Oct. 3, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets right fielder Lucas Duda (21) at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

You Underrate Lucas Duda

Lucas Duda is not a good defensive outfielder. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to call his past performance ‘bad’. His best case scenario in left field next year is probably somewhere between ‘mediocre’ and ‘meh’. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a positive contributor for the Mets. In fact, he has at least a decent chance of contributing positively. His poor 2012 seems to have some convinced that Duda is destined for mediocrity. There’s one sign though that frames a pretty convincing argument that Duda should rebound in 2013:

His plate discipline

Here’s a trivia question you can float around next time you’re at the bar: In 2012, which Met had the best unintentional walk rate? Hint: It wasn’t David Wright. In fact, he was third. Lucas Duda collected 51 bases on balls in 2012. None were intentional. That 11.1% rate was the best on the Mets (Ike Davis just edged out Wright for second, 9.98% to 9.93%). Going a step further, it was the 6th-best rate in the National League among players with at least 450 plate appearances (Davis and Wright were 14th and 15th, respectively). The significance of this? That it’s normal. In 2011 / 12, Lucas collected a walk in 10.4% of his plate major league plate appearances. As a minor leaguer, his walk rate was 12.0% below AA. In 664 plate appearances for AA Binghamton, that rate was 13.6%, and in 562 plate appearances at AAA Buffalo it was 11.4%. The fact that Duda was able to keep up his exceptional walk rate despite his struggles suggests that his strikeout issues were, perhaps, aberrant. In the upper minors (AA / AAA), Duda has an 18.2% strikeout rate. While not great, it’s fairly reasonable for someone who identifies as a ‘power hitter’. In 2011, the rate was only 16.4%, but it jumped to 26.1% in 2012. Conjecturally speaking (I am not a scout, after all), there’s a pretty decent explanation to this: Duda was trying too hard to hit home runs. The chart below breaks down Duda’s batted ball profile (all percentages relative to number of batted balls):

Batted Balls BIP% FB% GB% LD% HR% 2B/3B%
2011 249 82.7243 43.3735 34.1365 22.4900 4.0161 9.6386
2012 284 70.8229 42.2535 35.2113 22.5352 5.2817 5.2817

*BIP% – percentage of at bats ending with a ball in play

A few things stick out here: Duda’s batted ball profile remained remarkably similar in all but one area: his extra base hit rate. He experienced a slight uptick in ground balls (3.14%), but that isn’t of much note. The big change came in his extra base hits. His home run rate jumped 31.5% in 2012, which is by all counts a good thing for someone with his power potential (fun fact: Duda’s average home run in 2012 was hit only 5.5 feet shorter than Giancarlo Stanton‘s). What’s somewhat more concerning, though, is that he hit 45.2% fewer doubles and triples (relative to his batted ball numbers) which led to an overall 22.7% decrease in extra-base hits.

Given that everything else stayed so similarly (his line drive rate was virtually identical, changing by only 0.035%), it would seem that his doubles rate and his strikeout rate are linked. Which again, conjecturally speaking, logically follows the trying too hard for the home run argument. Looking at his pitch profile:

Balls Strikes Strike %
2011 526 833 0.612951
2012 762 1137 0.598736

we see that he was getting a similar amount of pitches in the strike zone. Given that his walk rate was significantly higher in 2012 (11.1%) than in 2011 (9.5%), it lends that he wasn’t swinging as much at pitches outside the strike zone (which, incidentally, is true). Looking at his swinging profile, we see that Duda swung much less often overall in 2012:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
2011 29.80% 64.20% 44.00%
2012 25.30% 62.50% 39.30%

This chart contains a nugget of good news, and one of bad news: The good news is that Duda swung at fewer pitches outside the zone (O-Swing% on the chart). The bad news is that he swung at fewer pitches inside the strike zone (Z-Swing%). Combine that with the fact that Duda saw fewer fastballs in 2012 (from 35.5% of pitches to 30.1%), it means that Duda’s selectivity (at times hesitance would be the better word) at the plate began to hurt him. When he wasn’t ahead of the count, he suffered (as shown in the chart below, comparing his OPS to his batting situation):

2011 2012
Ahead 128 36.89 1.104 182 39.65 1.025
Even 116 33.43 0.804 133 28.98 0.657
Behind 103 29.68 0.623 144 31.37 0.438
TOTAL 347 100 0.852 459 100 0.718

Though the numbers are lower across the board, it’s the bottom of that chart that spells Duda’s offensive issues in 2012. He swung at fewer pitches in the strike zone. When he was ahead, this led to more walks. When he was behind, this led to more strikeouts than in the past.

When a young player has a rough season, the ‘why’ becomes just as important as the ‘what’. When multiple factors in his performance regress, it can be foresight of future struggles. In Duda’s case, however, it seems that only one variable changed, which is an encouraging sign for the future. Hypothetically, if Duda had only struck out in 20% of his at bats (all else holding), he would’ve hit roughly .271/.357/.456. Were his extra base hit rate to bounce back, that .813 OPS would be even higher.

