When the Giants had Barry Bonds in the middle of their lineup, they had a habit of giving up on prospects for veterans. This win now approach led to some postseason success, but the Giants never won a World Series with that approach.
Fast forward to 2015, and the Giants have three championships because of a change in philosophy that began with building through the farm system. This led to the team sticking with young first rounder Matt Cain, instead of trading him away like they had with so many others. And after some down years at the end of the Bonds era, the Giants used those drafts to restock their system for the long term. Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey got the most headlines, but the Giants started looking for players who were worth investing in long term.
This led to the Giants taking Brandon Crawford in the fourth round in 2008, Brandon Belt in the fifth round in 2009, Joe Panik late in the first round in 2011 and Matt Duffy in the 18th round in 2012.
Crawford had built a reputation with his glove in college, but his bat was inconsistent to say the least heading into the draft. So despite a much higher grade, he fell to the fourth round. His bat wasn’t great in the minors either, but his glove kept him in the conversation for a call-up. However, even when Crawford joined the team in 2011, he struggled at the plate. To put his bat in perspective, look at the similarities between Crawford and Andrelton Simmons at age 25.
— Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron) November 13, 2015
However, the Giants believed in two things after winning a championship in 2010: 1.) Pitching and defense is more important than offense. 2.) Building through the farm system will pay off. Crawford slowly started to show improvement at the plate over the next two seasons. In 2015, he put it all together, earning a trip to the Midsummer Classic, winning his first Gold Glove and winning the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting shortstop in the National League.
Belt has always been an interesting case for Giants fans. For fans who believe in traditional stats more, Belt has been a disappointment. He has never hit 20 home runs, let alone 30 like fans expect, and he has never driven in more than 68 runs in a season. For fans who have embraced sabermetrics more, Belt has been a strong two-way player his entire career. He also set career marks in 2015 for home runs, runs batted in and walks with a slash line of .280/.356/.478. Also in 2015, Belt was awarded with his first ever Gold Glove nomination. Belt has always been criticized by fans for what he has not yet done, but his defense at first base, willingness to share the position with Posey without controversy, and his career .803 OPS are clearly valuable.
Panik missed 62 games in 2015, but his slash line of .312/.378/.455 led to a Silver Slugger nomination. He also showed off power he hadn’t shown before with eight home runs in his shortened season. Despite being the only Giants infielder not to be nominated for a Gold Glove, it may be because his best play came in a rehab start in Sacramento.
If Panik can put together a full season in 2016, he could beat out Dee Gordon for both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at second base.
Duffy didn’t even start at third base for the first five weeks of the season, as the team had signed Casey McGehee to start at third. Duffy also had never played third base in his professional career. Despite not starting until May, Duffy earned a nomination for both a Gold Glove as well as Rookie of the Year. And if it wasn’t for the existence of generational talents Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, he’d have a chance at winning both. In his first Major League season, Duffy, had a slash line of .295/.334/.428 that included 12 home runs. While 12 is certainly a small number, it’s important to note that Duffy did not hit a single home run in his entire college career and only hit 13 home runs in three minor league seasons.
Duffy’s development, along with Panik, Belt and Crawford show a patient approach Giants fans weren’t used to. The team’s patience with their homegrown talent has been paramount to their success in both 2012 and 2014. In the 2014 World Series, the Giants ended Game 7 with an entirely homegrown infield and battery. Bumgarner was on the mound, with Posey catching, Belt at first, Panik at second, Crawford at short, and Pablo Sandoval at third.
Despite the Giants missing the postseason in 2015, the infield was historically good. Posey, Belt, Panik, Crawford and Duffy became just the seventh full infield in baseball history where each player had a Wins Above Replacement of at least 3.3.
— Candlestick Will (@CandlestickWill) November 12, 2015
The only other teams to accomplish this were the 2002 New York Yankees, 1983 Milwaukee Brewers, 1977 Texas Rangers, 1950 New York Giants, 1914 Philadelphia A’s and 1906 Chicago Cubs. While the ’02 Yankees infield consisted of homegrown talents as well like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Alfonso Soriano, they also included a huge free-agent signing in Jason Giambi and a trade for Robin Ventura. The Brewers team in ’83 happened to include two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame with Paul Molitor and Robin Yount.
If you include Madison Bumgarner with the five infielders, they had a collective WAR of 29.7 in 2015. By comparison, the 2002 Yankees infield, along with Hall of Fame candidate Mike Mussina, had a combined WAR of 27.8.
There are two things Giants fans can conclude from these numbers: 1.) The Giants homegrown infield was great in 2015. 2.) The Giants homegrown infield could be even better in 2016.