When the San Francisco Giants added starting pitcher Mike Leake prior to last season’s July 31 deadline deal, appeared to be a prudent move, made for a reasonably low cost: giving the Cincinnati Reds a decent Single-A pitcher, Keury Mella, and a 26-year-old Triple-A outfielder who was struggling to break through to the Majors.
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It was a worthwhile gamble. But Leake was just okay in the final two months of the 2015 season, failing to provide the boost the Giants sought in their pursuit of a World Series repeat. Now Leake is pitching for St. Louis after landing a nice contract in the offseason, and the Giants retooled their rotation by bringing in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. That part is all fine and good.
The painful part is looking at box scores and seeing Adam Duvall—the outfielder in the deal—smack home run after home run for the Reds as he authors one of the more surprising breakout seasons of 2016.
He has played 54 games—exactly one third of a 162-game schedule—and in that time has hit 17 home runs, 14 doubles, driven in 39 runs and established himself as one of the best right-handed power hitters in the National League. It just so happens that the Giants could use a power-hitting left fielder, preferably one who hits right handed, to invigorate the offense with some run production.
The dismissive response is to point out that he’s doing it in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark, which has a reputation for aiding home run numbers. If his shots were barely leaving the yard, then it would be fair to drop a “yeah but.” However, according to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, which shows the distances of a player’s home runs and where they would have landed in each Major League park, only three of Duvall’s long shots wouldn’t have had the distance to leave AT&T.
Now, there are some caveats to the tracker: it doesn’t factor in San Francisco Bay’s heavy sea-level air or the extra height of AT&T’s right field wall, it doesn’t distinguish whether the home runs were hit at home or on the road (that shot to deep right-center field wouldn’t have left AT&T, but it was hit on the road, so…) and it doesn’t show long fly balls in places such as Miami that would have been gone at other yards.
All that said, 13 of Duvall’s 17 home runs would have easily left AT&T, mostly in left and left-center fields. If he were playing everyday in San Francisco, he might not have the .911 OPS he is carrying into Thursday’s action, but it wouldn’t be all that much lower. And while he might not be on pace for nearly 50 bombs, he’s obviously capable of supplying power to a Major League lineup.
So, why didn’t Duvall ever get much of a chance with the Giants? The answer to that might come in the next couple months, when the league figures out how to pitch to him and exploit the weaknesses that concerned the Giants brass.
Mixed in with his gaudy power numbers are signs that he isn’t exactly the one that got away: he’s batting .267 and has walked just seven times while striking out in a third of his at-bats—while he has smacked 12 extra-base hits in the past 16 games (an unsustainable pace), he’s whiffed a repugnant 22 times in that stretch.
These numbers reflect Duvall’s tendencies in the Minors that rendered him expendable. While he topped 20 home runs four times, his career .267 minor-league average didn’t promise much Major League potential. All-or-nothing sluggers just don’t fit the Giants’ philosophy.
Duvall probably hasn’t arrived as a perennial all-star poised to challenge for home run titles for years to come. And at some point this season, we will probably see why Giants GM Bobby Evans opted to trade Duvall rather than keep him for the off chance he goes on a home-run rampage. But it sure would be nice to have one of those rampages right about now.