And that’s the rub. Duda needs to be slightly more aggressive in fastball counts and, to an extent, with pitches in the strike zone in general. Before spring training starts, hitting coach Dave Hudgens should work with Duda to understand that trying to find the home run seems to be to his detriment. He doesn’t need to hit 30 home runs to be successful, especially with a high walk rate and if he just worries about making solid contact with pitches in the strike zone (by being more aggressive in hitter’s counts, and earlier in at bats), and lets the power come naturally (as he ostensibly did in 2011), he could be a highly-productive middle-of-the-order hitter for the Mets in 2013. And if that happens, most of us wouldn’t worry about the defense.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jazzmasters Christian Stefos Migliorese

    I want the duda of 2011 back.

  • TheCatch2006

    I wouldn’t have to underrate Lucas Duda if he didn’t continuously post inconsistent numbers through his career

    • Dan Haefeli

      That’s a somewhat unfair statement. As I showed above, other than the strikeout rate, he’s been surprisingly consistent (in both the upper minors and the majors, his brief 2010 stint notwithstanding). You’re effectively basing your entire pessimism on a single cold streak (one of about 200 PA). In mid June of 2012, Duda had an .803 OPS. Young players struggle from time to time. But the ability is there.
      In fact, Duda was more productive on balls he put in play in 2012 than in 2011. The only issue was that he didn’t put enough of them into play. If the strikeout rates decline, everything else returns. Quickly.

  • rwdavis22461

    He was not known so he did well. now that pitchers got the book he needs to show the other Duda from two years ago. He is not over or underrated the story on Duda still needs to be written by him. So i do not want to hear he is under rated he is not. He is what he is . A project .

    • metsman

      I agree with every thing but your last statement; there is a tale of two seasons so to say “he is what he is” doesn’t really mean anything and it’s a contradiction to your prior statement that the story still needs to be written. It’s a game of adjustments. The pitchers needed to adjust to him, once they did, the dreaded “sophmore slump” set in. With no competition to speak of and no payroll to spend, he has really lucked into this position to have another year to make or break his career.

    • rwdavis22461

      He had two 1/4s of seasons i do not cosider him more then a rookie in playing time I do not know if we know what he can do yet from April to OCt all we seen is bits and pieces . I think it takes two full season to give a fair evulation . I do not want to here Under or over anything with him the jury is still out on him to me at least only speaking on behalf of myself.

    • Dan Haefeli

      Your initial claim isn’t even entirely fair. Were it to be an effect of the pitchers catching up to him, more than one thing likely would’ve changed. It wouldn’t make sense for his walk rate to jump 2 percentage points if pitchers were working him better, or if he were having a tougher time with pitching.

    • rwdavis22461

      I understand your point fairly. I am a die hard Mets fan since 1966 since i was 5 and now i am 51 . But i am not sugar coat Mets players because i am a fan i do not buying into media telling me who to like and not. I root for Lucas i am certainly not rooting against him but what irrates me is that because ownership does not have money to get outfielders their trying to cushen the blow on reality Now i am not mad at the current crop of personel i am blaming ownership and Sandy on not going after other players all winter long not just now with the flurtation of Bourn if they would of been more proactive and listening to Sandy how more proactive he said he need to be other then the R A Dickey deal he did squat for most of 3 + monthes . then he says the cubbords are empty they were not so in Decemeber as you see average OFs go to other places and then he did nothing to get Hairston to stay . If he was more proactive in early Jan he would of signed him

    • rwdavis22461

      If Jason Bay would of played up to his past history who knows if we would of seen the need of Duda to be in LF like you said Hairston and Baxter were manning RF and Torres for most part was in CF.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jamie-Dench/100001682796392 Jamie Dench

    This was an excellent post, I think if this is implemented we will have the 2011 Duda back. As we all know the power will come to a player who as it as long as they don’t force it. I feel that will be the key to Duda reaching his potential, whatever that may be

  • dfgsdfgsdf

    He wasn’t just bad in the OF last season, he was arguably the worst outfielder in all of baseball. He cost the Mets somewhere between 21 and 35 runs with his poor defensive play. He’s going to have to become a very good hitter to cover for his attrocious defense.

    • Dan Haefeli

      For the sake of semantics, Duda’s no longer the worst defensive outfielder in the division.
      Lucas Duda was worth -2.2 wins defensively (per baseball-reference) in 846 innings. Delmon Young was worth -1.7 wins defensively in 221 innings.

    • Sylow59

      But in no way does that make Duda good or even bad. He’s horrible. Just because the idiot phillies are going to trot out You g doesn’t change that. You’re not comparing Mercedes and BMWs. You’re comparing Pintos and Pacers.

    • metsman

      oh come on. He’s a left fielder. If he makes routine plays and nothing else but hits 800+ OPS who gives a flying F, People are placing way too high a premium on his defense, (lack thereof). Between K’s, infield plays, right and center field, is our season really going to rise and fall on Duda’s defense? …or the defense of any left fielder, on any team? Statistically speaking, first base, the position infamous for sticking bad fielders at, has the most margin for error; it’s why Davis isn’t a BMW, he’s a Bugatti. With Duda, You are talking about a offsense oriented first baseman who was plunged into right field at the majors, primarily (29 games in the minors). As left fielders go, he could easily be medicore; the whole package is a Honda, and that is nothing to sneeze at

    • Sylow59

      If he were offensively minded he’d hit better. and defense matters at the extremes. Really good or really bad. Anything in between is pretty much a wash. Duda’s defense matters because it is so bad.

