How good is Lucas Duda as a hitter?

Tonight will be Game 7 of the World Series. It’s been a very entertaining matchup and people are already talking about it being one of the best Fall Classics in recent years. But I’m actually looking forward to the series being over so teams can get started on building their 2012 teams. For the Mets, one of the huge questions for 2012 surrounds Lucas Duda.

Not many people seem to know what to make of Duda. My take is that with a bat in his hand, Duda is a star, with room still to improve. Most people think I’m crazy. But before you dismiss this out of hand, consider this: There were 265 players that amassed 300 PA in the majors last year. In that group, Duda ranked 34th in OPS with an .852 mark.

It’s hard for a lot of people to take Duda seriously because A) height aside, he doesn’t look like an athlete and B) he was not highly touted coming up through the minor leagues.

For a moment, let’s compare Duda with Mike Stanton. Now, clearly Stanton is a better prospect in every way imaginable, but hear me out. Stanton has a cut body that looks like it came from Mt. Olympus. Stanton was a 2nd-round pick who immediately jumped onto top prospect lists after he hit 39 HR in his first full professional season. Even Peter Gammons was talking about him after his season in Low-A.

When we think of top prospects, we think of someone like Stanton. We think of someone highly regarded, highly successful in the minors and a guy who comes on and produces immediately in the majors. Stanton ripped 22 HR and had a 118 OPS+ in his rookie season. At age 20. This is what we want, and often times expect, from our young stars.

Now compare that to Duda. He was a 7th-round pick in the same draft as Stanton. An inch shorter and 20 pounds heavier, Duda looks more like a slow-pitch softball player than an NFL tight end. In his first three seasons in the minors, Duda never hit .300, never hit more than 11 HR and never made Baseball America’s Top 10 prospect list for the Mets, much less a BA Top 100 prospect list for all of baseball.

And then Duda broke out in 2010. He raked at two minor league levels and made his major league debut. But unlike Stanton, who also debuted in 2010, Duda struggled mightily in the majors. His overall line for the Mets that year was .202/.261/.417 which translated to an 82 OPS+. Duda was done in by a miserable start. In his first 13 games, he was 1-33. Over his final 16 games, Duda had a .314/.345/.647 line. For what it’s worth, in that tiny 55 PA sample, Duda had a .993 OPS.

In 2011, while Stanton logged 601 PA in the majors and a 141 OPS+, Duda yo-yoed back and forth between the majors and minors. He got off to another dreadful start with the Mets. But when he came up for good on June 10th, Duda posted a .306/.381/.505 line in 324 PA. Over that stretch, when he essentially played every day, Duda had an .886 OPS in the majors last year. Stanton had an .893 OPS last season.

Stanton is younger, he’s more athletic, he’s more established – he’s better than Duda in just about every meaningful way. But, with a bat in their hands, the difference in OPS between the two of them was not very large when they were every day players last year.

My colleague Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has a series where he ranks the top 50 most valuable properties in MLB. This focuses on youth, contract status and production. Cameron writes:

“[T]he goal of the list is to measure the league-wide demand for a player’s services if that player was made available in the trade market.”

Stanton ranked 16th on Cameron’s list last year, produced at the All-Star break. Here’s what he wrote in part on the Marlins’ young star:

“His prodigious power and athleticism help him overcome the raw aspects of his approach at the plate. As he gets older and learns to control the strike zone a bit more, Stanton has the potential to be one of the game’s best hitters. Given his current usefulness and his upside beyond what he is now, the line would be out the door to acquire Stanton’s services for the next five years.”

Not surprisingly, Duda did not make the list. I asked Cameron recently if he was making this list now if Duda would be under consideration for the Top 50. Here’s his reply:

“No, probably not. While he certainly had a nice rookie year, he’s still a pretty unathletic 25-year-old whose value is completely tied to how well he hits. To be a star as that kind of player, he’d have to be one of the very best hitters in baseball, and I don’t know anyone who projects him at that level.”

So, let’s compare Duda to someone more in line with his age and athletic physique. I’m going to give you two lines, but I’m not going to identify the other player, or even which one is Duda. Instead, I want you to pick the one that’s better.

