Giants

Steven Duggar does it all for Giants offense in win over A's

Steven Duggar does it all for Giants offense in win over A's

SAN FRANCISCO — Six weeks ago, as he watched the Sacramento River Cats take batting practice before his rehab start, Madison Bumgarner asked how Steven Duggar was doing at the plate. He wanted Duggar's defense in the outfield at AT&T Park, and he wasn't alone. Giants pitchers have been waiting for Duggar's glove since his breakout this spring. On Friday, they learned that the bat will help them, too.

Duggar had two doubles, scored three runs, and drove in two more, handling most of the offensive production in a 7-1 win over the A's. 

"I think he's going to sleep good tonight," Bumgarner said. "I'm glad he's here. I've been waiting."

The wait was longer than expected, but it doesn't appear Duggar will be headed back at any point. The rookie's biggest game since his Sunday promotion included a pair of impressive doubles, but before them, Duggar showed off an underrated skill that will have an impact. The Giants have always viewed him as a future leadoff hitter because of the speed, but also the ability to have quality at-bats. It was a trait that stood out when Duggar was starting to open eyes in A-ball two years ago. In the first inning Friday he saw 11 pitches from Edwin Jackson while grounding out. Three innings later, the extended look would pay off on the double. 

"The thing about Steven is he's a patient hitter," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He sees a lot of pitches, he battles up there, he's got pop and then he gives you the speed."

That showed on the first double. The Giants didn’t have a hit when Duggar led off the fourth with a liner into the corner in right. He blazed into second in 7.76 seconds, the second-fastest home-to-second time of the season for the Giants. Duggar has the fastest, too, a double in his debut on Sunday. All of this in less than a week, and for a team that has plenty of burners now on the roster. 

In the sixth, Duggar drew a leadoff walk that would lead to the go-ahead run. He came around on Buster Posey’s broken-bat single to left four batters later. It looked to be a tense night, but the Giants loaded the bases ahead of Duggar in the seventh. Jeremy Bleich, a lefty making his MLB debut, hung an 0-2 slider and Duggar guided it into right, breaking the game open. He might have had a triple if not for the runner in front of him being held at third. 

"He was in the middle of everything today, all the rallies and the big hit to break it open," Bochy said. "He looks like he's comfortable already."

What Giants new manager Gabe Kapler learned from time in Philadelphia

What Giants new manager Gabe Kapler learned from time in Philadelphia

SAN FRANCISCO -- For most of an hour Wednesday, Gabe Kapler answered questions from the media about what he had learned in Los Angeles. Kapler may never outrun that incident in the eyes of many Giants fans, but at some point, the focus of his tenure will turn to another question. 

What did he learn in Philadelphia?

The Giants felt comfortable enough with Kapler and his past to hire him and give him a three-year deal. Will he last all three? That will be determined by his ability to handle a clubhouse, develop the next wave of Giants and actually win games between the lines.

Kapler went 161-163 in two seasons in Philadelphia, finishing third and then fourth in the NL East. The Phillies improved by 14 games in his first season, but they tailed off down the stretch both years, and 2019 certainly was a disappointment given how much ownership invested in the team over the offseason, led by the additions of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.

The front office wanted to keep Kapler around, and Farhan Zaidi got rave reviews from his counterparts. Members of the Giants ownership group spoke to members of the group in Philadelphia and heard similar reviews, with the caveat that Kapler’s time in Philadelphia had simply run its course. Those who were around him for two years say Kapler did a good job of managing up, but sometimes lost his ability to fully connect with the clubhouse. There were questions about the way he handled the pitching staff, in particular.

The Giants digested all that and decided Kapler would take Bruce Bochy’s place, and during the interview process, the two managers spoke about how much better you can be the second time around, as Bochy was. You can learn from your mistakes.

So, what did Kapler learn in Philadelphia?

“The thing that I learned most, and it was pretty abrupt, was in my first year as a Phillies manager in 2018 I thought a lot about every little strategic edge, every little strategic advantage, and sometimes at the expense of some of that confidence that we’ve talked about,” Kapler said. “My biggest learn was: Sometimes a confident player is a better baseball player, and that outweighs the strategic advantage you get of calling just the right pitch at just the right time.

“I’ll use a pitcher analogy. If all of the information says that your curveball is your best pitch in a particular situation but that pitcher does not want to throw that pitch, you don’t force him to throw that pitch. You let him throw a different pitch with a lot of conviction, with a lot of energy, with a lot of confidence, and maybe that’s the best pitch in the moment. So probably my biggest learn is now to blend those two things.”

