Prior to the 2021 season, SF Giants outfielder Steven Duggar had been on the roster bubble as he struggled to adjust to major league pitching. However, he tweaked his swing mechanics and the results have offered some encouraging trades.
Did SF Giants outfielder Steven Duggar quietly have a breakout season in 2021?
On the surface, the 27-year-old outfielder had a nice season as he slashed .257/.330/.437 (107 OPS+) with eight home runs, 35 RBI, and 45 runs scored across 297 plate appearances. This included a 9.1 percent walk rate against a 29.6 percent strikeout rate.
To date, this was Duggar's best season by far and the underlying numbers suggest that he may have finally found his groove in the batter's box. In the three seasons before 2021, Duggar had struggled to the tune of 70 OPS+, but he may have found his niche last year.
Against right-handed pitching, he posted a .262/.328/.458 line (116 OPS+) including seven of his eight home runs. He demonstrated modest platoon splits as he registered a .666 OPS against southpaws.
If his numbers against righties continue into 2022, the Giants coaching staff will, undoubtedly, have no problem finding playing time for him as they have leveraged platoon matchups since manager Gabe Kapler took over in 2020. And, more importantly, Duggar could carve out a nice career as a platoon-type outfielder with an above-average glove.
The question is, how sustainable was Duggar's performance last season? It bears mentioning that he posted an unusually high .355 BABIP, so some regression might be coming. Typically, a .300 BABIP is considered normal, and anything above it could represent a red flag.
However, the rest of Duggar's underlying numbers were solid. His .179 Isolated Power (ISO) was a career-high and in the same neighborhood as Kris Bryant (.182 IOS) and Wilmer Flores (.185 ISO). This means that Duggar was not just collecting singles, but he was driving the ball for extra-base hits.
This was being driven by some promising batted ball data. The left-handed bat set career highs in average exit velocity (88 MPH), launch angle (15.2 degrees), and barrel rate (8.3%). The barrel rate signifies that he was catching the sweet spot of the bat at the point of contact in a way that normally results in extra bases or home runs.
In addition to this, Duggar did well to avoid ground balls. His 37.6 percent ground ball rate in 2021 was the best of his career. Ground balls translate into outs at a much higher rate than line drives and fly balls, so generating loft is a good sign.
These are all encouraging trends. So, it is not surprising that the underlying numbers support his modest breakout season with the surface-level stats like OPS and ISO.
After several challenging seasons, 2021 was an encouraging year of development for Duggar. The next step is for him to turn into an everyday player by having better success against left-handed pitching. Even if that part of his game does not develop, his floor could be as a productive platoon player against righties.
The young outfielder will need to prove that his 2021 season was not a fluke, but the mechanical tweaks he has made seemed to pay dividends so far.