SAN FRANCISCO — It was a bit of a surprise when Nick Hundley ended up with more than 300 plate appearances in 2017. That wasn’t the plan coming in, but Brandon Belt got hurt in August and Buster Posey played a lot of first base down the stretch, opening time for his backup.
A year later, Posey’s injury led to another season of heavy action for Hundley, who basically repeated his first year with the Giants.
2017: .244 average, .691 OPS, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 303 plate appearances
2018: .241 average, .706 OPS, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 305 plate appearances
Hundley gave the Giants what they expected as their backup catcher, and again, he was a valuable member of the clubhouse, providing leadership and backbone, and doing enough behind the scenes to get plenty of Willie Mac Award votes a season after winning it. Here are the highs and the lows from Year 2:
What Went Right: Hundley matched the power numbers of many of the league’s starting catchers and doubled the home run output of Posey, who dealt with a hip injury. He was particularly lethal against lefties, slugging .508 with an OPS+ of 127. Only Evan Longoria had more homers against lefties (8) than Hundley (7).
Managers don’t like to burn their backup catcher, but Bruce Bochy often sent Hundley up late in games because he was one of the lineup’s best options. Hundley was 5-for-14 (.357) as a pinch-hitter and had a walk-off single on April 30.
What Went Wrong: The flip side of the success against lefties was Hundley’s issues with right-handed pitchers. He had a .213/.283/.335 slash line against righties and struck out in 32 percent of his at-bats.
The bigger problem going forward may be defense. Pitchers like throwing to Hundley, and Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez gave him a lot of credit, but the opposition sure liked running on him, too. Hundley allowed 48 stolen bases in 58 attempts, ranking near the bottom of the NL.
A lot of Giants fans might put the incident with Yasiel Puig in the "what went right" category, but that wasn’t a good moment for the Giants and it put Rodriguez on the DL with a hamstring injury.
Contract Status: After making $2 million in 2017, Hundley re-signed with the Giants last December for $2.5 million. He is once again a free agent.
The Future: A few minutes after the final game of the season, Hundley said he would like to be back for a third year. “If we’re healthy, this team is capable of winning a World Series,” he said. “If I’m able to add to that, I would definitely take the opportunity.”
Hundley is one of the most popular players in the clubhouse and some in the organization think he’ll one day be a strong candidate to manage the Giants, so up until September, it was just about a lock that he would return. Aramis Garcia’s strong debut changed some minds, though, and the Giants believe the rookie is potentially ready to be Posey’s backup for a quarter of the price. Posey’s hip surgery could ultimately lead to another reunion with Hundley.
The Giants hope their franchise catcher is 100 percent by Opening Day, but there are no guarantees, and the safe plan would be to have Hundley ready as the backup, with Garcia set to play every day in Triple-A, or serve as Hundley's backup early in the season. Long term, the Giants have Garcia ready and Joey Bart looking like he might be up as soon as next September, but for 2019, it seems a pretty good bet that Hundley is back on another one-year deal.