Sometimes, you’re just way out in front. So when I called Lucas Duda “an okay flier in the deepest of leagues” in late 2011, and then made the bold prediction that Duda would outpace Logan Morrison in 2013, I was just a little early.
As an aside — It’s surprising that your bed can be made with such tepid endorsement. I became the Duda guy because I said he was a good dollar sleeper, an “okay flier” and made a bold prediction that he would be better than a bad first baseman. Lukewarm love if you ask me, but maybe Duda has only inspired hate.
Now that he’s the every day first baseman in New York, what emotions should Duda be inspiring? Other than the self-satisfaction of redemption, in my case, of course.
The first feeling in situations like this should probably be restraint. Duda comes with no pedigree, and he’s a 28-year-old first baseman with two full seasons of plate appearances spread out over four-plus seasons. He has a 162-game average of .247 with 21 homers. He may not even be an every-day player right now, since Josh Satin is stealing at-bats against lefties and his offense against lefties has been 20% worse than league average to date. If this holds true, that would knock his full-season average down to about 14 homers in 2/3 the playing time. You’re basically talking a floor that’s valuable in daily NL-Only leagues with decent-sized benches.
See, I told you I wasn’t a blind Duda-lover.
We also have to admit that his ability to hit his ceiling is vastly improved with Ike Davis gone. And when/if the team falls out of contention, they might even give him the every-day at-bats to see what he can do.
What does his ceiling look like?
If he succeeds, it will be because he shows more power than he has so far, or if he improves against lefties. The power thing is a bit of an issue because it’s most likely power peaks in the mid-20s and dude is already 28. But it’s possible we know less about Duda’s power than we think we do. He’s never once reached the in-season stabilization point for things like isolated slugging percentage, so it’s possible we are trying to judge a large-sample skill with five separate small samples.
Given the small sample size caveat, though, there are a few good signs. We know that batted ball distance has some relation to expected home run per fly ball numbers, and we know that Lucas Duda has the fourth-best average homer and fly distance. Sitting between Joey Votto and Todd Frazier is good news if you’re not actually in the Reds lineup. And this continues a trend. Check his homer plus fly ball average distance starting in 2011: 278, 277, 285, 324.
Power itself may peak early, but players can evolve to take better advantage of what power they have. Duda has worked on having less pre-pitch movement, for example. And Lucas Duda is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone than ever before — the added aggression could lead to a few more strikeouts, but also more power.
And about that platoon problem? 351 plate appearances into his career against southpaws, we can say he’ll whiff against them more. His 31% strikeout rate against them isn’t great, either. But he’s already shown an average walk rate, and if he could show average power, too, he could probably push his weighted offense close to league average against lefties. That would probably be enough to reconsider awarding Josh Satin, a 29 year-old right-handed corner infielder, a full 1/3 share of first base. After all, Satin is projected for worse-than-average weighted offense by both Steamer and ZiPs.
It isn’t the highest ceiling, and the floor’s decently low, so he’s more interesting in deep leagues. This isn’t probably as satisfying as identifying a long-shot prospect before everyone else saw something there. But! Lucas Duda is relevant! He’s finally making good on that dollar investment back in 2011. Redemption for the two-man Duda tout train that Maxamuz and I have been driving.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.