Lucas Duda’s confidence problem

Lucas DudaThe old guard of baseball analysts love to cite a player’s confidence as an explanation of his recent performance.  When a player is going well, it’s because he’s confident; and when he’s struggling, he lacks confidence.

The fact that this still passes for legitimate baseball analysis in the year 2013 is confounding and a little sad.

As I wrote some months ago, clustering is a perfectly natural occurrence in any statistical accumulation, and so in baseball when a player goes through streaks, it’s not because his confidence is high or low, it’s because of random luck.  The confidence factor is the effect of success or failure, not the cause of it.

For months all that was repeated by pundits, specifically Bob Ojeda, was that Lucas Duda was too passive at the plate and was unconfident, and that is why he was struggling offensively.  Using traditional stats, Duda was struggling; he had a .235 batting average, 11 home runs and 29 RBIs in 68 games before being sent down.

Yet another failure of the old way of thinking.

Duda was not having a bad season at the plate, in fact, he was quite good.  His .235/.353/.438/.791 line was more than respectable.  In fact, his 124 wRC+, .204 isolated slugging percentage, and .347 weighted On Base Average in the first half, are similar to the numbers posted by Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.

If you told me before the season that Duda would produce at Jay Bruce levels over the first half of the season I’d tell you that you were crazy.  I’d say you were even crazier if you said that he would be sent down for two months despite that.

Even now that Duda is back and producing fairly well, virtually every game a discussion is had about how he is too passive at the plate.

This season Duda has swung at 60.2 percent of pitches thrown to him that were in the strike zone, a few percentage points below the league average of 65.4 percent.  He has also swung at 22.8 percent of pitches thrown to him outside of the strike zone, well below the league average of 30.8 percent.

While he does allow more looking strikes to go by than the average hitter, his propensity to lay off pitches outside of the strike zone more than makes up for that.

This perceived weakness in Duda’s game actually turns out to be a strength when you consider that he sees an average of 4.25 pitches per plate appearances.

Driving up pitch counts and drawing walks are not skills that should be taken for granted, yet for some reason, Duda constantly finds himself being unfairly criticized for lack of production from the old guard because he has a low batting average and not many RBIs.

Apparently nobody has told these people that those using those stats to evaluate a player are about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

I’d take Duda playing first base over Daniel Murphy any day of the week, because even though Murphy has the shiny .282 batting average and 67 RBIs, Duda would be a far more productive player.

It wouldn’t even be close.

The only confidence problem Duda has are the misinformed pundits perpetrating nonsense.

Joe Vasile is a play by play announcer for Widener Pride football and the host of ‘Ball Four with Joe Vasile’ on 91.3 WTSR in Trenton, airing Tuesdays from 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.  Follow him on twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and visit his website.

17 comments for “Lucas Duda’s confidence problem

  1. September 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

    How can a player with such a disciplined eye strike out a such an alarming rate? If you project his numbers he will of struck out this year between 160-170 times. If you’re okay with that then Duda is your first base man of the future.

    • Joe Vasile
      September 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      He strikes out at such a high rate because he has problems with making consistent contact at the pitches he swings at. Duda makes contact with 72.4% of the pitches he swings at, the league average is 79.6%. If you want to narrow that down to his Zone-Contact rate, you get 80.7% vs. a league average of 87.1%. His long swing leaves him more susceptible to swinging through pitches, so while he has a disciplined approach and eye at the plate, he’s going to have more swings and misses; evidenced by a 10.2% Swinging Strike percentage, as opposed to the league average of 9.2%.

      • September 10, 2013 at 12:55 am

        But you didn’t answer the question. Duda who you consider to be a disciplined “hitter” will strike out in a full season maybe 175 times. Is that acceptable for you? And do you consider him to be the first baseman of the future for the Mets?

        • za
          September 10, 2013 at 11:40 am

          He answered the question perfectly. A player who walks a lot can also strike out a lot. In fact, the reverse is also true – José Reyes, for example. Having a good eye to detect pitches that will be in or out of the zone is mostly unrelated to your swing type. Duda has a long swing and has a lower contact percentage in the zone than the average player. He makes up for that by walking and hitting the ball harder when he does actually hit it.

