After a slow start to the season for many of the New York Mets, it seems they’ve found their groove over the last two weeks, having gone 9-2 before Wednesday night’s finale against the Cincinnati Reds.
Most of the players in Mets lineup were off to slow starts to begin the year, including Yoenis Cespedes who had seven strikeouts and four hits in his first five games, Curtis Granderson who was mired in a 3-for-31 slump in his first eight games, and Travis d’Arnaud who was 2-for-23 through his first seven games.
I wrote about the Mets offensive struggles back on April 11, when the Mets team offense was ranking near or at the bottom in most offensive categories. The team had a total of 20 runs scored through their first eight games of the season, an average of 2.5 runs a game.
Since the Mets opened a three game set in Cleveland on April 15th, the Mets have scored 63 runs in 11 games, an average of 5.72 runs a game. They’ve more than doubled their offensive output these past 11 games, and a player that has run somewhat under the radar during this time is slugging first-baseman Lucas Duda.
Duda, 30, was actually getting on base (surprise, surprise) to open the season, getting a base hit in the first four games of the year, and getting on base six of the first seven games. The problem was Duda wasn’t hitting for power, collecting only one extra-base hit (double) through 39 at-bats.
Duda explained that he was working at getting more comfortable at the plate, and just wasn’t getting the results he wanted.
“I am still trying to get that comfort level going in the box, and for the most part, I’m seeing the ball just OK,” Duda said. “Hopefully as we get deeper in the season I get more comfortable and having better results.”
On April 18th when the Mets opened up a series at Citizens Bank Park, Duda slugged his first home run on the season in the top of the eighth, a mammoth shot into the second deck, which was followed up by a Neil Walker home run. Duda would follow that performance up with two more home runs the next two games against the Phillies, compiling a stat line of 6-for-14 with three home runs, five RBIs, and four runs scored during the three game set.
Think this was just a small sample size? Duda loves hitting at Citizens Bank Park, for his career he has a stat line of .281/.353/.612, OPS of .964 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .964 OPS there is his 3rd highest among visiting ballparks where he’s had at least 25 at-bats. Not a bad place for him to break out of his early season power struggle.
Since April 18th, Duda has gone 10-for-29 with all 4 of his home runs coming in that stretch. He’s added 9 RBI during that span, and only had 5 in his first eleven games. And with his fourth home run on Monday night’s win against the Reds, he now has 105 career home runs, giving him sole possession of 11th most in Mets history, passing former Met first baseman Carlos Delgado.
The one concerning stat for Duda is his BB%. To date, Duda has walked a mere 2.8%, down from his career norms of around 11.9 to 14.3%. That explains why Duda’s OBP so far is .278, a far cry from his career .344. Remember in 2015, Duda had a .427 OBP in April, however he’s already amassed more home runs and RBIs than he had last April (2 home runs and 12 RBIs compared with 4 home runs and 14 RBIs).
Looking at Fangraphs’ plate disciple stats, Duda is actually seeing quite a bit more pitches in the strike zone than in recent years. Normally, Duda’s Zone% as it’s dubbed is around 39-41%. This year that number climbed to 46.7%. He’s also seeing an uptick in the number of first pitch strikes, which is normally around 52-55%, this year it spiked to 58.3% in the early going. What this is telling me is that Duda is being more aggressive at the plate, which is evident when you look at his pitchers-per-plate-appearances, which if the season ended today would be at a career low of 3.79. For his career Duda normally sits at around 4.09 pitches, and has been in the top 20 in that category the past two seasons.
And his aggressiveness at the plate shows, as his April 20th home run came on a 1-1 pitch, on April 23rd with runners on the corners in the top of the first, Duda drove the first pitch to left-center to drive in Granderson for the first run of the game. And on the night he passed Delgado for 11th place on the Mets all-time home run list, he drilled a 1-0 changeup into right field for his 4th of the season.
I fully expect Duda to get his on-base numbers back up to par, but hopefully not at the expense of him being aggressive at the plate. I like the attack mode he’s been in as of late, because he’s not letting hittable strikes go by to drive the count up. Instead, he’s feasting on his pitches early, which is resulting in this seven game power streak.
Duda is going to be counted on again this season to be an offensive juggernaut in the middle of the order. If his recent power surge is any indication, then we might be in for another 30 home run season from our powerful slugger. And if you think that’s not true, just remember, “The Duda-bides.”