Mets make right decision by moving Lucas Duda to first base

Monday afternoon MetsBlog had an “Ask the Booth” section where it invited readers to submit a question for the SNY announcers to read on the air and answer. Here was my submission:

Question: Why do the Mets keep Lucas Duda in the OF when he is terrible defensively there? If it’s to keep from hurting Ike Davis‘ feelings — hasn’t Davis done enough to hurt the Mets when he was in New York? He doesn’t need to continue to hurt us while he fails in Las Vegas, too.

So, imagine my surprise when I got home after 10 PM and see that the Mets game not only was not over, but it hadn’t even started. And to add to my satisfaction, Duda started the game at first base, with Daniel Murphy back at second.

Duda had a really good game, too. He went 4-for-4 with a double, just missing a HR when a ball he hit to right center hit against the wall, two-thirds of the way up. It was the third 4-hit game in Duda’s career in the majors, his first since 2011, which also came against the Braves.

This was Duda’s 46th game at first base in the majors. In 148 PA when getting to play his preferred position defensively, Duda has a .324/.393/.507 line. By comparison, he has a .745 OPS when he plays LF and a .761 OPS in RF. This could be a coincidence and/or a small sample size fluke. Or it could be that Duda, who has never been described as having unshakeable confidence, simply carries over his comfort level in the field to the batter’s box

Additionally, Duda made all the plays at first base, including some nice scoops. Plus, it’s likely the Mets’ defense improved by having Murphy back at second base. He made a really nice play on a ball hit into the 1B-2B-RF triangle, one where Marlon Byrd probably should have made the play but was nowhere near. Murphy also made several nice stops of hard-hit grounders.

Let’s dream for a second. Would Sandy Alderson consider Duda a member of the Mets’ core if he put up a .900 OPS the rest of the season while playing first base? Currently, there’s only three qualified first basemen in the majors with better than a .900 OPS – Chris Davis, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. If we go back to 2012, we see it’s even rarer air over a full season, as only two players – Edward Encarnacion and Prince Fielder – accomplished this feat.

In 2012, Encarnacion posted a 4.2 fWAR while Fielder checked in with a 4.9 mark. Encarnacion was hurt by being a lousy fielder (-7.6 UZR) while Fielder was hurt by being a slug on the basepaths (-6.7 BsR). In 363.2 innings at first base, Duda has a 0.0 UZR, meaning he has been average defensively. His baserunning is nothing to write home about, as both ZiPS and Steamer project him to finish at (-2.5) in BsR this year.

Still, it’s not hard to envision Duda posting a fWAR over 3.0 if he were to play a full season at his natural position. His rotten defense in the outfield has limited him to a 0.1 fWAR in 2013 and last year he was sub-replacement level, with a (-1.6) mark. In 2012 Duda had a (-22.5) UZR in the outfield, a mark held down only by the fact he did not play a full season. Extrapolated to 150 games, it was (-35.6). This year’s UZR/150 in the outfield projects to (-28.7).

Meanwhile, core player Ike Davis had a 1.0 fWAR in 2012 and had a (-1.1) mark this year before being mercifully sent to the minors. Speaking of the minors, Davis has a .192/.344/.269 line in 32 PA. And all of those have been accumulated in home games in Las Vegas.

It’s wonderful that Duda is finally getting a chance to play at first base. It’s too bad that Davis was allowed to stink there for as long as he did. And it’s too bad that Duda did not move there the minute Davis was finally sent out.

Somebody in the organization wanted Jordany Valdespin to get some consistent playing time. Terry Collins wrote his name in the lineup card for six straight games and Valdespin responded with a .130/.130/.130 line, which is beyond horrible. To make matters worse, that .130 OBP came as a leadoff hitter. Whatever your opinion of Valdespin is, one thing should be crystal clear – he should never be at the top of the order where on-base percentage is a key factor for success.

In last night’s lineup, Collins had Juan Lagares as the team’s leadoff hitter. Entering the night, Lagares had the second-worst OBP of any position player in the starting lineup, besting only Kirk Nieuwenhuis and that by just a few points. Like Valdespin, Lagares should not be batting at the top of the order. He responded to batting first by putting up an 0-for-4 night, with two strikeouts, which brought his OBP down to .213 for the season.

