1.83
BOS 94 170 1.81
DET 96 171 1.78
CLE 94 166 1.77
MIN 97 162 1.67
NYY 95 155 1.63
COL 20 31 1.55
TOR 36 54 1.5
BAL 96 142 1.48
SEA 35 49 1.4
TEX 52 72 1.38
LAD 97 132 1.36
MIA 20 27 1.35
SFG 96 127 1.32
CHC 96 125 1.3
OAK 97 125 1.29
CWS 97 123 1.27
CIN 97 121 1.25
LAA 52 63 1.21
ARI 15 18 1.2
KCR 43 51 1.19
ATL 93 109 1.17
MIL 44 51 1.16
PHI 97 111 1.14
WAS 42 42 1
HOU 51 50 0.98
SDP 44 43 0.98
NYM 51 42 0.82
TBR 15 8 0.53

 
Not that Span’s streak wasn’t impressive enough, but the data provided, especially the table above, confirms how special the streak is to the organization; these kinds of streaks, while seen more frequently in the last few years, thanks to Zimmerman, haven’t been a hallmark of Washingreal hitters, to say the least. Between that and the context of Span’s streak — in the middle of a wild card run in the waning days of the season — only adds to the enjoyment of the streak and its importance to the success of the Nats’ 2013 season.

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