Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Your 2015 Giants: Matt Duffy Ascension

Matt Duffy.

What more can be said about this young man, this young rookie, this first rookie to win the Willie Mac Award, who has traveled a long road filled with "no's" to reach the majors and be batting third for a MLB team?  I thought I would give it a try for this special player.

ogc thoughts

He and his Dad has published two nice pieces at the Player's Tribune, must reads for any Giants fan:
In the first, he talks about what he feels makes the Giants team special, discussing the chemistry and alchemy that saberists pooh-pooh and say don't exist.  In the second is a great photo chronology of Matt growing up in front of our eyes.   With this photo essay, you can see why the doubters were so vocal along the way (he's skinny like a stick in many of them), but you can also see why he has achieved what he has so far (the specialized training he has received was noted twice, which makes me confident that he's going to work on some stuff this off-season and have an even better 2016).

While looking at the photos, it struck me:  he is our own Pete Rose.  Not that he's a Hall of Famer, one level at a time, as his father noted, but that he's a player who did not have the raw gifts that many major leaguers have that made it easier for them to make the majors, but with grit, hard work, and a FU attitude (notice the reference to increased velocity when his zone was being squeezed by an ump in his Dad's article; that's what he's done this season twice chronicled, first time, hurt his ankle and the Cubs pitcher threw to the bag to force him to slide and cause pain, so he stole second base, second time, the Dodger's pitcher, their closer, Jansen, buzzed Matt, close to his head, so he smacked a single and then stole secondbase), he has reached where the vast vast majority of draftees never do, becoming a MLB starter, and for multiple seasons.  And he gives many of us someone who many of us can live vicariously through, as he looks like a regular guy, seems like a regular guy (who would show off their cat like that?), a regular guy who nonetheless is doing good things on the baseball field.

Here are some facts that Alex Pavlovic reported in his article on Duffy's Willie Mac Award:
  • Duffy has been much more than just an everyday player, however. He’s been an everyday force. He leads the National League with 89 hits since the All-Star break and his 46 extra base hits are the most by a Giants rookie since Chili Davis had 52 in 1982. Entering play Friday, the 24-year-old had a .298 average, 12 homers, 76 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .770 OPS. He is second among NL rookies and 11th in the National League with 4.9 wins above replacement.
  • Duffy is the sixth current Giant to win the Willie Mac Award, joining Matt Cain (2009), Ryan Vogelsong (2011), Buster Posey (2012), Pence (2013) and Madison Bumgarner (2014). He watched former winners come in from an outfield gate and realize the magnitude of the award. 
  • "As they were introducing everybody, I didn't realize the company I was in," he said. "I got to pause and think about that. It was pretty cool. I'm extremely honored."
Lineup Riches

What a lineup we will field if Duffy can just continue doing what he did this season.  He played the second most games of any starter with 149 games (one behind Posey).  His batting line tailed off in the second half, in spite of leading the NL in hits since ASB, but that appears related to his BABIP dropping month by month since July.  Speed players like him can maintain BABIP's of .330+ and if he can do that next season, he'll have a good season again.  I think that drop was related to his first full MLB season (he previously ended his full-time playing season in August) and that he will work hard to build the stamina necessary to be strong into October next season.

If he can keep up his August batting line, that would be good:  .301/.341/.398/.739.   That would be just short of average for a 3B, in the NL 3B hit .270/.329/.437/.766.  Plus, his first half mirrored his second half for BA and OBP (and BABIP too), but where he was down was SLG (and thus ISO):  from .462 to .397 SLG and 169 to 101 ISO.  The good news is that his contact rate was in the good area, 85%+ in the second half, boding well for continuing good hitting.  Meanwhile, he also was walking more later in the season, as well as stealing more bases.

Projecting for next season, he should be close to .300 BA and .335 OBP, around 150 ISO or .450 SLG, and thus around .780 OPS.  10-15 HR and 20-25 SB, with perhaps a breakout in SB to the 30+ range if he gets even more comfortable (he was 8-0 in the last two months).   That would be great to get out of the #3 spot.

While that's not what the average #3 hitter in the NL hit, most sabermetric studies have found that, contrary to common, old school, beliefs, you don't want your best hitter there.  In "The Book", TangoTiger and his co-authors argued that your 5th best hitter should hit in that spot, saving your best OBP to lead off, second best hitter in the 2nd spot, best hitter in the 4th spot (though if the top 2 are similar, better OBP #2, better SLG #4), best SLG in the 5th spot (and better than #3).  Ideally, the #1, #2, and #4 spots are where your best hitters hit, obviously guy with least power among the three bats leadoff (has relatively more value for his OBP), and ideally the guy with most power among these three would bat 4th.

Duffy is easily among our good hitters, but he might not even make the top five.  Right now we have Posey, Pence, Belt, Crawford, and Panik, plus Duffy to mix and match in the top 6 spots, and perhaps probably either Aoki or Pagan at leadoff.  That's potentially a very strong lineup, top to bottom, and that don't include whoever we end up as the third OF.


  1. Duffy also benefited from his family having the financial resources to allow him to play in travel-ball tournaments and have personal training coaches, while only a youngster. to go along with a father that was there every step of the way. An excellent example of why inner-city kids don't stick with baseball.

