Updated by Joe D. on 4/20
What a game it was for Lucas Duda last night in the Mets 7-1 win against the Nationals. Duda had his best game ever as a Met going 2-for-3 with hit two home runs and a walk . The hulking Mets left fielder is now batting .308 for the season with five home runs and eight RBI in 14 games. Duda’s patience has paid off as Adam Rossi said it would in the post below three days ago.
Duda in now second in the Major Leagues with 12 walks, a .491 On-Base Percentage and a staggering 1.234 OPS. That’s absolutely incredible.
According to FanGraphs, Duda is swinging at only 12.7 percent of pitches outside the strike zone so far this season, which again points out much of what Adam discussed in his analysis below. It’s definitely worth a second read…
Original Post April 17, 2012
Heading into the 2013, no Met has more pressure on him than Lucas Duda. For the past four years, Duda has shown flashes of power that could make him a good middle-of-the-order hitter. He has also provided a lot of head-scratching moments, somewhat unintentionally comical, both at the plate and in the field.
We know one thing is certain with Duda: he is not going to win ballgames with his defense. Nevertheless, if he can put up the power numbers that he’s been teasing everybody with this season, he should become a valuable player. All that teasing has caused Sandy Alderson and rest of this Mets front office to be very patient with Duda, and now he may finally be rewarding them for that patience because of…well…his patience.
Duda Doesn’t Chase
One could look at Lucas Duda’s stats through 13 games, see his .469 OBP, and easily realize Duda has been taking a lot of walks so far (11 walks in 49 plate appearances, to be exact). But that does not tell us much about whether or not he can sustain anything throughout the season. The following stat, however, is encouraging: 14.1% O-Swing % — in other words, Duda has only swung at 14.1% of pitches outside the strike zone. What’s even more encouraging is the fact that his O-Swing % has been steadily improving. In 2011, his O-Swing % was 29.8%, followed by 25.3% in 2012. I don’t expect his percentage to remain this low throughout the whole season, but if he can keep it under 25%, that would be significant. To understand how significant, let’s look at Joey Votto, who is arguably the most patient hitter in baseball. His career O-Swing % is 25.3%. Lucas Duda is not going to be Joey Votto, but he can at least provide part of what makes Votto such a valuable player.
With Patience Comes Power
Obviously taking pitches helps a player with more than just his walk rate. The more pitches a batter sees, the more knowledge he gains about what the pitcher is throwing. More importantly, the more bad pitches a batter takes, the more he forces a pitcher to throw him strikes, which means the more opportunities he will get to hit a mistake and hit it hard. This has also benefited Duda early on in the season. Pitchers have thrown Duda a first pitch strike only 44.9% of the time this season, which means he has been starting off his at-bats in a 1-0 count 55% of the time. On top of that, pitchers have thrown him pitches in the strike zone 44.1% of the time, compared to 37.6% last year. What that tells me is that pitchers are starting to realize Duda won’t chase balls out of the zone, so they are being forced to throw him more strikes. As a result, Duda has improved his chances of getting a ball in the zone by 7% so far. And when you start throwing a lot of strikes to a player with Duda’s power, it’s going to result in a lot of hard hit balls.
Of course, the only way Duda can make use of all the strikes he’s seeing is by making contact with the ball. This has been a problem with Duda throughout his young career, but there are once again early signs that show improvement. While he still has a pretty high strikeout rate this season (22.4%), it has been better than last year (26.1%). Also, his swing-and-miss percentage has improved by nearly 2% (7% this season, compared to 9.1% in 2012). Some of that may have to do with the fact that he isn’t swinging as much as he has in the past. Along with not swinging at pitches out of the zone, Duda also has not been swinging at as many pitches in the zone. After swinging at 64.2% of strikes in 2011 and 62.5% last year, Duda has only swung at 50% of strikes that have been thrown to him this year. That may not be a terrible thing though, since many times pitchers make good pitches that a hitter can’t do much with, even if it is a strike, and they are better off letting it go. On top of that, by not swinging as much, Duda has improved his chances of making contact when he does swing. And improving your chances can only help bring success.
It is still way too early to claim somebody a breakout player or a bust, but it is not too early to look at early season trends and try to figure out what could happen. If the Mets are going to have any success this season, there’s a good chance Lucas Duda will be a part of that. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence then, that both he and the Mets are off to a good start.
(Note: All stats mentioned in this post are courtesy of Fangraphs)