Lucas Duda has unquestionably been one of the bright spots for the Mets in 2011. Not many knew what to expect from Duda after his September call-up in 2010. He looked overmatched his first two weeks and then finished strong, yet his overall numbers for the Mets produced just a .678 OPS. Part of the reason for the skepticism is that Duda was never mentioned as one of the club’s top prospects and then he had such an outstanding season in the minors, as he had a .967 OPS between Double and Triple-A in 2010.

Duda made the Mets out of Spring Training but hit just as poorly at the start of 2011 as he did a season ago. He was with the club for eight games, including four starts, and in 20 PA he had a single, double and two walks and earned a trip to Buffalo. He came back in May and got into two games before being sent down again. At this point he had a .100/.217/.150 line with 6 Ks in 20 ABs.

The Mets called him up for this third stint with the club on June 10th and he has been hitting ever since then. In 73 games, including 58 starts, Duda has a .305/.368/.523 slash line. Just as impressive, he’s made significant improvement cutting down his strikeouts. Since his last recall, Duda has a 15.1 K%, quite a change from early in the season when it was 26.1 percent.

When he’s had a bat in his hands, there’s very little about Duda that’s not impressive. For the season he has a .204 ISO, which ranks second on the club among those with at least 200 PA. His .364 wOBA ranks fourth. And his FanGraphs Clutch ranking of 0.79 (2010 MLB average was -0.2) is also notable. Duda has put up these stats with a .313 BABIP, which may be slightly elevated but nothing that sends up any major red flags.

However, offense is only part of the game. And it’s defensively where the questions still remain. Duda’s best position is first base, where he appears to be an acceptable option. However, the Mets hope Ike Davis will be manning the position for the foreseeable future. So, Duda will have to be able to cut it in the outfield.

Sunday was a nice microcosm of the strengths and weaknesses of Duda. He misplayed a fly ball into an RBI double in the Nationals’ three-run fourth inning. But he hit a HR to tie the game in the sixth inning and finished the game 1-3 with a walk.

Since Carlos Beltran was dealt, Duda has played a lot of time in right field. Last year, he played left field and he looked stretched defensively in what’s generally considered the easier corner position to play. In a small sample, Duda’s numbers translated to a -31.5 UZR/150 in left field in 2010. This year, in basically the same sample size, Duda has a -43.1 UZR/150 in right field.

Overall, Duda has 420.1 innings in the outfield under his belt in the majors and has a -34.9 UZR/150. In the past two years combined, 164 OF have logged at least 400 innings in the majors. Duda ranks dead last in UZR/150. He’s about average fielding the ball, but his range and arm are both sub-par for an MLB-quality outfielder.

Right now the Mets are featuring a defensive outfield where Jason Bay is their best defender. That’s the textbook definition of damning with faint praise. How many of us figured on the day that the club signed Bay, that we would be looking at his defense as his one somewhat-redeeming quality? It just goes to show that you never know.

But it does raise the question – With the Mets playing in a big ball park and their pitchers not being a top-notch group, can they afford to carry such a poor defensive club? Common sense indicates that because of his contract, Bay will be given every chance to prove that somehow the last two years have been a fluke and he still has something left in the tank. So there’s one below-average defender set in stone.

Will the Mets bring back Angel Pagan in 2012? He looked good defensively last year but this year has been a different story. Perhaps with a better defender in center, Duda would be more palatable in right field. Sandy Alderson will have to make the determination if Pagan is the guy to provide good defense for the 2012 club.

Another option is a trade of either Davis or Duda. Both would be interesting commodities to other teams, as they are young, cost-controlled players. But if Alderson does trade either one, it opens up a hole in the lineup. Neither Fernando Martinez nor Kirk Nieuwenhuis stayed healthy this year and Martinez contributed just a .746 OPS in Triple-A when he did, hardly the stuff to inspire confidence he would hit in the majors if given a chance.

