Giants

Giants poised to take another step forward with center field defense

Giants poised to take another step forward with center field defense

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A year ago at this time, veteran pitchers were quietly asking around about Steven Duggar, the prospect in center field who looked ready to chase down anything that got up in the air. They waited a few months for his debut, and when he arrived, Duggar certainly lived up to the hype defensively. 

After a half-decade of having the worst center field defense in the game, the Giants finally took a step forward last season, with Duggar leading the way. With the addition of Cameron Maybin last week, they might be poised for another step.

Imagine a Giants team with center field defense that’s well above average? That’s what Bruce Bochy expects to see. 

“I really know that we’re going to be really good out there in center field defensively with whoever we put out there, and that’s an area we had to improve,” he said. “I thought we did last year, but you’re always looking to improve that outfield defense. We all know what happens when you don’t catch the ball in that outfield or make a mistake. There’s usually damage. We were a better club because we played better defensively in the outfield, I thought.”

In 40 games in center last year, Duggar was worth four Defensive Runs Saved, helping the Giants get to six DRS as a team. That put them 22nd in the majors, which doesn’t sound like a big deal … until you realize they were dead last a year earlier with negative 32 DRS, and ranked last in MLB overall from 2014-2017. 

Go back a few years and you won’t find another season quite as bad as 2017, but it has been a long time since the Giants were even an average team defensively in center field. Before 2018, you have to go back to 2013 (three DRS) to find a season that wasn’t a negative. The following three years, the Giants ranked 25th, 29th and 23rd in Defensive Runs Saved by center fielders. 

Maybin’s metrics have bounced back and forth during his career, sometimes showing him as elite in center and sometimes as the opposite. That can happen quite often with some defensive metrics, but generally, he’s viewed as an above-average defender in center, and he was plus-one over the last two seasons. When you move him around, those center field skills bump him up a notch. Maybin was worth six DRS in 316 innings in left field last season. 

Bochy has had to hide inferior defenders in left in recent years, but with the group the Giants have, there’s a chance outfield defense will be a strength late in games. The Giants have six weeks to sort all this out and it’s not a lock that both Maybin and the strong-armed Gerardo Parra make the team, but a late-innings alignment with both surrounding Duggar would be the best defensive outfield the Giants have had in years.

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Drew Ferguson, the Rule 5 pick, is viewed as a good defender in center, too, and can play all three spots if he makes the team. 

Bochy said he’ll move guys around and could play multiple center field-types at the same time. That will be decided once the roster is set, but at the very least, the Giants have a more promising defensive group than in recent seasons. 

“We’re happy to have him,” Bochy said of Maybin. “Excited to have him and he’s excited to be here. He gives us some nice depth in center field.”

Giants to hire former Red Sox exec Brian Bannister as director of pitching

Giants to hire former Red Sox exec Brian Bannister as director of pitching

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have quietly spent most of the past month putting a staff together, one they expect to announce in the coming days. One new addition won't be working in a traditional dugout role, but still is expected to make a huge impact on the next generation of Giants pitchers. 

Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent the previous five seasons with the Red Sox, will join the Giants as director of pitching, NBC Sports Bay Area has learned.

While it's unclear what Bannister's exact duties will be, his background is in development and the fact that he's joining the Giants but not as their pitching coach would seem to indicate he'll mostly be working with younger pitchers. 

Bannister has been a rising star in baseball circles since joining the Red Sox in 2015. He became their assistant pitching coach a year later and a few months after that added the title of vice president of pitching development. According to NBC Sports Boston, Bannister had an unusual contract that allowed the Red Sox to deny interview requests from other organizations that wanted to make Bannister a pitching coach, something they did repeatedly. In that story, Bannister explained his role and what he liked about it. 

“I think I’m kind of in that sweet spot right now where I know what our needs are, and I have the opportunity to work with staff at all levels of the organization to try to produce pitchers at a faster rate to keep that major league product winning on the field,” Bannister said. “I’ll be scouting one day, I’ll be in player development the next day. I’ll be in the front office working in analytics on Day 3. And the diversity of the role and the exposure to every aspect of the organization is what’s so appealing.

"Because you really start to see on an interdepartmental basis, how each person positively impacts the Boston Red Sox. And then figuring out ways to fill in the gaps. How to get the players from amateur scouting, through player development as efficiently as possible, and prepare them with exactly what they need for the major league staff. That part’s fascinating. I definitely enjoy the exposure to everything and trying to add value to everything. And that’s probably where my role is unique.”

The Giants have been looking to put together a unique staff, one that can focus on development of younger players in Kapler's first year. In that respect, Bannister fits perfectly, but he also has the playing experience that carries so much weight with players who prefer traditional methods. 

Bannister finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 after putting up a 3.87 ERA in 27 starts for the Royals. That was the highlight of his professional career, as he finished with a 5.08 ERA in five big league seasons.

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A USC grad, Bannister is coming home in multiple ways. He lives in the Bay Area and was born in Scottsdale, where he later starred at Chaparral High, which is about a 20-minute drive from Scottsdale Stadium. When Fox Sports first reported that Bannister would be headed to San Francisco, he thanked his previous organization. 

The Giants are expected to announce some staffing decisions over the coming week. The only known member of Kapler's staff thus far is previous third base coach Ron Wotus.

MLB rumors: Free agent Madison Bumgarner prefers to stay with Giants

MLB rumors: Free agent Madison Bumgarner prefers to stay with Giants

Madison Bumgarner stepped to the plate against longtime Dodgers rival and friend Clayton Kershaw at Oracle Park on Sept. 29, 2019. The pitcher who rakes pinch-hit for shortstop Brandon Crawford in the seventh inning of Game 162, and lined out on a 3-2 fastball to third baseman Jedd Gyorko.

The day belonged to manager Bruce Bochy in his last game as the team's skipper. It very well might have been goodbye for a longtime ace and franchise hero, too. 

USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported Wednesday that Bumgarner, who is a free agent for the first time this offseason, prefers to continue his career with the Giants but the team has "shown no inclination to keep him." 

After free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler reportedly agreed to a five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies on Wednesday, it became clear Bumgarner very well could sign a nine-figure contract this offseason. That doesn't seem to fit into the rebuilding Giants' plans. 

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said late last month that San Francisco has "financial flexibility" but that doesn't mean he and general manager Scott Harris are going to throw huge contracts at veteran players. In fact, Zaidi seems focused on the opposite of that this offseason. 

"We need to be careful given our recent history about creating too many long-term commitments that can get us back in the jam that we very recently put ourselves in," Zaidi told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami on the "TK Show."

Nightengale also reported Wednesday that the Giants were interested in free-agent pitcher Cole Hamels before he signed with the Braves. Though San Francisco wants to get younger, Hamels' one-year, $18 million contract is much more in line with their plan. 

Bumgarner likely is looking for a four- or five-year contract on the open market. With veterans Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija still on the team's books, and young arms next in line, the Giants don't seem too inclined to sign a pitcher to a hefty, long-term contract. 

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MadBum debuted with the Giants in September 2009, and has spent his entire career in San Francisco. He is a four-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger and three-time World Series champion. His real impact, however, came in the playoffs. 

The lefty is regarded by many as the greatest postseason pitcher of all time. He is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 16 playoff appearances, and is a perfect 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA in five World Series games.

Relish the memories, Giants fans. Bumgarner's days of walking to the mound in San Francisco with the Marshall Tucker Band's "Fire on the Mountain" playing in the background, might be over.