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2015: Duffman

Another breakout from the farm system or the man who saved the Giants from the tyranny of Casey McGehee?

Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It’s strange how little people remember 2015, but with everybody bathing in the afterglow of a third title in three years, it’s also not difficult to understand why. Still — a lot happened!

We said goodbye to Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and Yusmeiro Petit — even Barry Zito, if you want to count the start he made against Hudson in late September during the Giants and A’s interleague matchup.

Madison Bumgarner followed up his 2014 World Series dominance with a brilliant 2015 season — 218.1 IP, 18-9, 2.93 ERA / 2.87 FIP, career-best 6:1 K/BB — which included pitching a shutout and hitting a home run in the same game.

As a team, the Giants had the second-best offense in the National League (104 wRC+), and when you include their team defense, the best lineup in the NL by fWAR (29.5). So why didn’t they repeat? Why didn’t they even get to the postseason? Humm baby, they could not pitch. It was Madison Bumgarner and a whole of of Chrises Heston (who still threw a no-hitter!). Just a whole slog of forgettable, sub-average arms that wasted an otherwise interesting season.

But if the pitching was the worst thing to happen to the Giants in 2015, then it was the emergence of rookie Matt Duffy within that stellar lineup that made the team even a little bit interesting at 84-78.

Pablo Sandoval had left in the offseason to join the Red Sox. The Giants gave up Luis Castillo to get Casey McGehee from the Marlins to replace him. All he did was hit into 15 double plays in 49 games, a pace that had him set to shatter the single-season GIDP mark before the All-Star break. He was such a bad third baseman at the plate and the Giants had no better options that Dave Cameron once suggested the Giants bat him leadoff just to limit the damage he did to their lineup.

The Giants cut McGehee eventually and we know the season ended with the lineup being the second-best in the NL, but we probably don’t give enough consideration to how Duffy didn’t just reverse Casey McGehee’s -0.8 fWAR, he gave the team a much-needed spark.

What made his performance — .295/.334/.428 with 12 home runs and 169 hits in 149 games — exciting was how he really seemed to be the next link in the chain from the farm system. Posey-Crawford-Belt-Panik-Duffy as a completely homegrown infield to restore what had been lost following Sandoval’s departure was only a part of it. He looked so good and played with such energy that it was easy to imagine the Giants having an All-Star infield for the next few years and extend the championship infield.

I know I spent hours upon hours thinking and talking about Matt Duffy on this site and the McCovey Chroncast (the official McCovey Chronicles podcast) because of his high energy play and strong contact ability — his .298 expected batting average was, per Statcast, in the top 6% of the league — as well as what I perceived as an ability to make adjustments. To wit, here’s his OPS by month:

Mar/April: .642
May: .778
June: .953
July: .762
August: .739
September: .676

Even in that diminished September, he still hit .269 with 35 hits in 31 games, and had a 0.327 Win Probability Added. Even when teams figured him out a little bit, he still managed to put the ball in play. Dude was clutch.

And then there was Skeeter.

Here were the opening lines from the mini obituary Henry Schulman wrote after Skeeter died a couple of years ago:

Skeeter was the First Cat of San Francisco baseball, an orange tabby belonging to former Giants third baseman Matt Duffy that grew to an astounding 27 pounds.

It was love at first sight for Giants fans when Duffy posted a photo of the two together.

He’d place second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote, the highest vote total for a Giants rookie since Buster Posey won the thing in 2010, and the second-best finish of any Giants rookie this century.

We know how it all turned out with Duffy and the Giants once the calendar flipped to 2016, but for one year, the Giants found one last reservoir of homegrown magic.