In the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants center fielder Steven Duggar smoked a 92-mph Dan Winkler fastball to right center field, only for it to be tracked down by a sprinting Ronald Acuña Jr.
Duggar’s shoulders slumped. He was visibly frustrated.
“I thought I got that one, for sure,” Duggar said. “I thought that one was way back.”
Despite having shoulder surgery this offseason, Duggar worked to improve his approach and swing mechanics, and has seen his barrel percentage and average exit velocity rise from his rookie season. His hard-hit rate has jump nearly five percent, but he’s still seen his batting average drop from his debut campaign, but
“Lately,” Duggar said before Thursday’s game against the Braves, “I haven’t had much luck.”
As a rookie, Duggar hit .255 with two home runs, a triple and 11 doubles. His hard-hit percentage was 30.6%, and his barrel percentage was 4.1%. During the final 16 games before he dislocated his left shoulder and tore his labrum, he hit .265. In his final five games, he hit .333 with a triple, a home run and four RBIs. He was starting to put things together.
“He was really in a good place, as far as confidence, his swing,” manager Bruce Bochy said at the time, before Duggar underwent surgery.
Once he began swinging again in January, it was with a new understanding of what it takes to succeed at the Major League level, and the constant adjustments that entails. He zeroed in on an approach that would carry him through whatever swing adjustments he had to make along the way.
“You work on your swing, and whatever you believe in,” Duggar said, “but approach-wise, if you’ve got a sinkerballer that night, obviously you want to get eyes up, whether that means getting the ball closer to you or off the ground more, trying to find a way to eliminate a pitch so that you’re only dealing with two to three pitches, as opposed to four or five.”
Duggar has now played in more games (46, including Thursday) than he did in 2018 (41), and his peripherals have shown the results of that approach, even if the standard numbers (he’s hitting .242 with a .112 isolated power — his lowest number since his first season in pro ball) do not.
“He’s had some tough luck,” Bochy said (his batting average on balls in play is down by more than .050). “First full year, he’s had some ups and downs, but he’s come back. The thing I like about him is that he’s got a toughness, where he’s able to deal with those tough days, or maybe even a streak, and keep battling and not get down or lose his confidence.”
Given Duggar’s batted ball numbers, he would seem due for some of the rockets he’s been hitting to fall. He’s gone from hitting 33.7% of balls up the middle to 38.9% (reducing his pull-side percentage from 35.7% to 31.7%). He’s reduced soft contact (19.4% to 15.9%) and increased his hard-hit percentage from 29.6% to 35.7%. He’s also catching more barrels — up from 4.1% to 4.8%.
“Towards the end of last year, before I got hurt, I felt like I was doing some better things, and you get hurt and you try to pick up where you left off, but also improve,” Duggar said. “Hopefully, the results will turn around at some point.”
Shortstop Brandon Crawford got the day off Thursday, and is expected to get the day off on Friday, as well, due to some eye issues.
“He’s battling a little conjunctivitis,” Bochy said. “He wears contacts, so we’re trying to get this thing cleared up … just a couple days to let this clear up.”
Crawford was available to be a late-game defensive replacement or a pinch hitter.
“I wore contacts, and [conjunctivitis] is a problem, it gets sticky,” Bochy said. “They don’t sit the same, so they can become an issue.”
The Giants had hoped to keep Aaron Altherr — the outfielder they calimed off waivers from the Phillies — in their system after only getting him one big league at-bat. The organization saw a lot of potential in Altherr, and wanted to get him in the minors and work on his swing and get him at-bats.
That didn’t work out. San Francisco tried to sneak the speedy and athletic outfielder past waivers, but he was claimed by the outfield-starved New York Mets on Thursday.
Though he could be thrown into the category of the Michael Reeds and Connor Joes of the world, Altherr was a piece the Giants were really hoping to keep, and improve organizational depth at a position where they’ve been lacking — the Giants have played 11 different outfielders this season.
“You pull for those guys to be in the big leagues, good for him, but selfishly, we would love to have had him in our system, give him some at-bats, what’s what he needs right now, and reps,” Bochy said. “The Mets saw what we saw: Tremendous potential.”