    • BringBackDaveTelgheder

      That’s looking at the best case scenario in every possible light.

      He’s one of the worst defenders I can remember, his best year (2/3rds of 2011) didn’t make up for his terrible d. I can barely seeing him becoming an oWAR guy of 3..

    • Dan Haefeli

      You can’t see Duda being a 3 oWAR guy? He was worth 2 oWAR his rookie season, and had a net WAR of 0.9 (over 347 PA’s). If you extrapolated everything else over a full season, he’d be worth about 1.5 bWAR, which would be perfectly viable for the Mets, considering their entire outfield was worth -0.3 in 2012.

    • metsman

      This whole Bourn argument has created this fad of seriously overvaluing defense with certain Met fans. Bourn was more valuable than DIckey last season according to their WARs. People went from under valuing defense, to goin apesh-t over it. Duda makes most routine plays and he won’t be making many highlight reels, let’s not go overboard. 35 runs? give me a friggin break. Advanced metrics make a mess of defensive evaluation . He’s a natural first baseman. He will settle in left alright if we give him a little time. All mediocre fielders should hit well to stay around, that is not exlusive to Duda. Murphy is in the same boat.

  • http://twitter.com/ifti99 ifti99

    There is no way Duda should start for a major league team. He’s arguably the worst defensive OF in baseball, and he’s not much of a hitter either. Even based on hitting alone (.256 BA, averaging 18 HRs, he’s at best a backup or a starter on a team that has many good hitters. Once you add in his defense, well, he’s awful. The guy should be a DH, and even there, he would be near the bottom of the pack. Why do people consistently overrate Mets’ players?

    • Dan Haefeli

      FWIW – Lucas Duda was worth -2.2 defensive wins in ~860 innings last year. Delmon Young was worth -1.7 defensive wins in ~220 innings in left field. Duda isn’t even the worst defensive outfielder in the NL East, let alone the majors.
      Offensively, despite what was considered a ‘let down’ of a year in 2012, Duda still has a 115 OPS+ for the past two seasons, suggesting that he’s about 11% better than an average hitter. Assuming he rebounds (which, as I pointed out, there’s a lot of reason to think so) he’ll be a much better player in 2013. He may not be an all-star outfielder, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Duda will be a positive-value player next season.

    • BringBackDaveTelgheder

      You do realize how illogical that first part is right? It’s not difference if Duda is the worst, the second worst etc, by any metric he is downright dreadful with no real way for him to ever get better.

    • Dan Haefeli

      “With no real way for him to ever get better”. You realize how illogical that is, right?

      It’s absolutely logical. It directly and immediately refutes his claim that Duda is the worst outfielder in the majors. Though, frankly, his defense in left was much better in comparison. Extrapolating his defensive ratings (I’m going to use DRS here) over a full season, he’d have been worth -14 defensive runs in left field, compared to -29 in right field (which also represents a significant improvement over the extrapolated mark of -39 in 2011). Similarly, it’s unfair to say that he can’t get better. He’s certainly not fast, but he also lacks any real experience. He has 1402 innings of outfield experience in the majors. By all accounts, he’s still learning the position. He’s not going to win any gold gloves, but every indication points toward him becoming routinely competent as he learns to take better paths and get better reads on balls in play.

      The point I’m trying to make is that, poor defense aside, it’s absolutely possible for Duda to be a positive-value player for the Mets. He was worth about a win in part time in 2011, and (as suggested by my article here) has every ability to be as good, if not better at the plate in the future. If Duda can post an .850 OPS, there’s virtually no way his defense would keep him from being a viable major league baseball player.

  • Henry Johnson

    Nice work.

    I think part of the reasons Duda is “underrated” is that most fans don’t care about, or look for the things you stated that Duda does well and is valuable. They bode well for him bouncing back. In LF, I could honestly care less about his defense if he can hit. This is not to say LF defense doesn’t matter. No. It’s just saying if old Manny can man LF, then Duda can hide out there as well…as long as he hits.

    • BringBackDaveTelgheder

      Defense is a huge part of the game. You can’t just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. We already have one other weak spot at 2b..

      I just don’t see him ever approaching a level of offense that will justify giving him spot.

    • Henry Johnson

      I agree that defense does matter. I just don’t think LF defense matters as much as say 2B defense. You have to be strong up the middle defensively. In the outfield, on the corners, good RF are a huge plus. LF defense…not so much a worry.

    • BringBackDaveTelgheder

      You’re absolutely right on that. It’s less critical out in LF. Let’s just hope he continues to develop offensively.

    • Henry Johnson

      That is the hope.

  • Robert Sahm

    dont worry all the front runner mets fans will love him when he starts hitting like kingman that guy was a butcher in the OF and 1B but every fan didnt care as long as he led the league in HR,S which he did alot same as HOJO SHITTY DEFENSIVE 3b but good power hitter