By: Brian Mangan
Foreword: This article was written yesterday, a few hours prior to Lucas Duda’s super-clutch, game-winning hit off Mariano Rivera in the Subway Series. I’m a Mets fan. Nothing comes as a surprise. This is Part I of a two part series.
With all the media attention focused on the epic struggles of Ike Davis, other Mets have been fortunate to have their own underwhelming performances fly under the radar. One such Met who has struggled to a degree is Lucas Duda.
Although his surface stats appear palatable, a look under the hood reveals that Duda has failed to seize the opportunity that has been given to him to prove that he is an everyday player on a National League team.
So far this season (Ed: at the writing of this article, May 28th), Duda has a .235 batting average, a .352 on-base percentage, and a .471 slugging percentage, which is good for an OPS of 822 [FN1]. This is a marked improvement on last year’s slash line, but as I will explain, the surface offensive numbers fail to tell the full story of a defensively-challenged slugger whose performance thus far has not helped the team.
[FN1] The batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage of a player are commonly abbreviated by use of a slash line (for example: .235/.352/.471) and by reference to OPS, which is on-base plus slugging percentage.
The most frustrating part of Duda’s struggles is that they have taken place despite the fact that he has been given every opportunity to succeed. Through words and actions, Duda has been told by the Mets and by Terry Collins that he is their “guy,” starting every day without fear of a platoon or benching.
In contrast, every single other Mets outfielder has been either: forced to the bench for long periods of time, stuck in a platoon, or outright sent to the minor leagues. As the Mets fall hopelessly out of the playoff race, I believe it is time to look at Duda for what he is – a platoon outfielder – and give opportunities to some of the other players on the roster.
As mentioned above, Duda’s overall line shows a fairly robust .352 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage. To his credit, he has slammed 9 home runs and collected 26 walks. However, Duda is a well-known defensive liability and has managed only a .235 average, which is actually worse than his .252 lifetime average. Furthermore, despite batting in run-producing spots all year, and starting almost every game, Duda has managed only 16 RBI on the entire season – a number good for only fifth on the team (behind Buck, Wright, Murphy, and Byrd).
This is because Duda has done almost all of his damage this season – batting .258/.337/.602, for a 939 OPS – with the bases empty. With runners on base (any base, any outs), his batting line drops to an incredibly low .200/.372/.267 in 78 plate appearances. His line with runners in scoring position, an even smaller sample of 44 plate appearances, is .125/.341/.125, good for an OPS of 466. He does not have a single extra-base hit all season with RISP. Let that sink in for a moment.
Small sample sizes can be misleading, and I am not typically a fan of calling a player “unclutch” based on splits. Furthermore, Duda has not historically had terrible splits with runners on. However these numbers back up what Mets fans have seen since the start of spring training this year – a player who consistently comes up small when pitched tough.
Eight of his nine home runs have some with the bases empty (Ed. as of June 3rd, that is now nine of ten). Pitchers seem to be wising up to this as well. After drawing 20 walks in 24 games in April, Duda has walked only 6 times in May. Pitchers have adjusted to Duda’s good batting eye and his passivity and, seeing that he lacks the ability to truly fight off good pitching, have attacked him more aggressively. Whether it is physical, psychological, or the result of the inevitable adjustment of major league pitching, Duda has not been a reliable producer at the plate since his great 2011 season, when he batted .292/.370/.482 in 347 at-bats.
[FN2] Fangraphs, keeps track of a stat known as Win Probability Added (“WPA”). If you don’t like statistics, you can skip this. WPA measures a player’s contributions to his team’s chances of winning each game based on what they do in actual, real life, plate appearances. WPA knows that a single to pad a nine run lead in the fifth inning contributes little to your team’s already enormous chances of winning, while a game-tying home run in the ninth is hugely important.
WPA shows that Duda earned 2.31 WPA in his great 2011, but only 0.46 in 2012. His 0.46 WPA would have placed him #86th among all MLB hitters if he had qualified for the batting title.
This year? Duda’s WPA is negative – yes, negative — 0.30, which means that, when you add up all of his positive and negative contributions he had made to the Mets’ chances of winning games this year, that he has hurt more than he has helped. This number ranks him #123rd in MLB. His “clutch” rating on Fangraphs confirms this writer’s observations as well, as Duda has posted a -1.01 “clutch” rating for his career.