Lagares is getting an extended look now, too. His .507 OPS in 82 PA does not inspire a ton of hope. He had a brief hot stretch where he had eight hits in six games but that was done mostly on the strength of back-to-back multi-hit games, one of which came in the 20-inning game when he was 2-for-8. Since then, Lagares has three hits in his last 17 ABs.

No doubt that Lagares (and Valdespin) backers are defending their guy by shouting that these are not large enough samples to make definitive judgments. Perhaps they are not. But that’s the same argument that Davis backers used, an argument which allowed us to see an extra 109 PA of a .428 OPS from May 1st until he was finally sent down.

There’s not one magical point where we can say, “This sample is large enough!” It’s more art than science to determine when it’s time to pull the plug on an experiment. You have to look at a host of things, including historical trends, and use a bunch of different judgment calls to come up with your answer.

For me, Davis looked helpless at the plate and doing nothing except waiting for regression was not going to fix the problem. For me, Valdespin’s career OBP rates in the majors and minors indicate he’s no leadoff hitter. For me, Lagares has never produced without an ultra-high BABIP and it’s too hard for the overwhelmingly vast majority of players in MLB to do that over a full season.

Yet I am optimistic that Duda can be a big asset if placed at first base and left alone. Sure, I’d like to see him swing at fewer breaking balls at his ankles and certainly it would be nice if he hit better with runners on base. But even with these weaknesses, he still has an .802 OPS this year, which translates into a 126 OPS+.

That kind of hitter does not grow on trees, especially in the Mets organization. And we still have the hope that he can improve on that if he no longer has to be concerned about playing out of position in the outfield.

It was great to see Duda at first base. Late is always better than never and besides, we need to celebrate any victory that happens in 2013, despite what Bob Costas might say otherwise.

15 comments for “Mets make right decision by moving Lucas Duda to first base

  1. Jerry Grote
    June 18, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Funny how you could have watched yesterday’s game and not mentioned the double Lagares prevented.

    Agreed; there is no place on this team for Juan Lagares to place leadoff. It probably should go to Murphy, with someone like Q batting 2nd and then Wright/Duda/Byrd. Possibly, Byrd at #2.

    Lagares, at the least, has shown he can actually play very good defense. The Mets need to assemble people at this juncture than can do something well.

    • June 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

      If you’re suggesting that Lagares’ role on the club should be late inning defensive replacement, I could support that.

    • NormE
      June 18, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      I agree with you about using Murphy in the lead-off spot, but would take it a step further and bat Wright second. These are the two best hitters on the team, a team with few good hitters, and the Mets should maximize the number of at bats for Murphy and Wright. I might feel differently if the Mets had a competent #1 hitter, but they don’t.

  2. Jerry Grote
    June 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

    You know I’m not. 🙂

    I saying that he’s the best CFer on the team right now and with less than 150 games played at the position, he already is making plays we couldn’t expect out of Cowgill or Kirk. His own career would probably be better served by learning how to take a pitch at LV, but the Metropolitans need him at CF.

    Have him lead-off against the likes of Tim Hudson on the road is just plain silly.

    Take Kirk out of the lineup. Put Cowgill (or another minor leaguer) in at LF, let Lagares learn how to hit in some OTJ training, and see if his defense keeps him on the field.

    I don’t know my fielding statistics that well, but if lgRF/9 is 2.46, and his is 3.23, I think he’s contributing defensively a double every two games. That mirrors what I see and I think if you play him, you’ll eventually get Carlos Gomez out of him.

  3. Metsense
    June 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Duda finally got to play 1B and he looked like he belonged there. Now if they see what Satin can do in a platoon (because it is a losing season and Duda’s career OPS vs LHP of .646) it might answer the question about another player. If Satin should fail after a reasonable audition then try Lutz in the platoon.
    Lagares can field but with only 78 AB in AAA he should go down and work on his hitting skills. That would leave a Kirk/Cowgill platoon which isn’t appealing but in this losing season they should be given one last chance. If after a reasonable audition, if either fails, then there is Lagares and MDD to fall back on.
    Andrew Brown comes up to play left. Give Cowgill few starts in LF and RF to get him a few more AB’s.
    Play JV1 a few games at SS and 2B (not many, a few) and come the end of the season this team will know who belongs on the 40 man roster.
    Of course, a better solution is bring in some major league talent by the trade deadline, but that is a whole other post.9

    • Jerry Grote
      June 18, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Here is what I am coming up with … 186 IP. His range factor is .77 above league average. Now, replacing him with Kirk or Cowgill would result in *less than league average defense* but let’s put that aside for now.

