Before 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:
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.