Was the Giants infield breakout sustainable?
Let’s face it, the Giants infield is one of the best in the major leagues. Their infield ranked first in baseball in WAR thanks to a number of breakout players, specifically Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy. As fun as it is to watch a player go from a nobody to a star, it’s never a sure thing that their breakout season will carry over to the next season.
Interestingly, only one of these infielders saw regression as the season went on – Brandon Crawford. Crawford had a very strong first half, hitting .262/.305/.456 with nine home runs and, as always, elite defense. Crawford also led shortstops with 3 wins above replacement. Crawford experienced a bit of a reality check in the second half, though. His batting line fell to .248/.305/.456, and Crawford’s 1.6 WAR was 10th in the league. It was still an impressive season, but his second half was a bit worrisome. A .284 BABIP doesn’t suggest Crawford had particularly bad luck, so what Giants fans will be wondering going into 2016 will be whether the first half or second half performance is the ‘real’ Brandon Crawford. His early-season performance matches that of an elite shortstop, while the latter-half of the year more closely resembled an above average player. Crawford’s 2015 was truly a breakout performance, but it’s worth wondering if his future seasons will more closely resemble his 2014 numbers.
Joe Panik blew past expectations in his first full season as a big leaguer, but the results seem to be a bit more sustainable. As a prospect, Panik’s always shown a remarkable ability to avoid strikeouts, and that talent was just as good this past season, with a mere 9.7 percent strikeout rate. It’s a bit hard to expect this, along with an 8.8 percent walk rate, to continue throughout his career, as Panik didn’t show his low strikeout rate and high walk rate in the high minors. Still, the power, average, and defense all seem sustainable. As long as he can return from a season ending back injury and stay healthy, Panik could repeat his 2015, though a slight decrease in average and on-base skills wouldn’t be surprising.
Possibly the biggest shock on the 2015 Giants was Matt Duffy. Duffy was never really regarded as a serious prospect, yet somehow pulled off a nearly 5 WAR season in 2015. Duffy was able to perform well in all facets of the game last season, and his all around above average numbers allowed him to be one of the best rookies. Duffy’s season was unexpected, but it doesn’t seem to be wholly unsustainable. It’s hard to imagine his power numbers continuing—the player with 13 minor league home runs hit 12 this season in the big leagues—but his speed seems to be legitimate. Going forward, Duffy may be more of a .280-.290 hitter than one that hits .295, mostly due to some BABIP regression, but the overall package should still remain impressive and valuable. His great defense and well rounded offensive profile may not make for an elite player overall, but Duffy certainly is a very good third baseman to have.