Duda Did That

Lucas Duda entered the 2014 season not ranked particularly high on anyone’s list, in large part due to his spotty track record, but also because of a logjam in the Mets outfield coupled with the presence of Ike Davis at first. Indeed, Duda came in ranked 37th overall at 1st base and in most formats was left until $1 dollar flyer time, last round bottom feed, or in many cases, to the waiver wire. And it turns out he would have provided a heck of a pickup if you took the early risk.

According to the statistical acumen of fresh-faced Zach Sanders, Lucas Duda provided roughly $16 of value and ended the season ranked 10th overall at first base. That coming from a player projected by one of the major projection systems to hit .237/.334/.404 with 11 home runs with 39 RBI. Nobody is perfect, I suppose.

We know what happened, of course, and that includes Ike Davis getting dealt and Duda going on to produce a .253/.349/.481 slash line with 30 home runs, 74 runs, and 92 RBI. Yahtzee. The question for you fantasy baseball types is whether this is repeatable. And I’ll commit to giving you that answer a year from now. What we have in the interim are proverbial tea leaves, but one in particular might guide our best guess.

Duda produced his best offensive season while maintaining a modest .283 BABIP, which by his standards is right about on the money. His career rate currently stands at .292, so one could surmise that his breakout season wasn’t driven entirely by batted ball luck. If you look at his plate discipline data and his batted ball data, there wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary either, compared to career norms:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% Pace
2014 25.90% 58.60% 40.70% 53.40% 86.30% 74.90% 45.30% 23.2
Career 25.50% 58.30% 40.30% 56.40% 86.00% 75.80% 45.30% 22.2

Batted ball data:

2014 20.40% 30.60% 49.00% 7.00% 16.00%
Career 21.20% 32.90% 45.90% 7.30% 13.50%

He did hit a few more fly balls this season, but nothing particularly staggering, and a 16% HR/FB rate really isn’t all that shocking to me given his skill set, so I wouldn’t see this as something that can’t be sustainable going forward. What did change was how far he was hitting his fly balls and home runs.

In 2013, the average distance on his fly balls and home runs hit was 284 feet. In 2014, that changed to almost 300 feet. That’s notable, and the “hit it far and deep” skill isn’t one that is likely to vanish in 2015. What also changed was where these balls were headed. Consider his spray chart from 2013 compared with 2014.


Source: FanGraphs


Source: FanGraphs

Duda was pretty clearly a dead-pull hitter when it came to his power, and in 2014 he did a remarkable job of using all fields. Again, this doesn’t strike me as the kind of approach or skill that is simply going to regress or evaporate in 2015, so it stands to reason that the version of Duda we saw this year has a change to return.

Steamer is already out with their projections and they peg Duda as a .236/.335/.421 hitter with 24 home runs and 76 RBI over the course of a full season. I actually find that to be rather bearish. Duda will be 29 coming into 2015, and perhaps the rational way of thinking is to measure past performance with what we know about aging curves. But for my money, I’d count on a slash line more similar to 2014, and an ISO likely to surpass .200. If he can do that, coupled with hitting in a cleanup spot in the order for a full season, I’d expect him to sit around 28 home runs and make a push for 100 RBI. Given where projections have him, he could still be a steal on draft day, despite a breakout season in 2014.

Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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As statheads we tend to discount the human element a little bit, but Duda might be one of those cases where it’s too obvious to deny.

The guy got locked in when he got a starting role and wasn’t looking over his shoulder anymore. I expect him to replicate his 2014 line in 2015. He struggled at times as an every day starter, too, but overall this year’s performance looks legit.

.253/.349/.481 on the year, .253/.350/.482 from April 19th to EOS, .249/.346/.481 in the second half. He put up a .214/.291/.417 in August, but rebounded nicely in September so it looks like a slump, not a league adjustment. I’m in on Duda.