When we projected Lucas Duda in the third week of February, mine was one of the bullish predictions, as I forecasted a .268/.348/.475 line for him. Duda then proceeded to start off Grapefruit League play 0-for-8 with six strikeouts, which earned him some time off and made me feel a bit queasy. However, the rest worked wonders, as since then Duda has recorded 11 hits in 35 ABs (.314) with six of those hits going for extra-bases.
Our official projection for Duda is a .255/.340/.425 line. After 47 PA this Spring, he has a .256/.319/.535 line for an .854 OPS. It’s hard not to notice how similar his OPS in Florida so far is to his 2011 season, when he notched an .852 OPS in 347 PA.
While the OPS numbers are similar, the components are completely different. In 2011, Duda had a strong AVG (.292) and an excellent OBP (.370) to go along with a solid SLG (.482). In Grapefruit results this year, Duda has a mediocre AVG but makes up for it with his SLG. An ISO of .279 would be a wonderful thing for Duda to have in 2013.
When Duda was successful in 2011, he hit the ball to all fields. His hit distribution was similar in 2012 but the results when he took the ball the other way last year were dismal. Duda had just six hits – none for extra-bases – and a .375 OPS when he hit the ball to left field in 2012. Contrast that with 2011, when he had a .677 OPS and six of his 11 hits went for extra-bases on balls hit to left field.
At least one of his home runs this Spring was hit to left field, which has to be an encouraging sign going forward.
Another glaring difference for Duda between 2011 and 2012 was his K%. In 2011, he had a 16.4 K% while last year that number jumped to 26.1%. So far this year it sits at 27.7% but recall that he whiffed in six of his first eight trips to the plate. Since then he has fanned seven times in 39 PA for a 17.9 K% – a number much more in line with what he did in 2011.
The Mets need Duda to be a threat in the middle of the order. Essentially, they need him to be the hitter he was in 2011 and not the guy he turned out to be in 2012. The early results in Florida are encouraging. But before we get too carried away, we should recall that Duda had a nice Spring last year, too. In Grapefruit League action last year, Duda had a .300/.386/.583 line.
This no doubt will lead readers to the “Spring Training stats mean nothing!” battle cry. But before you state that with 100% certainty, keep this one thought in mind: Duda had a 24.3 K% last Spring up from 17.7 K% in Spring Training in 2011.
2011 – Spring K%: 17.7%; Regular Season K%: 16.4%
2012 – Spring K%: 24.3%, Regular Season K%: 26.1%
As Pizza Cutter showed us back in 2007, K rates stabilize much quicker than one might think. He used split-half numbers, looking for the point where numbers returned a correlation of .70 and above. And for K rate that point occurred at fewer than 40 PA.
So, when you watch Spring Training games the rest of the way, focus on these two things for Duda:
1. Is he hitting the ball with authority when he goes the other way?
2. Is he making consistent contact or are the strikeouts coming at a 20%+ rate?
His terrible start means that Duda is likely to have a K% higher than we would prefer seeing this Spring. If he continues on his 17.9 K% pace he’s maintained after the brutal start, that should bode well for the coming year. And the flip side being that a continuation of his current 27.7 K% likely portends poor things.