In an appearance on MLB Network a day later, Kapler gave a specific example. On Opening Day in 2018, he pulled starter Aaron Nola after just 68 pitches because he didn’t want him facing a lineup a third time. That has become a somewhat common strategy in recent years – but Nola had allowed just one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings at the time. The Phillies bullpen gave up eight runs and the team lost, but it wasn’t the end result that stuck with Kapler.

“What we didn’t know is what an emotional impact that would have on the dugout. It had a pretty big, significant blow," Kapler said. "What I learned from that is learning how to trust Aaron Nola deeper into games and so we did that for the rest of the 2018 season and 2019 season as well, understanding that what we were seeing with our eyes was equally important to what we were seeing on paper.”

Nola wasn’t pulled that quickly again the rest of the year and went on to finish third in the Cy Young Award balloting. Kapler certainly will need a longer leash if Madison Bumgarner returns, but even for veterans like Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, he will need to continue to adjust. The Giants learned that in 2019 when they tried early on to limit Samardzija’s innings and exposure to opposing lineups, but instead they found that he was one of their most reliable pitchers. By the end of the year, Samardzija’s workload more closely resembled previous seasons.

[RELATED: Kapler shares his regrets from Dodgers assault controversy]

Kapler said he plans on going on a “listening tour” to find out the preferences of Giants veterans. The Phillies did that after his first season, inviting team leaders to their Florida facility to discuss things like when they would stretch before games and how they wanted pre-game work to be handled.

“Every good clubhouse that I’ve ever been a part of … players have to be part of that raising the bar, they have to be part of that accountability that takes place,” Kapler said. “They have to be active participants in that conversation, and so those are some of the things that I’ll focus on.”

How Gabe Kapler plans to accentuate strengths of Giants' veteran lineup

How Gabe Kapler plans to accentuate strengths of Giants' veteran lineup

SAN FRANCISCO — The game of baseball has changed, but if you sit with most big leaguers, particularly those who have been around a few years, you’ll hear them talk of how important traditional statistics still are. 

Hitters often point to runs and RBI, not OPS+ or WAR, and pitchers still prefer ERA and, yes, wins, to xFIP or spin rates. During the final week of the season, Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar summed it up while discussing a low on-base percentage that may impact the decision to bring him back.

“(For) as long as this game has been played, scoring runs and driving in runs is an important statistic,” Pillar said. “Last time I checked, that's how you win games, if you score more runs than the other team."

Pillar likely will play for Gabe Kapler next year, and while Kapler’s introduction largely consisted of discussing off-field issues, he did give several examples of things he has learned as a manager and executive. Kapler didn’t mention many current Giants, but at one point, asked about the ballpark, he brought up Brandon Belt, which was interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, Belt is as likely as any longtime Giant to be traded before Kapler fills out his first lineup card. He has a limited no-trade clause, but it’ll be much more difficult for the new-look front office to deal other veterans if they truly want to shake it up. Belt still has plenty of fans in opposing front offices despite declining power numbers.

The second aspect was that Kapler was demonstrating how the new front office and staff might approach their evaluations of current Giants. 

"I've thought a lot about Brandon Belt and specifically what he brings -- how impressive it is to watch him take an at-bat, independent of the outcome of the at-bat. He tends to look over pitches and make really good swing-or-don't-swing decisions," Kapler said. "I know the power has dropped off a little bit but taking the things that he does very, very well and highlighting some of those things might lead to some more of that power production."

Kapler hit on what has always made Belt a polarizing player. His plate appearances are as controlled as anyone’s, and over the course of a game or series or season, there’s a lot of value in that. Every time Belt shakes his head at a pitch that was half an inch out of the zone, he’s adding to a starter’s workload and increasing his own odds of getting on base. 

Even in a disappointing season, Belt's .339 on-base percentage was the highest of any Giants regular. He ranked 15th in the National League by seeing 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, something Zaidi and Kapler's old clubs excel at. The Dodgers and Phillies ranked third and fourth in the NL, respectively, seeing 4.00 pitches per plate appearance. The Giants were ninth at 3.89. In 2018, Kapler's first year, the Phillies finished behind only the league-leading Dodgers, while the Giants ranked ninth in the league. 

[RELATED: Watch Kapler laugh at Belt for trying to bunt]

The ability to have consistently good plate appearances is something that was a focus throughout the organization in Zaidi's first year, and Kapler sure seems to be a fan. If the new staff can get some more power out of Belt, great, but if not, they still plan to focus on his strengths as a hitter. 

Kapler said that will be an emphasis with all of his players and the minor leaguers who come up. The Giants still lack in overall talent, but they believe there are ways to squeeze more juice out of this roster, regardless of what the ballpark's dimensions might do to hitters. 

"It's about instilling confidence in players for the things they do really well, and then reminding them how those positive steps forward can play in the environment that they play in specifically here in San Francisco," Kapler said.