Before the final home night game of the season, the San Francisco Giants hand out the Willie Mac Award, named after Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. The award is bestowed upon the player who “best exemplifies the spirit and leadership consistently shown by the San Francisco legend throughout his career.” Sometimes the award is given to that one player who completely dominated the league for the whole season, like Buster Posey in 2012 or Madison Bumgarner in 2014, but usually the Willie Mac award goes to to the player who represented the best story of the season, like Ryan Vogelsong in 2011, Andres Torres in 2010, or Dave Dravecky in 1989. The award is voted on by Giants players and coaches, giving fans the opportunity to see which player’s performance on and off the field inspired the rest of his teammates the most.
Easily the best part of the Wilie Mac Award, though, is the ceremony. The Willie Mac Award Ceremony gives Giants fans a chance to see cult heroes of years past, show their respect to this year’s winner, and see what kind of shape Bengie Molina is in. Like every other ceremony they put their hands on, the Giants do this one right. Former winners come from all corners to attend the ceremony, showing how much of a community the Giants have created over the years. 33 men have won the award since its inception in 1980, and this year, 21 of the former winners are scheduled to attend the event. Half of those unable to attend are currently working for other clubs, and one more, Jose Uribe, is deceased. The former winners want to be there as much as we do.
With two days to go before the ceremony, here are 10 Giants that have a case for the award, in order of whose case is strongest:
10. Joaquin Arias
Wait, don’t leave! Okay fine, fine. I’ll be serious.
10. Sergio Romo (50 to 1)
On July 11th, Sergio Romo’s ERA was 5.19. His slider was flat, and he no longer possessed the mound swagger that once defined him. Then, Sergio Romo dabbled in the amazing substance known as “All Star Break”, and boy, did it do wonders for him. Since the break, Romo has lowered his ERA in 27 of his 30 appearances. In the first half of the season, Romo allowed one quarter of all of his inherited runners to score. In the second half, only 8% of those runners have come in to score. Most importantly, he’s fun to watch again. His loopy slider has returned, and with it, his confidence on the mound. Romo’s ERA now sits at 3.15, and it’d be great to see him finish up with that number under 3. It would be a proper reward for a guy who has given his all in the second half.
9. Kelby Tomlinson (40 to 1)
Sure, he’s only played for two months of the season, but in those two months Kelby Tomlinson has brought defensive stability and a timely bat to the lineup in Joe Panik’s absence. Going into the season, the two biggest question marks were production out of third base, and Joe Panik’s ability to duplicate his performance from 2014. Panik was able to do that and more, showing his ability to drive the ball and play an outstanding second base. His loss was felt nearly as much as Hunter Pence’s. Tomlinson was brought up to cover for Ehire Adrianza, but immediately showed that he could handle the dog days at second base far better than Adrianza could. Kelby Tomlinson was never going to completely make up for Panik’s absence, but his presence was immediately noticed by Giants fans. Tomlinson will hopefully work at multiple positions this offseason, as his bat, speed, and fielding would be a great help in 2016.
8. Jake Peavy (35 to 1)
Peavy is another case of a tale of two halves. However, his halves can be broken up into more obvious categories: pre-injury and post-injury. Peavy was abysmal in his first two starts, giving up 8 runs in 7.2 innings over two starts. The Giants shelved him, and fans dreaded the day that he would inevitably be added back into the rotation. Since his return in early July, Peavy has a 3.21 ERA while batters are hitting just .228 against him. Peavy starts are met with anything but dread these days. He visually gives it his all on the mound, especially when it’s mattered most. In September, his ERA is 1.99 with a WHIP of 0.78.
7. George Kontos (30 to 1)
On the eve of the 2012 season opener, the Giants traded their 2011 backup catcher, Chris Stewart, to the Yankees. With Hector Sanchez making the team as Buster Posey’s backup, and Eli Whiteside in Fresno, Stewart was a surplus, and was sent off to New York for Kontos, because why not. Three years later, Kontos has evolved into one of the best middle-relief pitchers in the game. Kontos has thrown more innings in relief than any other pitcher for the Giants, including long-man Yusmeiro Petit. Through his 72.2 IP, Kontos has a 1.98 ERA and a WHIP under 1. Most impressively, Kontos went from the beginning of the season through July 24th without allowing an inherited runner to score. Without Kontos, the Giants certainly would’ve fallen out of contention a lot earlier.
6. Buster Posey (15 to 1)
5. Madison Bumgarner (15 to 1)
Would anyone have a serious gripe if one of these two were to win the award? The Giants All-Star battery lead the team in nearly every category this season, and have been the clear on-field leaders. These players rarely take home the award, though. The team leader in WAR has only won four times: 1980 (Jack Clark), 1985 (Mike Krukow), 2012 (Posey), and 2014 (Bumgarner). Bumgarner or Posey would also become only the third two-time winners, joining Krukow (’84 & ’85), J.T. Snow (’97 & ’04), and Bengie Molina (’07 & ’08). Bumgarner and Posey will always make Giants fans wonder in amazement what they did to deserve such amazing ballplayers (hint: 2005-2008), but the Willie Mac Award is about a good story.
4. Brandon Crawford (10 to 1)
Brandon Crawford has always gotten a pass from Giants fans. His lackluster offense was always forgiven because, hey, he plays great defense, and even better, he’s a local kid. 2015 was a reward for the Giants for staying faithful to Crawford through his previous offensive struggles. 10.2% of Crawford’s 2015 plate appearances have resulted in an extra base hit. For comparison, Buster Posey’s XBH% is at 7.7%. Somehow, Crawford leads the team in home runs, which is actually the most ridiculous thing ever. Think about all the failed hitting prospects that the Giants have had over the years, and then think about how Brandon Crawford leads a team with Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Madison Bumgarner in home runs. Crawford is the leading example of what happens when you come up through the Giants organization and play the game the right way with the right attitude. There’s certainly a Willie Mac Award in his future.
