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What effect will Steven Duggar’s torn labrum have on his 2019 season?

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Scouting has always indicated his defense was well ahead of his bat, but that the offense would come in time. Does shoulder surgery now mean a long time?

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

With last night’s news that Steven Duggar tore his shoulder labrum diving back to second base in Tuesday night’s game, it’s worth considering what kind of an impact that could have on his (and the Giants’) 2019 season. While the team has probably maintained a conservative point of view when it comes to Duggar’s development, shoulder surgery and a long offseason of rehab coupled with increased expectations might require a reassessment of that view... it should probably get even more conservative.

Bruce Bochy liked what he saw from Duggar in his 2018 Spring Training and 41 major league games, and we managed to see some flashes of doubles power in his bat. He also posted solid numbers against left-handed pitchers (in an extremely small sample size) despite being a left-handed batter. Few, if any, negatives popped up over the course of his development this year, so there was plenty of room for optimism regarding Duggar heading into 2019.

It seems certain he’ll maintain his tentative lock on the starting center fielder role, provided he’s setback-free in his surgery (if, indeed, he does decide to go the surgery route) and rehab, but given the general history of shoulder surgery for hitters, perhaps we fans should be prepared for the Giants to make a panic move in the offseason.

Going off of a brief article posted on SB Nation’s Pinstripe Alley (yes, the Yankees team site), the cursory look at the data suggests that Duggar might struggle even more than we’d expect/hope for a young player becoming a full-time starter:

One interesting note is that age seems to play some factor in future performance. I picked (admittedly arbitrary) intervals for age, 23-27 and 28-33, and found that the younger group slightly struggled in their first season back (6% decrease in offense), while the older group improved a tick (9% increase). Neither value is very large, but this trend is worth keeping an eye on, and perhaps suggests that veterans have less trouble regaining their mechanics than younger players.

Now, that’s an article that starts with looking at the Yankees’ Greg Bird, who missed the entire 2016 season because of labrum surgery. That timeline is a bit scary-sounding, as he was placed on the 15-day DL (when it was still 15 days) on April 3, 2016 (retroactive to March 25), then transferred to the 60-day DL on May 14th, where he remained through the rest of the season (came off on October 10, 2016).

Those were six months on the shelf for Bird, and that general timeline works to Duggar’s advantage here. John Hopkins Medicine says it takes three months just to recover from labrum surgery, and for pitchers, about 9-12 months to fully return to their pitching form. Not so for batters, of course, and Greg Bird’s injury woes rolled right into the following season with a severe ankle injury that wound up requiring surgery, so I’m not making a 1:1 comparison to Duggar’s situation. Perhaps a better comparison is Coco Crisp, who had labrum surgery on his right shoulder back in 2009, although that was his age 29 season. Crisp signed with the A’s in the offseason and wound up getting hurt in Spring Training, but once he came back, he was fine.

I’m sure we all know that the Giants weren’t banking on Duggar to be a major offensive force in 2019, but I wonder if the same number of us suspects the team won’t have the stomach for any sort of setback by a young player. A starting center fielder with a .652 OPS just won’t cut it, in the 1960s or otherwise.

Here’s a list of potential free agent center fielders this offseason:

Gregor Blanco (35)
Rajai Davis (38)
Craig Gentry (35)
Carlos Gomez (33)
Jon Jay (33)
Adam Jones (33)
Leonys Martin (31)
Cameron Maybin (32)
Andrew McCutchen (32)
A.J. Pollock (31)
Denard Span (35)

I’m sure the Giants are tempted to plug every roster hole with a veteran player — indeed, when they miss out on Bryce Harper, they might very well buy Brian Dozier/D.J. LeMahieu, and A.J. Pollock for just a little more AAV than what they were prepared to give Bryce — but at some point, a good team needs to rely on the major league minimum young players developed by the farm system.

Of course, there’s also a chance that a 6% decline in performance is indistinguishable from a young player being given a shot at being the Opening Day center fielder in his first full season and struggling. The Giants might be prepared to ride it out because of his speed and glove and general plate discipline. Which would be swell.

The good news is that the left shoulder isn’t his throwing shoulder, which means we’re likely to see more beautiful plays like this again very soon.

In the meantime, rest up and take care, Steven Duggar.