Steven Duggar might be the stud the Giants have been searching decades for and they need to give him the Brandon Crawford treatment to find out
Duggar is no Billy Hamilton or Lorenzo Cain, but he’s also not late-career Angel Pagan or Denard Span, and he so impressed Madison Bumgarner that the left-hander quipped, “I don’t care if he ever gets a hit.” That’s good news, because the 2015 sixth-rounder will need time to adapt to major-league sequencing, and the torn shoulder labrum that ended his rookie season won’t help. Still, Duggar is the most dynamic outfielder borne from the Giants’ far in years, and his range on the pasture might warrant patience with his growing pains at the plate.
— BP Annual 2019 Player Entry
This time last year we were talking about whether Duggar would be handed the reins to Centerfield on opening day. The fact that your are currently reading an article with a similar premise one year later should tell you that last year didn’t give us many answers. He didn’t impress enough in Spring Trainer to earn the starters spot, or even a roster spot. He went to AAA and after a few months of seasoning he earned his call-up. For the most part he did what was expected. He impressed with the glove and took some lumps with the bat. Sadly, a dislocated shoulder that tore his labrum brought 2018 to a close after barely 150 Plate Appearances and 345 innings in Centerfield.
That is a small-sample size to work with and it’s important not to draw too many conclusions from his 2018 season, so be sure to keep reading and watch me draw all sorts of conclusions from this limited data.
The promise of Duggar’s Defense
Before we over-analyze small samples let’s put on our old-school scouting hats…
Okay, yup. He can play.
Some joking aside real scouts have liked Duggar’s defense since draft day and he has three “plus” tools that have kept him near the top of the Giants prospect rankings the past couple of years. Plus Glove. Plus Arm. Plus Running.
On to the numbers!
Statcast Outs Above Average is probably the best outfield metric we have on the public side right now and it really likes what Duggar did in 2018. It had him at 4 Outs Above Average. There is some definite potential for noise in that stat given that he only had 98 fielding opportunities last season but I still wanted to see how that number would stack up if he held that pace for a seasons worth of opportunities. I adjusted the Outs Above Average data to put everyone on the same playing field, a 350 fielding opportunity season. Simply called, Outs Above Average Per 350.
The following image shows the ranking of Outs Above Average per 350 opportunities among outfielders with at least 75 opportunities. Duggar ranks 13th out of 154.
If this newfangled defensive metric isn’t your flavor than we can look at DRS(Defensive Runs Saved) and UZR/150(Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 games) for two other defensive metrics commonly used to evaluate defense. DRS saw Duggar as a +4 defender(0 is average. Gorkys was -2 and Austin Jackson was -15). UZR/150 also saw Duggar as a plus defender, grading out at 4.2(Gorkys: -6.7, Austin Jackson: -16.4).
All three of these metrics saw Duggar as clearly above average in his limited workload last season but it’s important to remember that this doesn’t prove Duggar is an elite defender. It’s just three pieces, small bite-sized pieces, telling me that we need to see what he can do given a full season.
The bat is a work in progress
Hitting is currently the weak-spot in Duggar’s game but he was hardly a disaster last season.
PA: 152 | .255/.303/.390 | HR: 2, 2B: 11 | wRC+: 87 | BB%: 6.6, K%: 28.9% | SB: 5 CS: 1 | fWAR: .7, bWAR: 1.1
Overall, he was 13% worse than league average(looking at wRC+). He showed his baserunning skills but he also didn’t walk as much as he did in the minors. He struck out 6% more than league average but his swinging strike rate is more in line with league average and suggests that strikeouts might not be as much of an issue as he gets more comfortable with major-league pitching.
Those two WAR totals are obviously influenced by the defense that we’ve already talked about but that shows how valuable he can be even as a below average hitter. If you take the average on his WAR totals and project out for a full season at that pace, he is over a 3-Win player.
The problem with below average hitters is the possibility of them losing playing time because of offensive issues. This can be especially true for lefties that struggle against left-handed pitching. I bring this up in part because of the way this offseason has unfolded for the Giants.
acquired right-handed hitting Cameron Maybin. Can play CF
acquired right-handed hitting Drew Ferguson. Can play CF
acquired right-handed hitting John Andreoli. Can play CF
It sure seems like the Giants new GM, Farhan Zaidi, is trying to find a right-handed platoon partner for Duggar. I’ve been tremendously excited watching Zaidi tinker with this roster in his first offseason with the Giants but the moves he’s made and his recent history with the Dodgers make me wonder whether he’s at all interested in giving Duggar the everyday role.
