Matt Duffy: The Unexpected Key Contributor

Over the course of three years, Matt Duffy has gone from being an 18th round draft pick (568th overall) by the San Francisco Giants in 2012 to being a World Series champion at the end of the of the 2014 season to being a player who had to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training earlier this year to now being the Giants’ everyday third baseman.

Duffy’s ascension from a Long Beach State Dirtbag to a key contributor for the Giants has been astounding and really fun to watch. The result is astounding, but the journey has been even more incredible.

Duffy played three seasons at Long Beach State, and over the course of his college career, he hit .253 with 16 doubles, one triple, no home runs, and he had a .305 on-base percentage and a .289 slugging percentage in 501 at-bats. Duffy started regularly, despite his offensive production, because of his defense.

After getting drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Duffy played for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Class A-Short Season Northwest League, where he hit just .247 in 182 at-bats. In 2013, Duffy moved up to play for the Augusta Green Jackets in the Class A-South Atlantic League, where he hit .307 in 287 at-bats, and then for the San Jose Giants in the Class A-Advanced California League, where he hit .292 in 106 at-bats. Duffy was then promoted in 2014 to the Richmond Flying Squirrels in Double A-Eastern League, where he hit .332 in 367 at-bats, before being promoted to the Giants on August 1, 2014.

Duffy was brought up to the Giants in 2014 to provide some help at second base. He wasn’t projected to become the starting second baseman right off the bat, but he was hitting at a high level in Double A and the Giants lacked other consistent second base options at the time (before Joe Panik started to prove that he could be a reliable starter).

Duffy ended up not securing the starting second baseman job, but he did provide the Giants with some key pinch hitting and pinch running at the end of the regular season and in the postseason. He finished 2014 with a .267 batting average in 60 at-bats.

Entering the 2015 season, Duffy was certainly a contender for a roster spot, given his poise and contributions in 2014, but he had a tough road ahead of him to make that final 25-man roster, since Ehire Adrianza was out of minor league options and was the automatic favorite to earn a roster spot as a backup infielder because of that.

However, Duffy didn’t let that stop him. After hitting .361 with three home runs, 15 RBI, a .400 on-base percentage, and a .639 slugging percentage in 61 at-bats in Spring Training, he was awarded the Barney Nugent Award, which is given out to the best player in his first big league camp. He earned a roster spot over Adrianza due to his massively impressive Spring Training production, but he, yet again, faced a long road towards earning playing time on the Giants in 2015.

Joaquin Arias, a Giants bench veteran, boasted the ability to play all four infield spots and more experience over Duffy, but Duffy had more offensive potential than Arias, which allowed him to earn more spot starts, more pinch-hitting opportunities, and, eventually, more starts ahead of the struggling Casey McGehee. Even though most of his minor league experience was at second base and shortstop, Duffy learned how to play the corner infield positions, in order to make himself more valuable but also to help the team out in any way he could.

Fast forward to June 2015, and Duffy is the Giants’ everyday third baseman. Not McGehee. Not Arias. Duffy.

So far in 2015, Duffy is hitting .303 (tied for the third on the Giants) with eight home runs (fourth on the team), 37 RBI (third on the team), and a .840 OPS (second on the team) in 218 at-bats. Not only is he having a fantastic all-around season, but he’s also shown improvement at the plate each month.

In the month of April, he only had 46 at-bats and had just a .239 batting average with one home run. In May, he hit .313 with two home runs in 80 at-bats, and in June, he hit .326 with five home runs in 92 at-bats. In the last seven days, he’s hitting .400 with two home runs and a 1.343 OPS.

All of those statistics are impressive, but Duffy’s increase in power is especially surprising. A friendly home run competition with Panik and some advice from Buster Posey to keep a simple approach has contributed to Duffy hitting more home runs. He also came up one single short of the cycle on Sunday, which is ironic since he used to rarely hit triples and home runs.

Bruce Bochy recently spoke with Andrew Baggarly of the Bay Area News Group about if he saw Duffy’s power coming:

“I did,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Not quite this early. I just said, `This kid’s going to get stronger.’ You watch his BP and he’s got a quick bat. He’s wiry strong, and when he gets a pitch in the zone, he can do some damage with it.”

Not only has Duffy shown immense improvement on the offensive end, but he’s also picked it up defensively. As mentioned before, he didn’t have much experience at third base coming into the 2015 season, but he’s become much more comfortable at the position and has adjusted well.

Duffy is a team player who wants to help the team win, and he goes about it in a humble manner, much like many of the other Giants players do too. One of the faces of the franchise, Posey, admires Duffy’s approach and attitude. Baggarly again with the report:

“I’ve been a fan of Duffy’s since he got here,” Posey said. “I liked his swing the first time I saw it, and I like his attitude. He plays with confidence, he can take smack and he can deal it out, too. So he’s a lot of fun.”

Duffy’s attitude is a nice contrast to the ungrateful, disrespectful attitude that Giants fans saw from former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval in an interview with Scott Miller of Bleacher Report.

Third base was a big question mark for the Giants heading into 2015, even after McGehee signed. Many fans believed the Giants would miss Sandoval’s production, especially in the power department, and many fans were upset when he chose to sign a five-year, $95 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Let’s compare Duffy’s production so far this season with Sandoval’s:

  • Duffy: .303 average, .349 OBP, .491 SLG, eight home runs, three triples, 11 doubles (2015 salary: $507,000).
  • Sandoval: .270 average, .316 OBP, .407 SLG, seven home runs, one triple, 11 doubles (2015 salary: $17 million).

Who knows if Duffy will keep up this pace, but as of now, Sandoval spurning the Giants doesn’t seem too bad.

Duffy was an 18th round draft pick who couldn’t hit, and now he’s one of the Giants’ hottest hitters and most significant contributors on offense. He was an experienced second baseman and shortstop who hadn’t played much third base, and he’s now the Giants’ everyday third baseman.

Duffy has been the best surprise of 2015, and there’s much more in store for the Duffman.