      At 186 IP, it’s 20 games. 20 games * .77 is around 15 hits he’s prevented. He’s provided you with 15 offensive hits in 78 ABs and taken away 15 hits from the opposition.

      To my math, that’s 30 for 78. And I just did a run with Carlos Gomez; that comp stands pretty tall right now in my mind.

      Giving another player ABs as a CF seems like absolute lunacy to me. It’s a small sample size, and defensive metrics are notably unreliable. But let’s get right to the point: the rest of the “CFers” are actually worse than league average in the field AND are horrible alternative offensively, so far.

      • June 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

        The problem with Range Factor is that it doesn’t take into account either the difficulty of the play or the makeup of the pitching staff. If you play behind a ground ball pitching staff, your Range Factor is going to suffer. If you have a stretch where a “normal” fly ball pitching staff gives up an unusual amount of lazy fly balls – that inflates the Range Factor numbers, too.

        I’m not saying definitively that this is what is happening when Lagares is playing – I don’t know. But I do know this is one of the prime reasons why defensive numbers take longer to stabilize. I do think that Lagares looks better out there than Ankiel did. But I’m nowhere near ready to claim him as an elite defender.

        I think you’re much better off looking at UZR and DRS than Range Factor. Lagares scores well in both of those advanced metrics. DRS has him at +8, which is really good. UZR has him at 2.3, which is also quite good but not quite as eye popping as what DRS has him.

        Earlier in the year, Starling Marte had some outstanding defensive numbers which caused his bWAR to be equal to Bryce Harper, who enjoyed a significant offensive edge. At the end of April, Marte was on pace for a 20.3 UZR/150. Now in mid-June he’s on pace for a 16.6 UZR/150. That’s still a great number – one I’d be thrilled if Lagares could match – but in six weeks he lost 18 percent of his previous defensive value.

        I doubt that Marte suddenly had that big of a change in his defensive ability. Instead, I think we’re seeing a normalization of his chances. Maybe something similar happens to Lagares. Maybe he posts even better numbers over the next six weeks. None of us have a clue what will happen.

        But it’s a mistake to assume that all of his extra plays in Range Factor were hits that other CF wouldn’t make. That’s not the way that stat works.

        Edit: should read: all of his extra plays in Range Factor were *catches* that other CF wouldn’t make.

  4. Chris F
    June 18, 2013 at 11:28 am

    I am very happy Duda has been moved to 1B. I have a soft spot for him and would like to see him succeed by playing his position. If not, then, so be it, but judging him based on being int he OF and railing him every day is wrong. This team needs to move on from failures and failed experiments. Ike has virtually no MLB value right now (on the interstate even at AAA), so why would his name is so sacrosanct for 1B is a total mystery. I also believe that Lagares is the best CF we have anywhere in the system. Hes not a lead-off guy at all, and to add that to his work load, for someone who was probably promoted a bit early is not smart. Further it puts him out of “line-up” position. Id bat him 7th and take some pressure off and let his bat grow. He played 17 games at AAA, with <100 ABs. Is it easy to be critical of his MLB batting? Sure. Is it fair. Not in my eyes. If he stays up, then he needs to play and develop the bat. He needs the protection of batting low in the line up and given time to respond. Otherwise, he needs to get back to AAA, and placced in the pipeline up.

  5. June 18, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I couldn’t resist…I got a lecture from parents for telling their 11 year old sons to stop dancing in the dugout.

  6. June 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

    By the way,

    Ike is struggling in AAA while Flores has raised his average above .315

  7. Jim OMalley
    June 18, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Lets go Mets…Keep Duda at first!!!!

  8. AJ
    June 18, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    I’m very surprised that SNY did not use your question.

  9. Name
    June 19, 2013 at 12:03 am

    Outfield roulette continues with Brown coming back up with Cowgill DFA and Eric Young Jr being traded for.

    • Jerry Grote
      June 19, 2013 at 7:30 am

      It would appear as if the argument between Brian and myself has thus ended, with neither of us satisfied.

      Young will likely play CF and lead off, taking Lagares out of the picture; Cowgill has been replaced by Brown.

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