Among the thousands of problems that the Giants have this year, the most glaring and seemingly fixable is the disaster that is left field. And yet, every prospect, quasi-prospect, veteran, quasi-veteran, and converted infielder seems to struggle out there. But what if I told you that the Giants aren’t completely incapable of developing hitters who could also achieve the herculean task of playing left field? What if I told you that they just recently, within your memory, developed an All-Star left fielder who was in the Home Run Derby just last-
YOU: It’s Adam Duvall
Oh dang, I was hoping I could surprise you with that. Probably shouldn’t have put his name in the title then.
But as the Giants embark on this bold new era of baseball, where they try a guy in left field for a week, watch him fail, try another guy in left field for three days, watch him fail, and then repeat until the end of time, what can they learn from their experience with Adam Duvall? What lessons should the Giants front office and coaching staff be keeping in mind when it comes to how they all missed on Duvall?
Playing the hot hand doesn’t always work, and playing the cold one sometimes does
When the Giants first called Duvall up in 2014, he was tearing the cover off the ball in Fresno. He was hitting .297/.360/.620 in AAA and the Giants had a need and, hey, why not? Dude was mashing, and the Giants were struggling, and since they like to play the hot hand, they called Duvall up and played him, the hot hand. Things did not go especially well for Duvall in the majors, despite a homer in his first game, and after starting four consecutive games he had an OPS of .571. After a couple days off and one more start, they sent Duvall back to AAA and his year of the Fresno-San Francisco commute was off and roaring.
Fast forward to September of 2015. By now, Duvall is with the Reds organization, having been traded (along with Keury Mella) for Mike Leake. Things did not go that well for him in Louisville, the Reds’ AAA affiliate, as Duvall hit just .189/.260/.358 for them. Nevertheless, the Reds called him up on August 31, and Duvall immediately rewarded them by hitting a pinch homer in his first at bat. He would go on to have a successful September for Cincinnati, homering five times in just 72 plate appearances, and put himself into their plans for the next year. And all this came after he was just abysmal in AAA for them. So that hot hand stuff which the Giants love? Just flat out does not matter.
Give guys more of a chance when they struggle
Since we’re on the subject of Duvall being bad in his first call up to the Giants, sort of, please forget the following paragraph about a different topic now, thanks, the most consecutive starts the Giants ever gave Adam Duvall was four in a row, which were his first four games in the majors. When he came back later that month, Duvall started five out of seven games and got pinch hit appearances in the other two. He then got sent down, came back the next month, got sporadic playing time, got sent down again, and got called up in September, when his playing time was even less consistent.
It is Baseball Fanboy Nerd Cliche to say that a player didn’t have a fair chance in the majors because of his playing time, but, well, this is the world we live in. Getting only a few days of starts mean any slump is simply too hard to overcome, so the thing where major league hitters adjust their approach and change their swing and show off any talents that are more than just see ball hit ball instincts? Worthless. Not enough time. You gotta pull a Terrell Lowery if you want to stay up, and there’s a whole other article I could do about how Bruce Bochy would have started Terrell Lowery for a month, but forget it, I’m rolling.
MIke Leake is bad
I mean, that one’s not likely to be applicable in the future again, but it’s something to keep in mind.
(Yes, I know that Mike Leake has a shiny ERA so far this year, but, well, we’ll see how long that lasts.)
Try guys in left field
This one did actually occur to the Giants. Back before he was traded in 2015, Duvall started 10 games in left field for the River Cats, but the team never called him up that year, and so as a Giant, Duvall never had the benefit of a major league coaching staff working with him in left. If you look at the defensive year he had last year, where all the metrics loved him in left field and he was a Gold Glove finalist — this after being known as a clankmitt at third base, which is mostly what he played in the minors — it seems that there was a lot of potential there that the Giants were either unable to see or develop.
However, they’re certainly not organizationally averse to trying guys in the outfield in the minors. Just this year, both Jae-gyun Hwang and Ryder Jones have gotten time in left in Sacramento, as the Giants try desperately to fill that hole. Hwang has looked shaky and that experiment has mostly been abandoned, while Jones has looked pretty good, but the presence of Chris Shaw, also a converted infielder and now the regular left fielder, has made it hard for him to get work out there lately.
Don’t listen to any of us here about how good a player is going to be
Here’s what Grant wrote about Duvall when writing up the trade:
Adam Duvall falls into that category that Conor Gillaspie did a couple years ago. If another team gets use out of him and figures out the right role for him, good for that team. The Giants clearly weren't going to do it. They got a little value out of him, and hopefully he thrives with the Reds.
Good news about him thriving!
It’s not like he was wrong, really. The Giants weren’t going to figure out what to do with Duvall. The Reds did. But also go check out the comments. Nobody was regretting the Giants giving up Duvall other than one user who was dismissed in favor of a joke, which is just how we do things here. But we weren’t screaming and wailing about how this was a miserable move that was going to doom the Giants for years to come. This was just A Move and it wasn’t even the part that everyone hated.
Good players will look bad sometimes
Duvall struggled in San Francisco, and he struggled consistently. He had four short stints in the majors in 2014. In the first one, his OPS was .556; in the second, it was .625; in the third, it was .440; and in the fourth, it was .750, though that came in just 12 plate appearances. More than the bad numbers, though, he looked bad. He made weak contact, seemed overmatched at the plate, and I went back and checked the MCC articles each time he was sent down, and not one of them was ruing it.
Here’s the thing that you understand the Giants not doing in a playoff race in 2014 but which is inexcusable this year: they played someone else. Back then, Duvall’s learning curve could wreck the team’s chance to do something special. This year, the learning curve of Austin Slater or Orlando Calixte or Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker won’t mean a thing other than it’ll be one more crappy at bat to watch in a year full of crappy at bats. But some guys have to get a bunch of crappy at bats at the highest level in order to start taking better ones. Some other guys, of course, will keep taking crappy at bats forever. But the only way to find out who’s a Duvall and who’s not is to give them those chances. The Giants really have nothing to lose, other than the baseball games that they were going to lose anyway.