Player A – 348 PA, .288/.356/.567 Age 25, weight 240 pounds
Player B – 324 PA, .306/.381/.505 Age 25, weight 255 pounds

You’d probably pick Player A, whose power seemingly outweighs (p.i.) Player B’s OBP advantage. Player A is Ryan Howard in 2005 while player B is Duda over his final 324 PA last year.

But let’s examine the numbers a little more carefully than with the blunt tool of OPS. It’s generally accepted that OBP should be valued at about 1.7 compared to SLG. If we carry that out in the above example, Howard has this weighted OPS of 1.162 and Duda has this weighted OPS of 1.153 – Howard is still ahead but the advantage, to use another weight-inspired term, is slim.

And that’s before taking run environment into account. The National League in 2005 scored 4.45 runs per game and had a .744 OPS. In 2011, those numbers were 4.13 and .710, respectively. Once we factor in the hitting conditions of the times, it’s really a toss-up if Howard or Duda produced the better hitting lines in our comparison.

Howard won the Rookie of the Year award in 2005 and in the following year he was the NL MVP, when he posted a fWAR of 6.2 for the season. His numbers would have been even better if he didn’t post a -4.3 UZR in 1,412.0 innings in 2006.

And there’s the rub for Duda. He had a -11.6 UZR in 364.1 innings as an outfielder. In 323.1 innings at first base, he had a -0.2 UZR. He would be an acceptable fielder at first base but he’s a disaster in the outfield. There’s no way to disguise this. If Duda ends up playing the outfield, his value as a player takes a major hit. And that’s without wading into the psychological territory of wondering if his fielding woes would impact his hitting.

Purely as a hitter, Duda put up numbers over 324 plate appearances last year that stack up on a percentage basis with what Mike Stanton did in 2011 and what Ryan Howard did in 2005. And that’s why I think Duda is a star with the bat in his hands.

There are certainly reasons to be skeptical. Duda has neither the pedigree nor track record that Stanton and Howard possess. He’s not come close to matching the over the fence power of either of those two players. And his outfield defense is atrocious.

But when he steps into the batter’s box, Duda has put up some eye-opening numbers. Now we have to see if Duda can overcome the adjustments that pitchers make against him this year. We have to see if he can produce over a full season. And we have to see if he can cut it in the outfield.

But there are definitely reasons to be excited, too. And the proposed new outfield dimensions at Citi Field could help improve his power numbers. Duda could be the best hitter on the 2012 Mets. That is if they don’t trade him for help in other areas.

Potential Mets trading partner: Dodgers

It’s always nice to have someone worse off than you. For the Mets, we can always say – at least we’re not the Dodgers. Sure, the Dodgers won more games in 2011 and have bigger stars on the major league roster. But their ownership is a disaster, players seem unsure if they want to be there and the minor league system is unlikely to pump out four or five consecutive Rookie of the Year Award winners like it did from ’79-’82 and from ’92-’96.

You could make the argument that the Dodgers are in better position, because once the McCourt issue plays out, the Dodgers get new owners and many of their problems disappear. But Frank McCourt seems intent to do everything in his power to drag this out as long as possible, which from the Dodgers’ perspective means the 2012 season could very well have McCourt remaining as the team’s owner, yet still facing a severe cash shortage.

If this is indeed the way things play out, the Dodgers could look to move players signed to reasonable contracts given their production but still ones that are hard for a cash-strapped owner to afford. Here’s a look at some players the Dodgers might consider moving:

Andre Ethier – arbitration-eligible – likely to receive around $12 million
Ted Lilly – $12 million (last season of 3-year contract)
Chad Billingsley – $9 million (first season of 3-year contract)

All three of these players would be attractive for the Mets, although they would likely prefer some money to come back with Lilly if he was the only one acquired. The Dodgers may not be willing to part with pitching, given the free agent status of both Jon Garland (team option for $8 million) and Hiroki Kuroda. Regardless, the Dodgers are on the hook for $46.2 million for five players and have arbitration cases with Ethier, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo. Additionally, Jonathan Broxton and several role players are free agents.

The Dodgers are likely to bring Loney back as their first baseman, although he’s never displayed the HR power you would prefer from the position. Dee Gordon has SS locked up but there are question marks for the club at both 2B and 3B. Jamey Carroll turns 38 in the offseason and is a free agent while Casey Blake, who has a $6 million team option, turned 38 during the 2011 season. Ivan DeJesus is an option at 2B, and so is bringing back Carroll on a cheap deal.

