Lucas Duda’s Final Stand; First Base or Bust


There was a brief time when Mets fans thought they had a clean-up hitter for the next ten years.  This month, Ike Davis was officially dangled in the off-season trade market.  How then, did everything go so wrong for Ike Davis?

All that can be said with any certainty, is ever since that fateful day he and David Wright collided near the pitchers mound while attempting to catch a pop-up, and once thought to have contracted Desert Valley fever, Ike Davis has never been the same.

Sep 13, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets left fielder Lucas Duda (21) hits a home run to right allowing two runners to score during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Whether Ike did in fact contract valley fever is still a matter of speculation.  He does live in Arizona during the off-season, and there is the previous case of Arizona Diamondbacks’ Conor Jackson to consider, who’s promising career was cut short.

Otherwise, there is very little to go by.  I do not think we’ll ever get to the true root causes of Ike’s deteriorated play.

I still would love for him to become the Mets clean-up hitter for the next ten years, but Ike has rendered that prospect all but impossible.  Performance speaks for itself.

When recently pressed by radio personality Mike Francesa to state a preference between OBP and home runs, Sandy Alderson gave the slight edge to on-base percentage.  The general manager wasn’t lying when he answered his host’s question.

Between Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Josh Satin, Ike is the only first base candidate to hit 30 home runs in a season.  Yet, this past season, Ike finished last behind Lucas Duda’s .352 OBP, and well behind Josh Satin’s .376 mark, with a respectable .326 on-base percentage.

Lucas Duda supplanted Ike Davis at first base for other similarly fundamental reasons.  From a Mets perspective, both struck out at equally prolific rates last season, both hit for low average, and both actually possess relatively equal power.  Lucas Duda’s swing however, is far less complicated, and he demonstrated a greater ability, and more importantly, a greater willingness to hit to the opposite field.

Lucas Duda additionally comes with an extra year of organizational control over Ike, who is eligible for free agency in 2017, while Duda’s eligibility comes a year later.  Duda has an option left, and could conceivably start the season at AAA-Las Vegas if needed.

On the trade market, other teams just like Ike’s power potential better – no secret there.

It’s no wonder then, Ike Davis was already relegated as the odd man out.  So, unless the Mets acquire another first baseman, more and more, they seem committed to enter next season employing a platoon of Lucas Duda and Josh Satin.

You might say, Lucas Duda, 27, is being afforded one final opportunity to fulfill the Mets long held faith in his ability.  To the Mets credit, they have been patient.  Most are in overwhelming agreement though, that there is something terribly ponderous about hitting 15 home runs, and only driving 33 runs.  Subtracting RBI credited for home runs, he only had 18 adjusted RBI over 318 official at-bats.

Specifically, the Mets want Duda concentrating less on drawing walks, and more on working himself into hitter’s counts, then swinging with fury.  Truth is, when Lucas is not thinking at the plate, he can slug with anyone.  In fact, he recently expressed still feeling overwhelmed at times, stemming from self-imposed pressure to produce in the middle of the order.  He additionally placed a fraction of blame on his unsettled role.

That’s fine.  Confidence is tricky.  So, I’ll give Duda the benefit of the doubt, and assume he gains much needed mental fortitude through a more clearly defined role, predictable playing time, and not having Ike Davis around.  Although, the latter remains to be determined.

It would also help Lucas Duda, if he stayed healthy.  Many questions about him remained unanswered last season.  Duda missed 65 calendar days, from June 22nd through August 25th, with an intercostal (rib cage) strain.

Defensively, Lucas Duda logged 34 games at first last season.  In 280 innings, Lucas fielded 255 chances without committing an error.  He also registered 18 assists, and participated in 19 double plays.  So, glove-wise, the team can reasonably expect representative play from Duda at first.  At the very least, putting left field behind him should ease his tension.

Enter Josh Satin, who played 33 games at first base last season.  In 262 innings, he fielded 275 chances, and committed two errors for a .993 fielding percentage.  Satin registered 16 assists, and partook in 27 double-plays.  The two should be able to man first base effectively enough.

At the very least, Josh Satin, 28, was a reliable player off the bench.  He hit .317 versus lefties, and  .279 overall.  More importantly, he gained an immeasurable level of confidence in his first extended MLB stint.

In projecting a potential platoon, last year’s stats do not bode well for the 2014 season.  Lucas Duda and Josh Satin joined forces on a combined .244 batting average, with 124 hits in 508 official trips to the plate.  Together, they totaled 65 runs scored, hit 31 doubles, 18 home runs, and drove-in a mere 50 runs.  Those were overall stats, and not necessarily limited to their appearances at first base.  That said, the expectations upon Duda for 2014 are in place, and there are reasonable expectations as well, for Josh Satin’s continued progress.

What kind of production can we reasonably expect out of a Duda and Satin combination?  I had some fun with their career averages.  What if a first base platoon in 2014 produces a .255 batting average with 153 hits in 600 at-bats, with 80 runs scored, 27 doubles, 25 home runs, 80 RBI, a .400’ish slugging average, and a .350 OBP?  Is that being overly optimistic?

Corey Hart has been mentioned as an off-campus option.  Putting his dual knee issues aside, last year he had 562 official at-bats, batted .270, hit 35 doubles, 30 home runs, drove in 83 runs, slugged .507, and posted a .334 OBP.  Over Hart’s career, he’s a .276 hitter, who averages 91 runs scored, 36 doubles, 26 homers, 87 RBI, a .491 slugging average, and a .334 OBP.  He has slugged over .500 the last three seasons.

But here’s the problem with signing Corey Hart.  A platoon could conceivably provide somewhat similar results at an obviously cheaper cost.  Indeed, Corey Hart is older and more accomplished, but speculatively speaking, aren’t those the same numbers the organization envisioned from Lucas Duda, who is four years younger than Corey Hart?

The general manager has opened the door for Lucas Duda’s big shot.  The 2014 season is his to seize.

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