Dodger’s Centerfielder Joc Pederson(a much better hitter than Duggar) has been platooned frequently in recent years and hasn’t even reached 500 plate appearances since 2015. Even their breakout star, Max Muncy was sitting against lefties in the playoffs last postseason. Once a lefty has been labeled as a guy that “needs to be platooned” it can be tough to get out of that role, if for no other reason than it’s hard to get better at hitting lefties if you never get to face them.
To be clear, I’m not against platooning. The Dodgers have tremendous depth(thanks to Zaidi) which makes it more beneficial to platoon. They also are competing for the World Series every season which makes it more costly to let a lefty develop against southpaws. Duggar’s above average defense also makes him tougher to put in a platoon role because his defense is independent of the opposing pitcher and none of the Centerfield acquisitions Zaidi has made are of the caliber of Duggar.
Finally, we don’t even have proof yet that Duggar can’t hit lefties. He actually destroyed lefties in his debut last season with an .846 OPS against them. Now, that is only 46 plate appearances and he did strike out 30% of the time. I don’t expect Duggar to have an OPS 200 points higher against lefties than righties in 2019, but holding his own against southpaws this season might be the quickest way for him to secure the everyday role and never look back.
The giants have employed many old and bad centerfielders in Oracle Park
It doesn’t take much to get Giants fans excited about outfield prospects. The hype-bar is simply lower than it is for other organizations because of the desert of talent they have cultivated over my lifetime. In fact, not a single homegrown outfielder has been an all-star since Chili Davis. To pinpoint the problem we’ll focus on just Centerfield which has been a particularly strange/old/bad position for the Giants for a long time.
Part of the problem has certainly been the age of the players manning one of the premium defensive positions on the field. 2013 was the last season in which the Giants gave at least 500 innings in CF to someone in their 20’s(Blanco), and he was 29. If you want to find a legitimate everyday Centerfielder(>1000 innings) you have to go all the way back to Marvin Bernard in 1999(he was also 29). Centerfield is a young man’s position. Most teams seem to realize this but somehow the Giants just haven’t cared even though they have a big expansive thing called Triple’s Alley in their home park that their Centerfielder’s are partially responsible for covering.
Age certainly isn’t the only factor that goes into whether a Centerfielder is good or not. Even just looking at performance the Giants just haven’t had good players in Centerfield very often. The position has been a wasteland all century.
Giants CEnterfield Ranking since Oracle Park opened(2000-2018):
I think most would agree that the Giants have had a ton of success in Oracle Park. That’s what makes the black hole of Centerfield all the more puzzling. If you look at those rankings, position by position, Centerfield sticks out as much as it does to seagulls in extra innings.
Earlier I mentioned the 3 WAR season that Duggar was on pace for last year. Here’s the final bit of context needed to see what Duggar could potentially mean for the Giants
list of 3 WAR seasons from Giants’ Centerfielders in Oracle park(2000-2018):
Andres Torres(2010): 6.3 WAR
Angel Pagan(2012): 4.6 WAR
Randy Winn(2005): 3.6 WAR
You mentioned Brandon Crawford in the title…
Ahh, yes. This whole Steven Duggar thing reminds me an awful lot of Brandon Crawford’s ascension to an All-Star, Gold Glove winning SS.
Crawford debuted in 2011 as a glove-first SS for only about 1/3rd of a season. He struggled with the bat but showed flashes of the gold-glove potential the scouts had been telling us about. The following season(2012) the Giants had high expectations to win the division and they still plugged Crawford in at SS for 143 games. His offense got a bit better and the elite defense got more consistent making him a 2-win player on a World Championship team. The steady playing time continued year after year and so did the improvement to his offense. His OPS improved 4 straight seasons to the point where in 2016 he received MVP votes and led the Giants in WAR.
There’s nothing crazy about what happened to Crawford. His glove earned him steady playing time, which gave him the ability to continually improve his offense and turn into an elite player. Player development isn’t often as linear as it was for Brandon Crawford so we shouldn’t expect this same path for a player like Duggar. However, Baseball America’s PECOTA projection sees a 2019 season for Duggar very similar to what Crawford did in his first full season. A 2-win player. PECOTA already thinks Duggar is the Giants 5th best position player.
Studly defense gives a player a high floor, that’s exactly what we saw with Crawford in the first couple years of his career and I think Duggar can be an asset to the Giants as soon as 2019 as long as he’s given enough playing time to let his defense shine and his bat develop.