Lucas Duda’s lack of defensive ability anywhere on the field has been a big cause for concern between many Mets fans, bloggers, and people in baseball. Many feel Duda is a bat without a position, so he is similar to Daniel Murphy except Duda shows even less general athleticism and doesn’t slot in well to most NL teams plans unless it involved stashing him at 1B and hoping he doesn’t embarass himself.
Jason Bay found himself in a similar boat when he signed with the Mets, receiving what was believed to be an over-market value contract due to his age, his lack of defensive ability and those questionable reports about his knees. Matt Holliday, the big prize of the 2010 offseason received a contract that dwarfed Jason Bay’s, and so far Holliday hasn’t blown away the world with his contribution, but was a major cog in the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals championship. Bay has never been regarded as a very strong defender, and is significantly older than Lucas Duda, but still more athletic.
So why not move Jason Bay to RF and let Lucas Duda play LF?
The arguments from a statistical standpoint are flawed, with Lucas Duda having only 500 career outfield innings, and Jason Bay having over 9700 innings in the outfield. UZR/150 pegs Duda at an impossible -43.2 runs BELOW average, which says playing Duda in the outfield PERIOD costs them 43 runs. However, if his LF stats, also small sample sizes are analyzed, he would cost the Mets 30 runs in LF, with last seasons 30 innings of work somehow pegging him at saving 30 runs over the course of the season. His ARM rating, which measures throwing ability was -2.2 from both outfield positions, showing a weaker arm. Both UZR/150 and ARM rates can be difficult to measure, but are fairly decent barometers of just how well someone fields and throws.
Jason Bay, however over the course of his career has only cost his team -8.0 runs UZR/150 in the outfield, period. Bay only played RF for eight innings in his career, and has played nothing but LF exclusively since 2006. Bay has had a slightly positive ARM rating over the last two years, with last year coming in at .2. That is still 2.4 points better than Lucas Duda.. However, with the metrics leaning towards Bay, who does have a much larger sample size as being the stronger defender with more range, wouldn’t it make sense to put Bay in RF in the NL East, which for the most part is loaded with strong left-handed bats (McCann, Heyward, Freeman, Howard, Utley, Morrison, etc.). At worst, he does better than Lucas Duda – see where the logic is?
The most important issue to remember is that the fences in Citi Field have come in dramatically, making the bounces in which the ball used to play off the Mo-Zone less of a factor, and really taking away the vast majority of ground that a player would have to cover as a defender. The Mets have seemed to forgo the thought of fielding a defensively strong team outside of Torres, Tejada and Ike Davis. Every other Met starter is viewed as below average, average or has too much of a variation (David Wright rated strong for years, and has followed those with atrocious fielding years).
Lucas Duda may still be young and learning, and may be able to turn himself into a passable RF or someone who’s offense masks the fact that he is a god-awful fielder (Josh Willingham, Mike Morse) but this may not be the time to utilize that. The Mets may be wise in trying Bay in RF, since they are not a strikeout-staff, which plays into high contact. The new dimensions may at least make Jason Bay average in RF, and Lucas Duda slightly below average defensively. Worst case scenario has them going back to original positions, and best case may give the Mets an average defensive outfield as opposed to what is right now viewed as possibly the weakest defensive outfield in the NL East, if not entire NL.