Coming into the season, Lucas Duda found himself in the awkward position of being in a platoon at first base with a player who, like him, batted from the left side of the plate. Over the first two-plus weeks of the season, Duda and Ike Davis shared starting duties at first base, with Duda penciled into the starting lineup eight times and Davis five.
Davis accomplished little during the first two weeks of the season. Other than a walk-off grand slam he hit as a pinch-hitter on April 5, Davis managed to go 4-for-23 with no homers and one RBI. Meanwhile, Duda managed a two-homer game on April 4, driving all four runs scored by the Mets in a one-run victory. Eleven days later, Duda collected four hits and drove in two runs in another Mets victory. It was clear that Duda was flourishing as a run producer during the first few weeks of the season, while Davis was not. Before one-tenth of the season had been completed, Ike Davis was a former Met and Lucas Duda was the team’s everyday first baseman.
Duda is now thriving at the position. In Friday night’s game, his two-run opposite-field homer off All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish gave the Mets a two-run lead over the Rangers. It also gave him the team lead in home runs (13) and RBI (43). Duda also leads the team in slugging percentage (.472) and OPS (.817). Since taking over the position for himself in mid-April, Duda has not just become one of the Mets’ top offensive threats, he’s also become one of the top run-producing first basemen in the entire National League.
Through Friday’s games, Duda’s 13 homers and 43 RBI rank highly among NL first basemen. The only players at the position with more home runs and RBI than Duda are Anthony Rizzo (17 HR, 45 RBI), Paul Goldschmidt (15 HR, 55 RBI), Adrian Gonzalez (14 HR, 53 RBI) and Ryan Howard (14 HR, 51 RBI). Duda’s slugging percentage and OPS (.472/.817) are higher than Gonzalez (.447/.769) and Howard (.398/.708) and he compares favorably to young sluggers Rizzo (.493/.880) and Freddie Freeman (.497/.883). And in case you were wondering, Duda’s former platoon partner in New York, Ike Davis, falls outside the league’s top ten in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS for first basemen.
Ike Davis started out well in Pittsburgh, but has fallen off over the past five weeks. Since June 2, Davis is batting .197 with just four extra-base hits in 27 games (21 starts). In addition, Davis has put up a pedestrian .276 slugging percentage and .602 OPS since the beginning of June. Davis has fallen so quickly that he is now part of another first base platoon, this time with the right-handed hitting Gaby Sanchez. As Davis has struggled in Pittsburgh, Duda has been a bright star in the Mets’ lineup.
Since June 13, Duda has batted .313 with seven doubles, five homers and 12 RBI in 18 games (17 starts). Duda is also the proud owner of a .656 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.045 OPS over that time period. In addition, Duda has been one of the team’s best clutch hitters this season, producing a .609 slugging percentage and 1.036 OPS with runners in scoring position, unlike Davis, whose numbers in those situations (.420/.877) aren’t even close to what Duda has produced.
Finally, of Duda’s 13 HR this year, five have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead. Why is five so important? Because that number represents the total number of home runs hit by Ike Davis all season. In other words, Davis has as many home runs this season as Duda has clutch homers.
There’s a difference between hitting a home run and hitting a key home run. Since April 21, Ike Davis has hit three homers – all of them have been solo shots and none of them tied the game or gave his team the lead. Over the same time period, Duda has hit ten home runs, with six of them coming with men on base and three of them tying the game or giving the Mets the lead.
Simply stated, the Mets traded the right player when they dealt Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In doing so, they finally removed the chains that had shackled Lucas Duda since he arrived at the big league level for the first time in 2010. This is Duda’s fifth season with the Mets, but it appears that this will be the first year he doesn’t get sent back to the minor leagues for extra seasoning. (Playing out of position in the outfield had a lot to do with that “extra minor league seasoning” as well.) Duda has proven he belongs at the big league level and is quietly establishing himself as one of the top run-producing first basemen in the league. All Ike Davis has done is become part of yet another platoon in Pittsburgh.
It may have taken him a while, but Lucas Duda looks like he’s finally here to stay. Opposing pitchers in the National League are going to wish he wasn’t.