There have been a few articles from fellow Mets360 writers this week on Lucas Duda and I wanted to delve a bit deeper for those people who might have been interested as to exactly why Duda is having a career season. For the majority of Duda’s career, he’s been in a battle to fight for the right to be the Mets everyday first baseman. He’s shown lots of promise, such as in 2011 when he had an .852 OPS, wRC+ of 136 and a wOBA of .368, all in just 347 ABs. Unfortunately, his value as a whole was worth a hugely disappointing 0.8 WAR, which is just about replacement level. The cause for that was his horrendous defense in the OF. You don’t need to see the advanced stats on that because if you’ve ever seen Duda play OF you know how horrible he is. They just didn’t have a position for him because Ike Davis was supposed to be the future of the team and there was no DH. Based on those hitting stats, of course you wanted a player like that in your everyday lineup.
We know the whole story of what has happened since then. His defense is still a negative, not nearly as bad but enough to be a net negative. However, quantifying a 1Bs actual defensive impact is hard, as they just don’t get too many balls hit directly at them. His offense has significantly improved. His walks are just ever so slightly up from his career rate and his Ks are down from his career rate as well. The biggest difference between Duda previously and this year is his power.
Let’s talk for a second about a stat called ISO (Isolated Power). ISO is a quick way to quickly look at a hitter’s raw power. There is a simple way to calculate it, just subtract the players’ batting average from their slugging percentage and you are left with a percentage that shows you how many extra bases a player is getting per at bat. Anything over .200 is considered great, and anything above .250 is consider excellent. Currently, Duda sits with a .244 ISO compared to a .193 career average. It’s not very often a player just jump 50+ points in a power stat at age 28.
So why has Duda’s raw power jumped so considerably? If you look at his hit percentages, his line drive (LD %) rate this season of 20.1% is actually less than his career rate of 21.2%. His fly ball (FB %) rate is up considerably from his career rate with a 48.8% rate this year, vs a 45.5% career rate. However, his 2013 rate was 48.4%, so it hasn’t really changed from last year when he posted a .192 ISO. His HR/FB is where he is really showing an increase. In 2014 he currently is at 16 %. So 16% of the time he hits a fly ball, it’s a home run. Compare that to last year at 14.3% and a career rate of 13.1%. Anything over 15% is considered great. Did Duda suddenly get stronger? Did he get luckier? How can you tell? Let’s look at some heat charts.
These charts are both from the catchers POV and are stricly for ISO. So, for a LHB like Duda, the top left on this chart is high and away, and the bottom right on this chart is low and inside. Both these charts are his ISO on a 0-0 count. Lucas has clearly identified the pitches that he likes, and if he gets that pitch on the first AB he is not afraid to swing. You can see an incredible difference between pre2014 and this season. Before 2014 he had 85 ABs where he had an AB he swung at the first pitch and put the ball in play. That’s about 7.6% of his ABs for his career. This year he has 36 in 324 ABs, comprising 11.1% of his ABs. Duda is being extremely aggressive this year compared to previous seasons. This year when Duda swings on the first pitch and puts the ball in play, he’s got 4 HRs and 3 2B in just 36 ABs, good for a .861 SLG and a .417 ISO . The process repeats on 1-0 counts as well, where Duda has 4 HRs and 1 2B in just 22 ABs, good for a 1.000 slugging percentage and a ridiculous .591 ISO. Obviously these numbers are skewed because he hasn’t had that many ABs this season where he has swung on a first pitch. He’s always been good swinging on the first pitch or 1-0, but for years the Mets hitting coach has preached patience. But since Dave Hudgens was fired, Lamar Johnson has worked wonders with Duda.
Since Johnson came onboard, Duda had an ISO of .294 in June and .317 in July compared to .187 in April and .171 in May. Before this season, it almost looks as if Duda was hesitant to even swing at the first pitch and when he did, he wasn’t hitting with authority. Before Johnson came on, Duda had only swung and connected with a 1-0 pitch five times in 2014, he was 1-5 with 1 HR. Since then he has swung 16 times, with 3 HRs and 1 2B. Before 2014, Duda had swung at a 3-0 pitch and put it in play exactly one time, in 50 plate appearances. This year he already has two in just nine plate appearances. He’s allowing himself to swing at a higher amount of counts in which he is ahead. The chances are almost about the same career wise compared to this year, but it’s the amount of times he is putting the ball into play that’s different. It’s hard to quantify that exactly, but if you want to just make up a stat let’s go right ahead. Before this season he had 663 plate appearances in which he was considered ahead in the count, meaning 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 counts.
This year he is swinging more often than last year. Not much more, mind you. As of this article, it’s a perfect comparison between 2013 and 2014, in which Duda has played 100 games in both seasons, he actually had more PAs this time last year, but that doesn’t matter. In 100 games in 2013, Duda had 164 PAs where he was ahead in the count, 55 ended in a walk and he had 31 hits, 6 were HRs and 9 were 2B. In 100 games in 2014, Duda has had 152 PAs where he was ahead in the count, but only 44 walks and he had 33 hits with 10 HRs and 9 2B. Not that large an increase but because the years are almost so identical in terms of chances, his slugging percentage is up 130 points from 2013 to 2014. His hitting numbers for going the opposite way are way up from previous years. He has a 1.000 OPS this year going the opposite way vs a .652 OPS for his career. He is content hitting the ball hard no matter where it is.
I can go on and on about the increased aggressiveness, as there are many different stats you can look at and clearly see that he is being more aggressive in terms of how he is looking for a pitch to hit hard rather than to just get on base. This is the Duda we’ve been waiting for.