    1. Good point about the differences in financial resources.

      I saw that myself when my son was in Pony League. Some parents spent a lot of money to give their sons the experience of the travel-ball tournaments, I knew I wouldn't be able to give that to my son, so part of me was relieved that he was never that into baseball, even though he showed some skill in hitting (couldn't really throw, unfortunately, no matter how much practice we did). And we have friends sending their kids to Junior Olympics competition in Europe or competitions in the East Coast, for exotic sports, like fencing, or other sports like volleyball or martial arts.

      But not just money is involved. Circumstances, too, many Latin IFA's are poorer than dirt too, but because their culture finds some success in baseball as a way out of poverty, there are many of them in the game. Kind of like how Chinese were into restaurants and laundries (only jobs we were allowed to do and where English language was not crucial), or Chinese and Irish were the ones building the transcontinental railroad, or Jewish were violinists. Circumstances often limit what opportunities are available. In the US, inner-city kids can easily play basketball, especially 1-on-1, whereas baseball and football are harder to get a game started, requiring a lot of people, and then equipment for baseball.

    2. You got me curious what his mom and dad did for a living. His father is a general contractor (builder) and his mom is a travel agent.

  2. He is our non-switch-hitting Bill Mueller.

    1. Don't know that much of Mueller's career, other than he was a hitter. Was never aware of him being any good defensively. Duffy started out poorly at third, but became proficient by season's end, showing the value of Bill James' Defensive Spectrum, and he ended the season with positive run value defensively. It should even be better next season now that he knows where he's playing for the next few years.

      Plus, Duffy might even become a better hitter in 2016. A RHH, he oddly hit much worse against LHP than he did against RHP. All still SSS for hitting, yes, but it still suggests that it is his LHP hitting that is the anomaly, not his RHP. Add in three minor league seasons hitting better/well vs. LHP relatively to RHP, it looks like he had some sort of BABIP bad luck batting against LHP this season.

      I wish there was a way to track his LHP/RHP splits over a season, but does not provide that functionality. Neither does Fangraphs, that I could tell.

    2. Mueller was an excellent contact hitter (won a batting title w/ Boston) and a good defender.

      Potentially, Duffy could be a better power hitter. His power numbers were strong until he wore down late in the year.

    3. I was aware of his batting title with BoSox, but not that he was a good defender. Thanks.

      Yeah, I think if he can add more weight/strength and build stamina, he can get into the 15-20 range, which is not too shabby.

  3. I read that Duffy lost over 10lbs during the season. I'm not surprised, guys with his build struggle to keep the weight on when grinding. I'm sure he'll work on getting his weight back up during the offseason and then, hopefully, learn to keep it up on the road.

    1. Yes, I read that too. I agree with you on your assessment of why he lost weight. Many players have problem keeping on weight during the season.

      Whereas last off-season, he was a scrub working on this on this own, this season, the Giants trainers will be working hand-in-hand with Duffy to try to ensure that he can last longer in the season and maintain his strength throughout the season more.

      Thanks for the good comments.

    2. It's nice to have a 3B that we want to eat MORE!

      Duffy has the potential to really improve in the next couple of years, assuming he can put on some muscle. At his age with a good regimen, his power could jump enough to make him a top-tier player at a position that's pretty thin throughout the league.

      All he has to do is start taking eating tips from that 60-pound cat he has!

    3. Yeah, good point about the position being pretty thin, he's already above average as it is, if he can continue this and not have a sophomore slump, plus build some strength, he could be top-tier, great point.

      And especially about his cat. :^)

  4. All of these comments are strikingly similar to what has been written about Duffy and his thin frame for the past 3 years. I hate to break it to you guys, but his frame is what it is, and aside from the normal weight gain that naturally occurs to most of us as we age, he'll never have that 195lb stud body that experts/analysts think he's got 'room to grow into'.

    Duffy will work hard to gain weight in the off season, maybe pick up 10-12 lbs, then gradually lose it once the season starts. And it mostly won't show on him, unless you look at his legs. As MosesZD alluded to, it's a full time job for a kid with his frame and metabolism to gain size. Lifting weights and the constant eating of small meals, snacks, shakes, etc leaves them perpetually walking around with a full stomach. It's a grind in itself, and there's simply no way for a player to keep that up, nor enough time to, once Opening Day arrives. The key for Matt is to chip away at the issue by lifting (the lighter in-season workout routines), eating as much as he can without feeling like a fat dude on the field, getting enough rest, and staying hydrated. Even with all that, it'll only slow down the weight loss until he's eventually at his normal weight for whatever play time he's holding down.

    Also (IMO), the pop he shows has more to do with him jumping on the right pitch with a purposeful swing, one that utilizes his lower half more than when he's just looking to put the ball in play. Guys like Bautista, Donaldson, Arenado, etc- unlike Duffy, *most* of their swings have that kind of intent. He'd have to change his swing mentality and be good with a higher K rate to put up big power numbers, which goes against both his personality, and the type of hitter he.

    I also think that later in the season, Matt dropped into an occasional habit of being a little complacent early in ABs, and missed some pitches that he'd crushed in the first half of the season. In conjunction with that, I'd definitely attribute the overall drop in his BA/OBP to him trying to adjust to the changes in how he was getting pitched to than him being any more fatigued than anyone else.



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