Lucas Duda justifies decision to keep him as a first baseman

Lucas DudaBefore the season started, we had an anonymous survey on the site where we asked various questions. One of them was: What should the Mets do about 1B? By far the most popular response among the four available answers was to go with Ike Davis. Here’s what you said:

54% – Go with Ike Davis/Josh Satin platoon
22% – Go with Lucas Duda/Satin platoon
14% – Acquire someone new
10% – Give the job outright to Satin

Fewer than one-quarter of the respondents picked Duda, which right now seems absurd. Actually, to those of us who supported Duda, it seemed absurd at the time, too. Well, that’s not exactly right. To me it seemed more misguided than absurd. After all, Davis at least had put up a 30-HR season in the not-too-distant past.

But it also seemed clear that that particular version of Davis was not coming back. While a long overdue trip to the minors got him to lay off some pitches that were way, way out of the strike zone, his power numbers were no longer in the 30-homer guy range. And once pitchers saw that he wasn’t going to automatically swing at whatever slop they threw up when he had two strikes, they began to make adjustments.

However, for a moment let’s leave Davis in the past, where he belongs, and spend more time talking about Duda and his success.

While Duda is raking right now, it’s not like he immediately began to hit once Davis left town. After going 0-for-5 in a doubleheader on May 25, Duda had a .680 OPS and people were thinking we cut the cord with the wrong guy. Even at this site, the writing was less than kind. Here are two headlines directed his way:

Allan Dykstra could soon chase Duda from first
How long will Lucas Duda’s job be safe?

Then something clicked. Since May 26 Duda has put up a .284/.395/.585 line over 210 PA. The sample size should be enough to convince you this isn’t just a hot streak and the .306 BABIP should only reinforce that point. So, what the heck happened?

It should be pointed out that May 26 was the day the Mets relieved Dave Hudgens from his duties. While it would be a mistake to credit the surge entirely to the change in batting coaches, it would be erroneous not to consider it a contributing factor.

We’ve all seen Duda be selectively more aggressive on the first pitch, with his homer off Francisco Rodriguez Friday night Exhibit A. “Just try to get a pitch up I can handle,” Duda told Mike Vorkunov of The Star-Ledger. “It’s really it. Nothing too scientific about it.”

But even with this willingness to swing early, Duda still carries a 12.86 BB% over his last 210 PA. It’s almost like Duda needed Hudgens to be gone to put into practice what the organization wanted all along – look for a pitch to crush and if that pitch doesn’t come, be happy with a walk.

This stretch of Duda that we are examining is about one-third of a season. If we put our rose-colored glasses on and imagine him putting up these numbers over an entire season, we see a guy who could potentially finish with 36 HR and 105 RBIs.

We’re finally seeing some of the guy we saw in 2011, when Duda put up a 137 OPS+ as a 25 year old. If you recall, 2011 was the year that Davis got off to a great start and then was out for the season after getting injured while catching a pop-up. In 2011, Duda got to play his natural position of first base most of the year.

If you look at Duda’s splits, you’ll see he has a .743 OPS as a left fielder and an .835 OPS when he plays his normal position of first base.

We can credit Alderson for keeping the right guy when he picked Duda. Yet at the same time, we can ask why it took so long to make a decision. It was clear after 2011 that this situation needed to be addressed. Forget not getting more for Davis if he was dealt earlier. Instead, think of the lost production from having Duda play out of position and the horrible defense that went along with it.

Even waiting as long as he did to pull the trigger, Alderson still got something of value for Davis. While Metsense won’t let any of us forget that Alderson turned down a swap for Matt Joyce, the Mets did end up getting Blake Taylor, a lefty with a ton of upside. In his last outing for Kingsport, Taylor threw six shutout innings and allowed just one hit. He raised his record to 3-0 and lowered his ERA to 1.89 for the year.

The right decision late is still better than the wrong decision. Many feared that if the Mets traded Davis, that he would turn in a 2013 Chris Davis season. Instead, we see Davis with a .726 OPS with the Pirates, worse than what Duda did while playing out of position in the outfield.

So, the Mets now have a middle of the order bat in Duda and a promising southpaw in the low minors. Duda currently sports a 141 OPS+ and is the guy we want to see come to the plate in key situations. It may not have unfolded as quickly as we would have liked but the bottom line is the Mets have a cost-controlled thumper in their order, something for which we should all be grateful.

20 comments for “Lucas Duda justifies decision to keep him as a first baseman

  1. Jerry Grote
    July 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Excellent article.
    The 36 HR/105 RBI would predicate, I think, a law that prevented any team from using a LHP against Lucas Duda.

    And for myself, I will rescind earlier comments about him being a butcher in the field. Still believe the jury is out on Ike Davis but he is, as you say, in our past.

  2. July 27, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I think Lucas job is safe until Dominick Smith is ready in 5 or 6 years. Allen Dystra is DH rarely plays first base. If the Mets were truly developing him he would play in the field somewhere everyday.

    I’m really surprised at how poorly Ike is doing. I thought getting away from the Mets system would help him. Hudgen’s or health reason, really hurt his career. He is still young enough to rebound. Which I hope he does he seems like a nice guy.

