For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
If nothing else, the current San Francisco Giants epoch is a series of confounding coincidences.
If you know nothing else about this baseball team, you know that there seems to be some correlation between the last number in any given year and their title odds. In 2016, the baseball gods may look down on AT&T Park and decide, once again, that the Giants are deserving of another Commissioner’s Trophy. The ‘Even Year’ trend doesn’t make much sense on the surface, but it continues to exist in the lede of every Giants season preview and the back of the minds of fans across the country. Since 2010, the Giants haven’t lost a playoff series in an even year while failing to participate in one during the odd years.
The three titles were built on the strength of their pitching staff. Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson owned the headlines in 2010, and there was the Barry Zito Game 5 and Sergio Romo freezing Miguel Cabrera to clinch the World Series in 2012. In 2014, Madison Bumgarner recorded
one of the greatest pitching performances in MLB postseason history, with the rest of the starting rotation struggling and the bullpen barely holding onto games.
Throughout the years, their core philosophy changed from a ‘get a couple runs on the board, and we win’ ethos to a more offensive approach. And while pitching will remain the one factor that will either allow this impossible trend to continue, it is two unlikely guys who are tasked with much of the responsibility of carrying this team to unfathomable heights, should they continue the trajectory of their young careers.
Joe Panik and Matt Duffy have become conduits for terrible puns and fantastic baseball. Both men were brought up to the big leagues on a full-time basis because of circumstance and are two of the MLB’s most confounding coincidences. Panik got his opportunity because Marco Scutaro’s back kept him off the field while Duffy's came because Pablo Sandoval left for Boston and Casey McGehee proved to be generally terrible.
Both men can walk into almost any bar outside of the Pacific Northwest and go largely unrecognized, but they are key cogs in the best defensive infield in the majors. Playing alongside Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, Panik and Duffy have helped to cultivate a culture behind the mound that will keep the pitching staff aggressive. In his short time as an everyday starter, Panik has become one of the best second basemen in the league – and has the big game highlights to back it up. Injury kept him out of much of last season, but among qualified starters, Panik would have finished second in fielding percentage, Top 10 in range factor and was Top 15 in dWAR with only 99 starts.
While not as impressive with his glove as Panik, the fashion in which Duffy’s rookie year success on the defensive end has to be measured different. The kid never played third base throughout the minor leagues but stepped in brilliantly for someone learning such a tough position on the fly. The metrics aren’t amazing on the page, but there was a huge difference in Duffy’s glove before and after the All-Star break – and he’s only going to get better in 2016.
Yet it is at-bat where the true value lies with these two, as they’ve become the two rabbit’s feet in the Giants’ witches brew of offensive productivity. Panik has become a miniature Posey – incredibly patient, hits for average with fewer dingers. Duffy is closer to a Belt clone: a streaky hitter whose line graph doesn’t reach the peaks or valleys of No. 9, allowing for a more consistent-feeling season. Also, fewer dingers. Removing comparative filters, and you have a guy in Panik who is a natural fit anywhere in the Giants lineup and Duffy, who is maybe the most unconventional hitter in the 3-slot in the NL.
With Denard Span coming over the offseason and a healthy Hunter Pence, the Giants have an offense from 1-through-8 with no easy outs. And depending on how Bumgarner is feeling, it’s an offense with the potential for productivity at every at bat every fifth game. Manager Bruce Bochy has the flexibility to re-work his lineup from game-to-game because of the flexibility of Panik and Duffy’s ability to produce in the most important slot in the lineup.
All of this changes, however, if these two can’t stay healthy. There will not be a lot of depth on the Opening Day roster – especially in the infield. Kelby Tomlinson came in and did a decent job with Panik out last year, and Ehire Adrianza will remain the defensive utility wiz with the most frustrating at-bats. Christian Arroyo lurks in the farm system – and that’s about it.
Confounding coincidences aside though, it is 2016. And all this injury stuff might be a moot point because the baseball gods may have already picked their winner. There is no guarantee that they want to move forward with the Giants again, but if you look at the makeup of this team, there is no guarantee that it’s not San Francisco, either.
Phillip Barnett featuring Phillip Barnett.