With 31 games left in the 2014 season, Lucas Duda is triple slashing at .260/.355/.507. He has 26 home runs and 76 RBI. Duda has become a legitimate major league slugger, and it has been refreshing to watch his development.
Coming into this season, there were questions surrounding Duda. Some of these questions were around his rather passive style of hitting, while others concerned his confidence. Perhaps the two were related. However, since moving to first base on June 17th of last season, Duda has become a different player. He seemed to relax in his natural position, and with that came marked success.
Duda had good reason to lack confidence as an outfielder. He wasn’t good at it. In fact, as a right fielder in 2012, he posted a UZR of -22.5. After moving to left field in 2013 (for the first two and a half months of the season), his UZR improved slightly to -12. However, his offense suffered while he was miscast in the outfield. In 2012, he posted a triple slash of .239/.329/.389. That year, Duda had 15 home runs and 43 RBI.
Then, something good happened for Lucas. After moving to first base, his UZR improved to +3.1 in 2013. It stands at +3.3 for 2014. As referenced above, a corresponding jump in his offense has clearly taken place.
Duda still has some warts in his game. He has not hit left-handed pitching particularly well, hitting just .154 against southpaws in 2014. However, he has begun hitting the ball to left field more consistently, and this will serve him well as he gets more at bats against lefties (and also could reduce the shifts that the opposition uses).
If any statistic points to Duda’s improved confidence, it’s his success with runners in scoring position. This year, Duda is hitting .319 in such situations, versus .147 last year. That increase is almost off the charts.
I was not a Lucas Duda fan when he played the outfield. It seemed his offense would never be enough to make up for his defensive deficiencies. However, as a first baseman with increased confidence, Duda has become a force to be recognized in the National League. He has incredible power, and is quite capable around the bag on defense.
The Mets seem to have made the right call in keeping Duda over Ike Davis. They may have made an even better call last June when they moved Duda to first base.