The worst indictment of Duda comes when you realize that all of the above analysis comes at the expense of what is supposed to be Duda’s strong point, his offense. His defense is awful, as is evidenced both by the advanced stats and the naked eye. For instance, his awful misplay in left field in game one against the Yankees was not only ugly, but could have ended up costing the Mets’ the game.
On Fangraphs, the “fans scouting report” of Duda’s defense (a rating solicited from the fans of every player in MLB) rates him as a -10, a remarkably low number. The advanced metrics back it up, measuring Duda as markedly below average. In fact, they rate him as one of the worst in the game. Duda’s ultimate zone rating (UZR) for this year is a putrid -7.3. Defensive stats can be unreliable over small samples, but Duda’s poor rating this year is consistent with his performance in years past. In 846 innings in 2012 he had a -35.6 UZR/150. In 2011 it was -40.1 in 364 innings.
You don’t have to trust UZR, but I do – and to support its use, these are some of the names you’ll find in the top fifteen by that ranking: Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gomez, BJ Upton, Denard Span, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Lorenzo Cain. Some surprises appear as well (Vernon Wells, Cody Ross) but overall the list coincides with what we know about defense. On the other end, we find Duda, who is 8th from the bottom among all major league outfielders. He is in the same neighborhood as old, limpy Carlos Beltran, and known hacker Michael Morse.
So what do the Mets have in Duda, both today and in the future? Why has Duda been given carte blanche to play every day when other players are a single bad performance away from being glued to the bench by Collins?
Duda has now had 1,080 major league plate appearances, in which he has hit .252/.340/.435 with only 38 home runs. He is 27 years old. He appears to have proven, by now, exactly what he is, namely, a pretty good platoon outfielder. Duda holds a career .260 average and 824 OPS against righties and a .233 average and 650 OPS against lefties.
I believe that the Mets, already hopelessly out of the race, would be best served by taking away Duda’s status as a sacred cow and distributing the at-bats among players who may still have a chance, however slim, of elevating their stock.
Jordany Valdespin has languished on the bench, relegated to a bizarre pinch-hitting role where the Mets send him to the plate expecting him to hit home run every time. Juan Lagares was brought up to the Majors, given a one week audition, then abandoned (two starts since May 14th). Justin Turner (72 at bats all season) and Mike Baxter (77 at bats) are lucky to start twice a week. Andrew Brown, owner of a 1097 OPS in Triple-A, got 15 at-bats before being sent back down.
Even Read Zone favorite Collin Cowgill was demoted to the minors after what was, essentially, a bad week. Cowgill was the Opening Day center fielder, started only 6 of the 9 games after Opening Day and was given a grand total of 30 at-bats before he was marginalized. Cowgill got 15 more at bats from April 15 through May 1 and was then demoted. (Cowgill presently owns a 758 OPS in Triple-A, so he may not be the answer, but that is beside the point). What kind of management is this? And for what it’s worth Cowgill had eight RBI in those 52 plate appearances – or half of what Duda has accumulated in three times as many trips to the plate.
Ultimately, if Duda is what he has appeared to be this season – a player whose actual contribution won’t match his statistics, and who cannot adjust to being pitched tough by good pitchers – the Mets are not well-served by giving him opportunities to play at the expense of other players.
This is not to say that I don’t think there is any chance that Duda could turn things back around and hit enough to justify his fielding. He is young enough where he still might. I just think it’s time to see what the other kids can do out there, where we have replacement options.
Duda’s days in the outfield should be numbered. In Part II, I will discuss what, exactly, this armchair GM thinks the team should do.
* * *
Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City and is often wrong. He has nothing against Lucas Duda, honestly. Especially because Duda kind of looks like Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in his ESPN profile picture.
You can follow Brian on twitter at @brianpmangan, and The Read Zone co-founder Mike Abitabilo at @mabitab.
Postscript: Thank you to Metsblog for the link. My timing has proven impeccable as Duda homered again last night (another solo shot). His season OPS stands at 814, with 20 RBI.
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