Wednesday night’s homer was just the latest piece of good news for Lucas Duda in his month-long hot streak. In his last 27 games, Duda has a .291/.410/.628 line, good for a 1.038 OPS. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is that while this is outstanding production, it’s been compiled with just a .306 BABIP. Typically, non-stars would need a BABIP of around .375 or more to produce such good hitting numbers. For a point of comparison, recently-activated Juan Lagares has a .373 BABIP and has a .767 OPS.
So, what’s gotten into Duda?
Plate discipline has played a huge role in this surge. After opening the season with 13 BB and 36 Ks in his first 151 PA, Duda has posted 17 BB and 19 Ks in his last 105 trips to the plate. That’s a 16.2 BB%, compared to the 8.6 walk rate with which he began the season. The strikeout rate has not been quite as drastic (23.8% vs. 18.1) but it’s also moved in a positive direction.
In the beginning of the year, Duda was positively Ike Davis-like with his propensity to chase pitches a foot or more out of the strike zone. While his strikeouts were coming in bunches on breaking balls that he couldn’t reach with a 10-foot pole, Duda’s real problem at the beginning of the year was making contact on pitches inside the strike zone.
In April, Duda, swung at 63.2% of the pitches he saw in the strike zone and had a contact rate of 82.7% on such pitches. Fast forward to June and Duda is swinging at fewer pitches but making better contact. His Z-Swing% is 59.8 but his Z-Contact% checks in at 92.1. Let’s put some of these numbers in perspective. Just among qualified first basemen, Duda’s Z-Contact% in April ranked 24th but his rate in June ranks second.
Now we just have to see if this is sustainable. Typically, Contact% numbers stabilize fairly quickly, around 100 PA. But that’s overall contact numbers and what we are looking at is specifically Z-Contact% so it’s possible that’s a different beast entirely. Plus, we’ve seen a pretty big swing in these numbers from April to June, making things even murkier.
So, as frustrating as it is to watch Duda flail helplessly at breaking balls out of the strike zone, the real key is to see how he’s doing on pitches inside the zone. If the swings and misses are few and far between on the pitches over the plate, Duda has a chance to keep this strong production going forward. And it’s not like what he’s doing is completely out of character, either. In 2011, Duda had a 137 OPS+ and so far in 2014, he has a 133 OPS+.
And our old pal Davis has a 109 OPS+ for the Pirates.