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.”