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SF Giants: Is Steven Duggar’s hot start for real?

SF Giants right fielder Steven Duggar (6) hits a single against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Oracle Park. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
SF Giants right fielder Steven Duggar (6) hits a single against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Oracle Park. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
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SF Giants, Steven Duggar
CINCINNATI, OHIO – MAY 20: Steven Duggar #6 of the SF Giants hits a single in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 20, 2021. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Many expected the SF Giants outfield to generate plenty of offense, but few expected Steven Duggar to highlight the group. However, that was exactly the case in May. Duggar appeared in 25 games, played exceptional defense, hit three home runs, and posted a .322/.365/.576 triple-slash. Once one of the best prospects in San Francisco’s farm system, could the Giants have unearthed another late-blooming outfielder?

SF Giants OF Steven Duggar is hitting like he never has before, but how sustainable is his recent offensive output?

Duggar has volleyed between San Francisco and the minor leagues for the past few years. In 135 career MLB games from 2018-2020, Duggar hit just .236/.281/.349 with 27 walks and 133 strikeouts. However, the Clemson alum has continued crushing minor league pitching, even posting strong numbers at spring training.

Regardless of his offensive potential, Duggar remained a valuable piece of depth because of his defensive abilities. His above-average arm, plus speed, and elite first step may make him the best defensive outfielder in the organization. While the Giants have had plenty of success in the outfield, Duggar maintained his 40-man roster spot because of his ability to contribute with the glove.

He has had flashes at the plate throughout his career, but nearing his 28th birthday, it seemed more likely he would never put it all together offensively. Then, after focusing on improving his mindset and swing this offseason, he began producing like he never had before.

Since the beginning of the season, Duggar has played a pivotal role in the team’s success, especially in a significant win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Beyond the traditional counting numbers, advanced statistics have shown Duggar took a huge step forward. Below is a list of Statcast data from Duggar’s 2021 season with his previous career highs in parenthesis.

Average Exit Velocity: 89.2 mph (85.7 mph)
Max Exit Velocity: 109.1 mph (107.4 mph)
Launch Angle: 15.7 degrees (13 degrees)
Sweet Spot: 39.5% (36.7%)
Barrel %: 11.6% (4.3%)
wOBA: .398 (.297)
Hard Hit: 37.2% (32.8%)

It’s undeniable that Duggar is making harder and better contact than he ever has before. With that said, there are reasons to temper expectations. His .475 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is a clear red flag about the sustainability of his success. Even with the spike in hard contact, Duggar’s expected triple-slash based on his Statcast data is .233/.286/.450. A crude adjustment to his numbers assuming a .325 BABIP, which is more in line with his career and league averages, would bring them to a similar .235/.288/.471.

Just because Duggar has been lucky does not mean he has not improved his outlook as a player. Jackie Bradley Jr struggled mightily at the plate early in his career before a breakout 2015 season. Like Duggar, Bradley was an elite defensive outfielder who had been a productive hitter throughout the minor leagues. While Bradley has seen his power output regress over the course of his career, he has emerged as an average everyday player and elite fourth outfielder/platoon option. Bradley’s career .234/.315/.404 triple-slash now looks like a reasonable expectation for Duggar.

Another example of an elite defensive outfielder with some similarities to Duggar is Kevin Kiermaier. The left-handed Tampa Bay Ray has a career .246/.306/.409 line and has consistently ranked among the most valuable defensive players in baseball. That seems like a similarly sensible projection for Duggar.

The expected lines from Duggar’s performance in 2021 are more aligned with low-walk and average power-hitting outfielders like Kevin Pillar. Still, Duggar’s low walk rate is a significant deviation from his minor league career. Duggar is walking at a career-high 6.8% rate in 2021, but he never walked less than 10.1% of the time at any of his stops in the minors. Assuming he maintains his improved ability to generate hard contact, his walk rate should rise with time.

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So is Steven Duggar’s impressive start to 2021 a sign that the SF Giants have unearthed a future All-Star? Probably not. However, he has shown clear and significant improvements over his previous big-league stints. Heading into the season, it was worth wondering how long it would be before the Giants designated Duggar for assignment. Now, it is fair to envision him becoming a long-term contributor in the mold of Kiermaier and Bradley.

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