When the Giants 2014 championship season ended, everything seemed to be perfect within the organization. Players were locked up long term, Joe Panik had solidified the team's need at second base, and it looked like Pablo Sandoval was going to re-sign. However, he apparently felt disrespected by the team that signed him as a teenager and bolted for Boston. San Francisco was suddenly forced to fill a position in a market that had very few attractive solutions. Rather than signing a free agent, the Giants turned to the trade market and acquired Casey McGehee, who'd become expendable after the Marlins got Martin Prado from the Yankees.
While he wasn't expected to put up MVP type numbers, or even replace the production of the panda that once occupied the hot corner, the Giants thought he could at the very least be an average major league player for them. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. McGehee has struggled mightily, and the #HitsMcGehee stopped coming.
Stats before being sent down to AAA
He was below league average in every offensive category, and as of Saturday has an fWAR of -0.6. Even his defense was worse than it had been in 2014. It wasn't exactly sparkling last year but was at least a positive value according to Fangraphs' Def rating. Put simply, the Giants had to address their third base situation quickly at the beginning of this year. A trade was unlikely given how early it was in the season, so Bruce Bochy turned to a relatively unknown player, Matt Duffy. He was called up during the 2014 season to play the role of utility man and pinch hitter and quickly earned the trust of his manager.
In limited action for the first month of the season, Duffy showed that he could handle major league pitching and improved his defense dramatically with each game at third base. Since taking over full-time duties after McGehee was demoted to AAA, he's proved that it wasn't a mistake to give him the reins. He turned an ugly situation around completely and may wind up being the long-term solution at third base going forward.
With the exception of Duffy's walk rate, every one of his offensive metrics is better than what McGehee produced. Not only was he a clear upgrade, but Duffy began to show that he was a true offensive threat. His ISO, wOBA, and wRC+ are all above the major league average, and if we use 550 plate appearances as a projection point, Duffy is on pace to finish with an fWAR of 5.1. Of course, on pace analysis isn't the best way to go about it, but it is meant to give context to how good Duffy has been so far.
His ascension to becoming a legitimate everyday third baseman mirrors that of another player, one with whom he shares a first name: Matt Carpenter. Both were drafted long after the pomp and circumstance of the first couple of rounds, and when they were called up, neither elicited much fanfare. Their minor league numbers were good but not gaudy. In their first seasons at the major league level, they became mainstays in their teams' respective lineups. While Duffy's statistics were shown already, his line is listed below along with Carpenter's 2012 season for the sake of ease.
|Matt Duffy, 2015||233||7||5.2%||18.5%||.164||.339||.349||128||2.2|
|Matt Carpenter, 2012||340||6||10.0%||18.5%||.169||.346||.355||124||1.5|
Barring an injury, Duffy will eclipse Carpenter's playing time from 2012, but if we ignore plate appearances for the moment and focus on the rate statistics, the similarities are clear. Their ISO values are separated by just .005 points; their wOBA by .007; and their wRC+ by just 4, however this time in favor of Duffy. It would seem that Carpenter had the better rookie season, if only slightly so, but according to fWAR, that's not the case. The difference in overall value stems from Duffy's superior defense, which ranks among the game's elite third baseman in 2015.
Duffy has logged just 393.2 innings at third base (the second lowest on this list) but ranks among the top ten in almost every defensive metric. He's made 23 plays that qualify as out of the zone (OOZ), which is good for the second highest total in the National League, behind the reigning Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado. His DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of five may not seem that high, but it places him eighth in major league baseball for those with 200 innings or more at the position.
Going into the season, the Giants planned on letting McGehee play out 2015 as their starting third baseman and would then figure out what to do moving forward once the year was over. With his poor play, he forced the Giants to turn to someone that almost no one outside of the organization had ever heard of. While no one will be thanking Sandoval for leaving, or McGehee for being a disappointment, Duffy's emergence was a direct result of their actions. San Francisco could have wound up paying their former third baseman close to $20 million for a negative fWAR (although it's impossible to know how exactly how his season would have played out with the Giants), but they are instead paying Duffy a measly $509,000. If Sandoval were to improve to an fWAR of just 0.1, we could say that Duffy was worth 22 times more than the Giants former third baseman; but because of his negative value, it's not possible to calculate.
Duffy has been an incredible addition to what has become one of baseball's most potent offenses, and if the early returns aren't a mirage, but an actual representation of the baseball player he is, the Giants have found their solution at third base. He gives them an entirely homegrown infield once again and enormous financial flexibility moving forward.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Editor for MLB Daily Dish. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.