|Lucas Duda at spring training 2015. He came into this season as the de facto offensive leader of a club built around pitching. So far, his bat has not lived up to his accomplishments in 2014. Why? Read below. Photo: Stephen Guilbert|
The question is: Is Lucas Duda a star offensive player or is the current version of the first baseman what fans should expect going forward?
As you might expect given my previous posts, I am going to take a statistical approach to this question and try to find a theory that explains the data.
To begin, I see little point in comparing his statistics from last year to this year. Everything is down. His home run rate, average, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, BB% are all down while his BABIP is actually up a tick. His strikeout rate has climbed as well. Needless to say, he is having a worse season than last year across the board. No one can deny this. I want to know why. For that, we need to look at batted ball data and heat maps.
|Batted ball data for Lucas Duda's career.|
1.) He has actually hit more line drives than last year. Line drives typically result in hits yet his average has fallen in 2015.
2.) More infield fly balls. That's not good.
3.) His HR/FB rate dropped precipitously. Part of this is luck and part can be attributed to getting under the ball too much. Considering his spike in IFFB%, my guess is he is just getting under the ball. Heat maps will tell us more about that.
4.) His soft contact and hard contact rates both went down while his medium contact rate went up. This is all about exit velocity and you want the Hard% contact as high as possible. I'm not looking too much into this. His changes does not tell us anything definitive.
5.) He is pulling the ball far far less and going the opposite way more. This might be a conscious thing to combat the shift and, if so, could be affecting his performance. He also may be getting pitched outside more frequently.
|These are the pitches Duda has been thrown from year to year.|
|Value of the pitches Duda has hit or not hit. The higher the number, the more effective Duda has been against that type of pitch.|
|This tells us how Lucas Duda has done swinging (or laying off) pitches in or out of the strike zone.|
All of the above data is puzzling to me. Had I looked at just this data and you had asked me to tell you how that player was doing, I would say "About the same". Some things are up, some things down, but most of the data is remarkably similar...or the bad things have been neutralized by the things this batter has done better. That's what I see from these numbers.
Considering this is inconclusive, I will look at heatmaps to try to see if the "He's getting under way too much" theory has some traction. The reason I think it might not is that Duda is a very good fastball hitter but the best way to get hitters to pop up/fly out is by using a good fastball up in the zone. Let's take a look:
|Lucas Duda's 2014 Heatmap|
|Lucas Duda's 2015 Heatmap|
Well, there goes the theory that he's being pitched a different way or became vulnerable to pitches up in the zone.
Given the data we have, I think I can say, with some confidence, that Lucas Duda has had four problems in 2015:
1.) He is popping the ball up more and his hitting fewer outfield fly balls and, of those fly balls, fewer are going for home runs.
a.) Strangely enough, HR/FB ratios are pretty predictable. Fans might look at lazy fly ball after fly ball and conclude that he's lost at the plate but based on the nature of batted balls--and being able to hit the ball high into the air with regularity--it actually does even out to a mean. Lucas Duda is well below his mean which indicates he has been unlucky when he has put the ball in the air.
2.) He is striking out more. Because of the 4th graph above titled "Plate discipline", I am not worried about this rate. It is still a small sample size and he isn't striking out drastically enough for me to get worried. However, you can attribute some of his problems in 2015 to the increase in K%.
3.) He is going the opposite way far more and pulling less. This, in my opinion, is the biggest fixable problem. I think Lucas Duda is trying to become an "all fields" hitter and it has made him less effective as an overall hitter. Yes, I want Duda to hit to all fields, especially on the ground. I get tired of teams shifting against him. However, he is a pull hitter and I can attribute his power drop solely to his drop in pulling the ball. Even though he is hitting more line drives, he is not hitting deep fly balls or deep line drives with the same regularity. This change in approach can be seen in the data. The question is: Does he adapt and become and all-fields power hitter? Or, does he go back to what made him so good in 2014? If he can do the former, he is a scary scary hitter. If he does the latter, he is still an MVP-quality bat. But one of the two has to happen.
4.) Lady luck. Duda is making more contact, hitting more line drives, laying off more pitches outside of the strike zone and yet every single one of his offensive metrics are down. That should not happen. Given what I know of sabermetrics, Lucas Duda should not be doing much, if any, worse than he did at the plate in 2014. If I were a betting man, I would put money on Lucas Duda having a second half far more like 2014 than what he has done so far in 2015.
In conclusion, may I also point out that Lucas Duda currently owns a 116 wRC+ and has played a solid first base (10th out of 24 qualified according to FanGraphs). 116 wRC+ means he has been 16% better than the major league average batter. That is second best on the Mets but it is down from 2014. Yes, Lucas Duda needs to be a bigger presence in the lineup but I would never look at 116 wRC+ and say it is "bad" or "disappointing", especially when that number has plummeted from over 150 back in the spring. No, Duda is probably not a 150 guy but he is not a 116 hitter either. Somewhere in the middle is a good bet and somewhere in the middle puts him right back up there with the league's best offensive players.
I attribute Lucas Duda's performance in 2015 as a result of bad luck and a not yet effective change in approach more than anything else. Given that, I am not worried about Lucas Duda in the slightest.
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