          And honestly, 160-180 strikeouts aren’t that bad if you put up a .280/.380/.500 line, something which…Duda has yet to do other than coming close when he played 100 games in 2011. Incidentally, he struck out way, way less that year than he has in 2013 – ~16% of plate appearances as opposed to ~26% this year. And yes, 26% is too high.

  2. September 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

    >> The old guard of baseball analysts love to cite a player’s confidence as an explanation of his recent performance. When a player is going well, it’s because he’s confident; and when he’s struggling, he lacks confidence.

    The fact that this still passes for legitimate baseball analysis in the year 2013 is confounding and a little sad. <<

    I'm sorry, but I'm calling horseshit.

    "A little sad." How smug and condescending can you get?

    This is a straw man argument, the "old guard" never said it, you've just made a lot of sweeping generalizations that come off as phony self-aggrandizing. You dismiss the "old guard" out of hand, generations of scouts who watched games, and talked to players, and dedicated their lives to figuring out the game. Former players, coaches, and so on — all idiots. Those guys didn't have computers, it's true, and they were not perfect — but neither of you. Just because something can't be quantified does not mean that it doesn't exist.

    So now you've got it all figured out and Lucas Duda is the man. Okay, maybe. We'll see.

    You argue that confidence is only a RESULT of success and failure? An effect only, with no causal influences? Seriously? Character means nothing? Don't you think you just might be partly wrong about this? You state that streaks are totally driven by luck? Again, I'd venture to suggest that you might be partially wrong. Driving up pitch counts is so very important? I've read recent articles that argue the complete opposite.

    More than anything, the offensive part about this post is its closed-mindedness. That's what I find, personally, "a little sad." Baseball is a humbling game. If it hasn't humbled you already, stick around, it will. And on that day you'll realize you shouldn't be so smug about others who might have a difference of opinion.

    • Joe Vasile
      September 9, 2013 at 12:33 pm

      Yes, I dismiss arguments based on faulty premises or irrational bases the same way that they like to dismiss arguments that run contrary to their beliefs. Want a specific example of this? Here’s Harold Reynolds on the recent controversy with Brandon Phillips and the Reds beat writer: “I don’t give a flip if my 2nd hitter has a low OBP.” Now despite studies that have been done that show that a number 2 hitter with a high OBP leads to more runs scored over the course of a season, Reynolds dismisses it because…well, I’m not sure why he does.

      I find analysis like that sad because there are people who are legitimately smart baseball minds (in both the sabermetric and traditional camps) who are more deserving of jobs than those who spout nonsense like this who don’t have those jobs. Those broadcasters and the fans watching deserve better than what they’re getting.

      “Just because something can’t be quantified does not mean it doesn’t exist.”
      -While this is true, the sample sizes when it comes to the ebbs and flows of a baseball season are way too small to differentiate between outside factors (e.g.- confidence) and simple random, statistical variation. That’s not condescending or me putting myself up on a pedestal, it’s the sixth week of Statistics 101.

      As for your last point; I have been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. The best thing you can do is learn from your mistakes when you are wrong, admit it, and move on and try to be better the next time. Could I be wrong here? Yes. But I don’t think I am, otherwise I wouldn’t have written what I did.

      • Chris F
        September 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        “Just because something can’t be quantified does not mean it doesn’t exist.”
        -While this is true, the sample sizes when it comes to the ebbs and flows of a baseball season are way too small to differentiate between outside factors (e.g.- confidence) and simple random, statistical variation. That’s not condescending or me putting myself up on a pedestal, it’s the sixth week of Statistics 101.

        I completely disagree that the sample size is too small. Can you demonstrate that? I am certain that enough data could be collected (even broken down to individual PAs or even pitches for 162 games, 25 players per team (really more)). However, I cannot see a test that could be easily developed to measure confidence versus “random” objective noise. Part of the problem is that the data would be inherently subjective because individuals would have to provide their feelings. If feelings like confidence do matter for some people then the entire data set would have a buried dependency that would make evaluating randomness very difficult is my guess. I have not actually tried to design an experiment to test it though.

