With arguably the worst starting outfield (at the moment) in the majors, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Mets can compete unless a variety of absurdly unlikely developments take hold. Not only is our current crop of outfielders ill-disposed to covering a larger field with unusual dimensions, they are exceptionally vulnerable to lefties.
When confronted with a calamity as repulsive as this outfield, it will not only take courage but a very strong stomach if I am to keep my animal crackers down. I also realize that like Dante descending through the gates and escalators and mezzanines of Hell, I will need a spirit guide to navigate the raw sewage of defensive metrics. I considered Lao Tse, Obi Won, even Gandalf, but in the end I went with, you guessed it, Ozzy Osbourne.
Let’s start this series on the Met outfield’s defensive composition with Lucas Duda. Since 2010, Duda has been the worst defensive outfielder (with 1000+ innings) in baseball, and by a healthy margin. In 2012 he had a -20 Ultimate Zone Rating (a probability metric based on a batted ball’s speed and trajectory and the likelihood that a fielder will produce an out relative to other fielders). It gets worse, Lucas sports a career -35.8 UZR (per Fangraphs). Just to put it in perspective, that means he actually is worse defensively and has less range than a serving of flan, and (even more embarrassing) Eric Hinske!
In 2012 Duda made 4 errors with 3 assists, but his most glaring issue, as any 6 year old can see by just watching him, are his large cumbersome feet. Lucas appears at times to be running in heavy boots of lead. Every time a ball is hit to him, his fans become filled full of dread. When he misjudges an easy fly we openly wonder, can he see or is he blind? His improbable mobility might make you ask, if he moves will he fall? As cans of corn drop all around him you have to consider is he alive or dead? Has he thoughts within his head? Watching Lucas try and decide what to do with his feet when a ball is hit to him reminds me of Peter Boyle dancing to “Putting on the Ritz” in Young Frankenstein.
When fans run into him at the supermarket, instead of asking for his autograph they move their cart into the passing lane and whisper, “we’ll just pass him there, why should we even care?” And while it’s true that this makes Lucas sad as he goes back to picking out a cantaloupe, he’s smart enough to know that he’s just not very fast. The problem is that Lucas’ bones were turned to steel on the great major-league field when he traveled from Binghamton as the future of Mets-kind. Unfortunately, while this transformation made him completely impervious to conventional weapons, it did not help his outfield play at all, in fact it made him even slower than nature intended .
You might argue UZR can fluctuate season to season and there’s this big margin of error blah blah blah, better to look at UZR/150. Surely he’ll look better given a broad based sample right? Um, no, his UZR/150 is actually worse at -38.6. That means his UZR per 150 games is not only worse than Greg Dobbs, it’s worse than a pillow case full of doorknobs. It’s clear that nobody wants him, he just stares at the world. With every play you wonder if he’s planning his vengeance, that he will soon unfurl. As game time approaches fans look at the lineup card and seeing the letters D-U-D-A they think, now the time is here for Lucas Duda to spread fear. Nobody wants him, fans just turn their heads.
You might ask whether there is reason to hope. Maybe if he drops 20 lbs, and works on tracking balls over his head and to his right (also to his left, and maybe in front of him too) … you might look at his RZR (the proportion of balls hit into his fielding zone that he converts into outs) and it’s not horrible at .895 (for 2012) which is actually better then Ryan Doumit (yes I know Doumit is a catcher, but still).
His fielding percentage on the other hand at .970 is not good, and while one might cheerfully observe that Lucas is better than gold glover Adrian Gonzales, sadly we realize upon further examination that Adrian almost always plays first base where he is excellent. It’s hard to bend, hammer, or otherwise twist these numbers in a way that might give you hope. Sure he improved somewhat in RF since 2011, but that’s only because he wasn’t just bad in 2011, he was abysmal. We’re talking 9th circle of Hell abysmal with the frozen lake and people eating your brain and stuff. In fact I think Dante’s 9th circle would be preferable to watching Lucas take the field in the 9th inning of a close game — running as fast as they can for the gates, fans know better than to watch that horror show.
Lucas can hit a little. He can launch a hanging breaking ball with the best of them. At times he’s looked like he might become some sort of weird Adam Dunn hybrid, but the problem is he hasn’t hit enough. In fact, in order for him to hit enough with a UZR of -20 he’d have to put up Miguel Cabrera numbers and that’s just not going to happen. There was a ridiculous rumor not too long ago about trading Ike Davis and moving Lucas to first, even though Duda is arguably even worse at first base than he is in right field. Duda has DH written all over him. It is said there is a spot on his scalp where if you shave him you’ll clearly see the letters “DH.” There was a time when the Rays were interested in his services, but more recently his trade value has tanked due to a poor offensive showing in 2012. Maybe if Lucas makes a big leap defensively and regains some consistency with his stroke, maybe if he puts in a ton of wind-sprints he’d cover more ground than a medium sized geranium. It isn’t likely though, and so the best case for Lucas is finding a sucker (er, “trade partner”) who will see in him a budding DH. In the meantime, nobody wants him, fans just turn their heads.