Third base seems like more of an issue. Last year, Juan Uribe (56 OPS+), Aaron Miles (84 OPS+) and Blake (99 OPS+) saw the most time at the position, with Uribe’s 463.3 innings at third, 53 starts, topping the ledger. Uribe is one of the five players the Dodgers have under contract for 2012 and the club has a history with Blake, having traded Carlos Santana to get him back in 2008. Still, it’s hard as an outsider not to look at 3B as a position the Dodgers have to upgrade.

The Mets could send Daniel Murphy to Los Angeles, where he could play his natural position of third base. They could also send Lucas Duda, who would provide more of a long ball threat at first base than Loney. Minor league outfielders like Kirk Nieuwenhuis or Matt den Dekker could be valuable trade chits, as well, since more of the Dodgers top prospects are pitchers. Perhaps one of the Mets’ collection of fourth starters would have value if the Dodgers gave up a pitcher.

There seems to be ways for the two teams to make a deal, if the Dodgers are concerned about payroll. If not, then it becomes significantly harder. It seems odd to think about the Mets being able to add payroll, but they do have some money to spend, especially if Jose Reyes goes elsewhere. The key will be getting value, which seems more likely for the Mets in the trade market than via free agency.

But with the Dodgers, it gets tricky. How much is Ethier worth, since he’s eligible for free agency in 2013? Billingsley looked very good in 2008 and 2010 and more like Mike Pelfrey in 2009 and 2011 – do you pay any kind of premium for that? These types of decisions are why Sandy Alderson makes the big bucks.

Here’s a blockbuster to chew on, a type of deal that gets made in fantasy baseball but not real life. This is not meant as a serious proposal, but something more of a thought exercise – one that provides value to both clubs:

Mets get – Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe
Dodgers get – Jason Bay, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese

Why Mets do it
Ethier an upgrade in RF, Billingsley is a 27-year old one season removed from a 4.5 WAR, get out from Bay’s contract. With no emotional attachment to Loney, they non-tender him and save millions.

Why Dodgers do it

Get three pre-arbitration players, two of which fill needs. Giving up roughly $35 million in 2012 salary and take on roughly $17.5 million, which is a huge deal for a cash-strapped owner. Duda is an upgrade on Loney, Murphy an upgrade over whoever else would play 3B. Niese’s 2011 3.28 xFIP is much better than Billingsley’s 4.14 xFIP.

Why trade would not get done
No one wants Jason Bay, Dodgers feel it’s too much risk taking on two players coming back from injury in Murphy and Niese, Mets not willing to assume roughly $12.5 million more in payroll or worried that Ethier is strictly a rental and not worth sacrificing three cost-controlled assets.

Here’s the Mets’ lineup after the deal:

Reyes
Tejada
Wright
Davis
Ethier
Pagan
Nieuwenhuis
Thole

Nieuwenhuis gets to break in the majors playing LF and the Mets outfield defense improves tremendously by getting Duda out of RF, as well as having two nominal CF in the other slots. Ethier reversed recent trends by having a good defensive year in 2011, but even if he returns to 2008-10 levels, he’s still significantly better than Duda.

Santana, Billingsley, Dickey, Capuano, Pelfrey with Gee in reserve for the rotation. Do you think that’s a team that can contend for the Wild Card?

Mets fans prefer to keep Ike Davis over David Wright

Last week we ran a poll at Mets360 asking which player you would least like to see traded. With 404 people voting, here were the results:

Ike Davis – 55%
David Wright – 28%
Daniel Murphy – 6%
Ruben Tejada – 6%
Lucas Duda – 5%

I figured that Davis and Wright would be the top two, but I’m surprised at the order and shocked at the spread between the two. I’m also a bit surprised in the spread between Davis and Duda. Davis is much better defensively than Duda but it’s far from clear which one is the better hitter. Here are their major league numbers:

ID – .271/.357/.460 in 750 PA
LD – .273/.347/.468 in 439 PA

Davis seems to be the better overall player, due to his glove plus the fact that he is a year younger. But it would not surprise me in the slightest if Duda ended up as the better hitter. These numbers so far are extremely similar, but Duda’s are brought down by what he did in his brief time in 2010 (.676 OPS) while Davis’ are pulled up by what he did in his brief time in 2011 (.925 OPS).