        • Joe Vasile
          September 9, 2013 at 2:38 pm

          When hitters’ stats stabilize, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. Anything less and you’re dealing with a sample size that is too small to differentiate normal variation from other factors.

          • Chris F
            September 9, 2013 at 3:01 pm

            The number of PAs is relatively small lack of ability to collect data is not an issue from my eyes. But this does not inherently determine whether confidence can be determined. Existing data do not exist to address whether the perception of confidence played a role in someone’s production.

      • September 10, 2013 at 12:59 am

        Joe you don’t have to be right or wrong. It’s only an opinion based on your interpretations of the facts.

      • za
        September 10, 2013 at 11:51 am

        Joe, here’s the thing. I think it’s pretty clear that Duda feels more comfortable when he’s playing first. The sample size is small but his numbers are way, way better at first than in the OF – a couple of standard deviations, IIRC, though obviously the error’s pretty big due to the small sample size.

        Here’s the thing – firstly, .230/.350/.440 for a 1B/DH just isn’t good at all. Don’t pull Jay Bruce into the equation since he’s an average to above-average RF, something Duda clearly is not.

        Going back to the “confidence thing”, and yes SSS applies:

        Duda as a 1B in 223 PA: .304/.392/.471
        Duda as an LF in 425 PA: .228/.318/.427

        That looks like confidence to me. That is the difference between a guy winning us games and a guy costing us games, amplified once you consider position. Your thoughts?

  3. steevy
    September 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Confidence and other so called “intangibles” are very real.They are the reason why baseball(and all sports) are littered with players with plenty of physical talent who never reach their potential.The flip side,the guys who succeed despite their deficiencies are also all around.I like Lucas Duda,I feel he has been mishandled and misunderstood by Mets management.With the right guidance to maximize his physical skill he will be a fine player.

    • Joe Vasile
      September 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      I’m not denying that intangibles are real. You need to have some form of “Baseball IQ” to be able to play the game at a consistently high level, and just because there is no stat for it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

  4. Chris F
    September 9, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I think one thing that escapes the individual analysis of any single player is simply that baseball is a team sport with few things really only the product of individual achievement. Metric analysis of individuals de-contextualizes a player’s production based on dependency of other variables, none of which are the same from player to player, team to team. Baseball metrics are fine things, but themselves are not the same as a physical law. In my opinion, such numbers for a specific individual taken away from the greater team dependency, permits using the numbers outside the potential benefit they provide.

    As for BP batting second and his 101 RBI and solid 24K gold glove, sign me up all day every day. I couldnt care less what his OBP is, because OBP is not the solitary variable in assessing his productivity.

    Although confidence and “make up” are clearly a “squishy” impossible to quantify things, ask any person who is “in the zone” if they matter, and they clearly do.

    • Joe Vasile
      September 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      “In the zone” is a lot like confidence. The feeling comes along as an after effect of success, it is not the cause of it. It also makes for a nice storyline when a beat writer is writing his game recap.

      • Chris F
        September 9, 2013 at 2:11 pm

        I dont buy that from both personal experience and anecdotal stories. Just ask the Dodgers what confidence can do as a cause AND effect.

  5. SL
    September 11, 2013 at 4:41 am

    A perfect treatise on the failure of sabremetrics to actually understand the tactics and strategy, and the ultimate goal of baseball. To score runs.

    In Duda’s case it is not RS that is the issue, but his failure to drive them in, which is his sole job.

    A Duda getting on base is not an isolated event. It means that in an RBI situation, he has left that job up to the next hitter, who, usually, is not as proficient, or shouldn’t be, to do so.

    And what does Daniel Murphy do well? Score runs. Using aggressive and intelligent baseball decisions, he scores runs in numbers that belie his OBA. Always has.

    That is why a Shin Shoo Choo is not a smart addition, b/c despite his OBA, he gets thrown out on almost half his steal attempts and he doesn’t score.

    Statistics can be valuable but only when they are understood in the context of the entire game. This now ubiquitous “slash” line is damaging baseball.

    Duda IS too passive, putting himself in bad hitting counts constantly, and whether or not he is swinging at pitches out of the strike zone he IS forced to swing at pitchers pitches, rather than their mistakes.

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