Of course, the Mets could try Daniel Murphy in the outfield again, too. Most fans would not sign up for that, even though he would be an improvement over Duda defensively. Murphy had the misfortune of making high-profile gaffes, which make a bigger impression than not getting to the ball in the first place. Like Duda, Murphy’s defense will play a role in shaping the 2012 club.

So, here it is a year later and we still don’t know what the Mets have in Duda. It certainly looks like his bat is for real but is it good enough to carry what is potentially the worst glove in the majors? One thing Mets fans can say is that it has been fun for a change to watch right fielders for the Mets. Beltran logged the majority of the time at the position and Duda has essentially taken over for him.

If we combine the offensive numbers of the two players, Beltran through July 26th and Duda from that point forward, we get a .292/.385/.522 slash line. Now this is not perfect, as Duda made a dozen starts at first base after Beltran left. But for once, let’s not have the facts get in the way of a good story. This Carlos Duda hybrid with a .907 OPS may have finally ended the curse of Bobby Bonilla.

7 comments on “Does Lucas Duda’s defense determine 2012 decisions?

  • Metsense

    I see no rush to judge Duda as an OF. Let him play 2012 out there and give Ike another year. When and if it becomes apparent that the Mets need to move Duda for defense,(because it effects their playoff chances) then make the decision on which to trade. At that point, there will be a larger body of work to evaluate and hopefully both players trade value will have increased. I see it more like does Duda’s defense determine 2013 decisions.

    • Brian Joura

      That seems like a reasonable approach but I would suggest that all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable. Now, it may be necessary because they want to make sure Davis is healthy before they make the decision. I just don’t see Duda being able to hack it in the OF.

      I do think there’s talent on the team but right now it doesn’t fit. I think at least one and perhaps two of Davis, Duda and Murphy needs to be dealt. I enjoy watching Duda hit and I don’t relish the idea of trading him but it may be what the club has to do to push forward. And you can substitute Davis or Murphy into the previous sentence, too.

  • Andy Glass

    The worst defender in all of baseball ?? isnt that a bit of an exageration ? It doesnt look like he will ever be known as a gloveman, but aside from a few lbman, not many big guys are known for being gold glovers.
    How could the artist formerly known as the THM possibly be thought of as an option for the ML team ? Are we supposed to throw parties for him if he ever accumulates 300 ab in one season ? Are we supposed to have MVP signs if he exceeds 300 ab’s ?

    • Brian Joura

      By UZR/150 – Duda has been the worst outfielder with at least 400 innings combined over the past two seasons. So, when I wrote, “potentially the worst glove in the majors?” that’s not an exaggeration in the slightest.

  • tampametsfan

    The Mets need to be prepared at first base for next year. There is no reason to believe that Ike Davis will return to his old form. He has missed basically the entire season and is just now hitting off a tee. Who knows if he will ever return to his old playing form and he was just starting his career then. Its not like we have Albert Pujols returning next year, its just Ike Davis. Daniel Murphy could be the same thing. He has hurt himself two years in a row in the field. The Mets could look to Duda to be another good hitting 1B next year in case those two just can’t make it. I like Duda as a hitter and have been happy to see him improve this year. Unlike Murphy, Duda seems to actually try to improve his game as he goes along. Murphy just looks hopeless in the field at any position.

    • Mike Koehler

      I disagree with any sentence that begins “Unlike Murphy, Duda seems to actually try” since Murph has always been known for his work ethic. Both may be good ML hitters with below average defense looking for a home, but we always read articles about Murphy putting in the extra time.

  • JOE AMOROSO

    I SAY GET RID OF DUDA HE CAN,T FIELD AT ALL & ALWAYS LOOKING TO GET A HOMERUN. MURPHY IS A GOOD HITTER BUT NOT A GOOD FIELDER. AS FAR AS DAVIS HE IS A GOOD FIRST BASEMEN BUT WHEN HE GETS BACK WILL HE BE THE SAME? I SAY TRADE THEM ALL FOR GOOD PLAYERS NOT JUNK AGAIN. JOE

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