Lucas Duda went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk on April 18, the same day that the New York Mets Ike Davis was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Duda ended the day with a .256/.333/.465 slash line and has trended upwards in Davis’ absence.
But now Duda is the man at first base and there are no more excuses. This year he must prove that he can stay healthy and produce.
Although his offense (aside from his power) has only incrementally improved to .266/.355/.426 since April 18 , he has mostly been what the Mets have hoped for. Last season he hit a meager .223, but in 2014 he has been disciplined at the plate, worked high pitch counts and gotten on base at a high clip.
He leads the team with four home runs, but Duda has not gone yard since April 23 and only hit two doubles in that span. Duda’s power has only come in spurts and he has just three doubles on the season, but he has the right approach.
So far, he is swinging the bat well with runners in scoring position with a .375 average in those situations. In 2013 he was seldom clutch with just a .145 batting average.
But the anemic Mets offense behind him does not eat when Duda sets the table. The team ranks 23rd in on-base percentage, 26th in home runs, 27th in hits and 29th in slugging. If Duda is batting sixth in the order, the chance of anyone batting seventh through ninth in the lineup driving him in is slim to none.
Duda stands upright at the plate and often takes pitches early while twiddling his bat. He is patient with a little leg kick when he is ready to swing. Although some believe that he is capable of hitting 20 or more home runs, he has not done it yet.
Line drive hitting could eventually lead to extra base power, so he does not need to become a dead pull hitter. He has displayed opposite field gap power.
From April 18 to the end of the month, he was just 8-for-35. In May, he has 5 hits in his last 16 at-bats with four walks.
His career high is just 15 homers and he has not exceeded 121 games in one season. Duda is yet to reach as high of a ceiling as Davis did in New York. Duda’s glove, however, is sub par at best. But first base is not a crucial defensive position and he can compensate for his defensive shortcomings with his bat.
Manager Terry Collins has shuffled him from fourth through sixth in the batting order this season. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young will likely occupy the cleanup and fifth spot in the order most of the time unless one or both of them are struggling.
So far he has been an ineffective cleanup hitter, with only one hit in his 14 at-bats from that spot. But the majority of his time has been spent at sixth in the order where he is hitting .286 with two home runs and seven runs batted in through 42 at-bats.
It is too early in the season to determine whether Sandy Alderson made the right decision in trading Davis since Duda has been misplaced in the outfield and platooned with Davis throughout his career. If he proves to be the real deal, then the Mets may finally have a viable, long-term solution at first base.
But that’s also what they once hoped from Davis.