    • July 27, 2014 at 11:50 am

      I don’t think it’s going to take Dominic Smith that long. I expect he’ll make his MLB debut in 2017. Hopefully he hits enough to force his way into the lineup.

      • marc melton
        July 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

        Remember, where Dominic is playing does not bode well for left handed power.

        Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as it is a violation of our Comment Policy.

      • Wilponzi
        July 27, 2014 at 3:47 pm

        smith will be 21 in 2017, most players are not ready that early. If Duda is the real thing, h will be in the best years of his career in 2017

        • July 27, 2014 at 4:16 pm

          Here’s how I see it:

          2015 – Split between Hi-A and Double-A
          2016 – Split between Double-A and Triple-A
          2017 – Split between Triple-A and the majors

  3. marc melton
    July 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    I was an Ike Davis supporter, heck I still am an Ike Davis supporter, but Duda has proven to be a quality MLB 1B. Unfortunately for Ike, he got traded to an even worse pitchers park, one that really saps power from lefties. His wRC+ is still 110, so he is 10% better than league average, but the fact that he had 14% of his fly balls go for homers before going to pittsburgh, and now only 9%, that 3% makes a huge difference. Consider that Davis has 65 fly balls hit while playing in pittsburgh, if he was hitting them at his normal career rate, instead of the 6 homers and .372 slugging he has while playing for the Pirates, he would have 9 homers and a .426 slugging percentage.

    I believe once Ike gets to a more neutral or left handed friendly park, he will he a 25-30 homer player.

    However, I would like to say I was completely wrong about Duda.

  4. James Newman
    July 27, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Great article Brian! I must admit that I was more sold on Davis than Duda because we have seen Davis’ power potential and only heard about Duda’s potential. Glad Duda is swinging at the first pitch as well, because it seemed that he used to be concerned with taking pitches and working the count rather than being aggressive and driving the ball into a gap or over the fence. Absolutely agree that Alderson was 100% correct by keeping Duda.

  5. Chris F
    July 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Great article Brian. Duda has really become an important part of the line up. I hope he keeps it up the rest of the year. Once given the opportunity to make the position his, that’s exactly what happened. I’m delighted at how well it’s gone. I still have some questions about aspects of his defense, particularly moving right to fill the hole and play in foul ground, but he’s much better than Ike turning the 3-6-3, and has been skilled at scooping low throws. I’m glad Ike and all his endless issues are not part of this team any more.

    Duda for sure deserves credit. As for Smith, either Duda will be a monster at the position by the time he rises in a few seasons, or long gone after enjoying some time in the lime light.

  6. Scott Ferguson
    July 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Duda has been a pleasant surprise and will be able to help the Mets bridge to Dominic Smith (or Matt Oberste for that matter, who is killing the ball as Smith’s teammate). If they could get Cuddyer, that would be a nice platoon partner for Duda as he could slot into the OF against righties.

    • Scott Ferguson
      July 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      I’m talking Cuddyer as a free agent, as long as they make a move at shortstop

  7. Steevy
    July 27, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I was part of the 22% that thought Duda was fine.Josh Satin was disappointing as part of that platoon though.

  8. Metsense
    July 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Lucas Duda just put the Mets on his back this road trip!
    He could be player of the week with his performance.
    If only he had Matt Joyce batting behind him ! 🙂

  9. Joey Vito
    July 27, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Brian one of the few in this whole blog world that has always had support for Duda. I too had always had a tremendous liking for the big guy and was one of the very few who was disappointed when Ike returned. Great article and glad to see Duda confident at the plate …I always knew he’d come around.

  10. Name
    July 27, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    May 26th was also the date of Ike Davis first visit back to Citi Field as a visitor, which is what i choose the believe as the spark for Duda.

    As Duda’s #1 fan, i only have 4 words to say.

    “I told you so”

    • July 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      So, when exactly did the conversion take place? Because there was many a night in the Game Chatters last year where you kvetched at how useless Duda was because all of his homers were solo shots and did nothing to help us win.

      • Name
        July 27, 2014 at 9:30 pm

        Oh, sorry. that wasn’t directed towards you. It was for those who wanted Davis rather than Duda during the offseason.

        I appreciated all the HRs even though they were solo, was just amazed at his run of luck of not running into one with someone on the basepaths

  11. NormE
    July 27, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    So Brian bubby, if Name “kvetched” last year you might want to say that he is “kvelling” now.

  12. Russ
    July 28, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I was a big Ike Davis supporter over Lucas Duda, but my problem with Duda was defence not offence. Duda has turned out to be a good 1st baseman. Playing every day has helped him a lot. He is never going to be a .300 hitter but he isn’t going to be Dave Kingman either. Duda’s going to give the Mets 20 – 30 homers a year and .260ish batting average, a good deal for the Mets, who now look like the have a set infield.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

  13. Eric Kench
    July 28, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    I was convinced that Ike Davis was a failure, and Collins should not have been brought back because he kept him in the cleanup spot far too long. But, I did have high hopes for Matt Clark who in my opinion was kept down way too long. Now that Duda has become the power hitting cleanup hitter that we so desperately needed, I guess I could live with that.

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