3. Tim Hudson (5 to 1)
Although 2015 was a subpar season for Hudson statistically, he’s been Willie Mac Award material all year. Being the ultimate teammate, Hudson accepted a DL assignment when he wasn’t pitching well, patiently waited for a chance to return to the rotation, and pitched well once rosters expanded in September. He’s going to finish his career on a strong note, with a 3.10 September ERA, though he hasn’t pitched into the 7th inning at all. The team has made it clear to Hudson how much they appreciate him, dressing up as him for the final flight home of the season, and honoring him by wearing “Hudson” shirseys before his start in Oakland. Hudson hasn’t necessarily had an inspirational season, but an inspirational career. As one of the final 12 players left in 2015 who appeared in games in the 1990s (quick, name them all!), it’d be nice to send him into retirement with a permanent invite to each future Willie Mac Award ceremony.
2. Javier Lopez (3 to 1)
I could tell you about the time Javier Lopez gave up a single to Ender Inciarte to lead off the bottom of the 8th on Opening Day, that Jean Machi then immediately brought in to score via a wild pitch, walk, and single. Or, I could tell you about May 6th and June 25th, when Lopez gave up a run in each game, pitching in garbage work of blowout games. Perhaps I could tell you about June 26th and July 5th, when he gave up doubles to Carlos Gonzalez and Bryace Harper. Or maybe you’d like to hear about August 30th, when he gave up his only home run of the year.
But that’d be it. Those would be the only six times all season that Javier Lopez has allowed runs. A leadoff single, doubles to two of the best lefties in the league (including the future MVP), a home run to a righty, and two runs in mop up duties. In 75 appearances. Seventy-five! Of all the pitchers in baseball to throw at least 30 IP this season, his .142 BAA is the best. Lefties are hitting .115 against him. What’s most amazing about this is that Lopez is facing the same lefties year after year, and guys still can’t figure him out. He’s also the Giants’ winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the most charitable player in the community. I’m sure this season must rank as one of the best ever for a LOOGY, which is really saying something. A middle reliever has never won the award, but Lopez would be a great choice this year.
1. Matt Duffy (2 to 1)
On May 23rd, the Giants played a doubleheader against the Rockies. Matt Duffy was on the bench for the first game, and started in the second game.
The first game of that doubleheader was the last game that Matt Duffy did not play in.
- Nori Aoki was put the on DL with a fractured fibula
- Jeremy Affeldt was put on the DL with a strained shoulder
- Tim Lincecum was placed on the DL with a forearm contusion
- Tim Hudson was placed on the DL with a strained shoulder
- Andrew Susac was placed on the DL with a sprained thumb
- Tim Hudson was placed on the DL with a strained shoulder, again
- Joe Panik was placed on the DL with back inflammation
- Mike Leake was placed on the DL with a hamstring strain
- Angel Pagan was placed on the DL with patella tendinitis
- Nori Aoki was placed on the concussion DL
- Hunter Pence was placed on the DL with an oblique strain
- Jeremy Affeldt was placed on the DL with a…knee subluxation? Sure, that.
- Matt Cain was placed on the DL with elbow nerve irritation
- Andrew Susac was out for the season with a wrist sprain
- Tim Lincecum was lost for the season due to hip surgery
- Hector Sanchez was lost for the season due to an ankle sprain
- Joe Panik was lost for the season due to back inflammation
- Brandon Belt was lost for the season due to a concussion
- Nori Aoki was lost for the season due to a concussion
- Gregor Blanco was lost for the season due to a concussion
- Juan Perez was lost for the season due to an oblique strain
- Ehire Adrianza was lost for the season due to a concussion
Yeah. And that doesn’t even account for dings and dents that kept Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey out of a handful of games. Matt Duffy wasn’t officially made the starting third baseman until late May, yet he’s going to finish the season with the most plate appearances on the team. He’s going to finish in first or second place for MLB rookies in hits, doubles, runs batted in, batting average, slugging percentage, wins above replacement, and total bases. He has the fourth best fielding percentage among all National League third basemen. If you take every single rookie season from the past five seasons, Duffy has the second best WAR of them all (even better than Buster Posey’s 2010 rookie campaign). The only problem is, first place belongs to Kris Bryant, who is going to win National League Rookie of the Year.
Duffy deserves the Willie Mac Award. Some would see it as a consolation prize for not winning Rookie of the Year, but it’s more than that. Duffy has provided consistency in a season where, outside of Bumgarner and Posey, no one else could. No one knew what to expect from third base after Pablo Sandoval announced that he was signing with the Red Sox. Casey McGehee clearly wasn’t the answer. Matt Duffy forced his way into the lineup and played every single day, when no one else was physically able to. He was a reliable bat in the lineup, played a damn fine third base, and inspired us all with this great article about playing the game “The Giants’ Way” in The Players’ Tribune. In a year that will hopefully be remembered for the team fighting until the finish, Matt Duffy should be honored for being the guy that led the charge each night.
On Friday night, Willie McCovey will hand out the award named after himself in a ceremony that will bring tears to the eyes of Giants fans everywhere. For the first time since 2009, it’s very unclear who the winner will be. While you’re wiping your tears away, be sure to remind yourself how lucky you are to root for the team that holds amazing ceremonies like this, and to root for the team that has so many players who are worthy of the award. They all play the game The Giants’ Way, and boy, is it great to watch.
Honorable Mention (players who didn’t suck and played long enough to make a positive impact):
Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Strickland, Josh Osich, Joe Panik