As fans, we always assume that hitters will come back as good as new from injuries. And most of the time this turns out to be true. But how many people out there figured that Davis would miss the rest of the year when he went down with an ankle injury in May? Adding to the surprise is that the injury did not require surgery. As fans, should we assume with normal confidence that Davis returns and is healthy and able to play at the level he did last year?

With a full season under his belt, Sandy Alderson has had the time to evaluate his team up close and personal. Hopefully he has come to the conclusion that he needs to do some serious tinkering to the roster as it currently exists. Let’s look at the trade value of the five players mentioned above:

Davis
Pros – Top notch fielder, bat appeared to take a step forward in 2011. Has great power and could easily develop into consistent 30-HR hitter. Pre-arb player
Cons – Coming off an injury that took much longer to heal than originally anticipated. Much uncertainty over the type of offensive player he will be.

Wright
Pros – Has a track record of being one of the top hitters at his position for 7 years. Would probably benefit by a trade to another organization, where he wouldn’t have to be the face of the franchise.
Cons – His defense is an issue and his strikeouts are something of a concern. His salary at $15 million for 2012 is no longer cheap and limits the teams that could potentially acquire him. If traded, his 2013 option becomes voided, so acquiring team has him for just one season.

Murphy
Pros – Can handle both 1B and 3B. Good contact hitter who could handle batting anywhere in the lineup. Pre-arb player.
Cons – His last two years have been truncated due to season-ending injuries suffered in the middle infield. Does not have the power you would want from a 1B.

Tejada
Pros – Can handle both 2B and SS. Was essentially a league average hitter (96 OPS+) as a 21-year-old middle infielder in 2011. Pre-arb player.
Cons – Limited track record in both the majors and minors. Has virtually no power and is not a fast runner.

Duda
Pros – Posted a 136 OPS+ in his first extended look at major league pitching. Had an .854 OPS versus LH starters last year. Pre-arb player
Cons – By UZR/150 he was the worst defensive outfielder in the majors in 2011 with at least 300 innings played. Not a highly-regarded prospect (7th-round pick) prior to his 2010 breakout.

Most trade talks do not heat up until after the World Series, so it’s not surprising that we have not heard much hot stove action yet. However, there are reports that the Rockies are very interested in acquiring Wright. They have the need at 3B and with Troy Tulowitzki around he certainly would not become the team’s savior.

But can they afford him?

In 2010 the Rockies had a franchise-high $84.3 million payroll and last year it was at $82.3 according to Cot’s. Colorado already has $61.1 million allocated to 2012 payroll for 12 players. If they add Wright and his $15 million, that would leave 6-8 million dollars left for 11 players to fit in the 2010-2011 payroll mold. Both Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler are arbitration-eligible for the first time and are likely to see significant increases to their minimum-wage type contracts of 2011. The Rockies have three other players besides Smith and Fowler that are arbitration-eligible and they have four other players who are free agents.

For the Rockies to fit in Wright, they will likely have to bump their payroll over $85 million and probably nearer to $90 million, unless the Mets agree to send money in the deal. And that’s with filling in with minimum wage players. Alderson has shown a willingness to include cash, as he sent $4 million to the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade and an estimated $5.9 million to Milwaukee in the Francisco Rodriguez deal.

In the Beltran deal, they were essentially buying Zack Wheeler. In the Rodriguez deal, they were doing whatever it took to get out from under his 2012 option. Would Alderson be willing to do it again for a player he claims that he does not want to deal? It’s possible, but I would not go so far as to say it was likely.

And that’s why it seems doubtful to me that Wright will be dealt in the offseason. Alderson has said that the Mets are not shopping Wright which seems to mean that he will look to acquire full value in any deal for him. With Wright coming off an injury-plagued season, along with his current contract status, it seems unlikely that the perfect storm of team with a need for a 3B, a team with salary room to pay him and a team willing to meet the Mets’ asking price all comes together at once.

The contract status of the four other players, all pre-arbitration, should make them more attractive to other teams. They all have questions for sure, but then again so does Wright. And would you rather pay a king’s ransom for a guy like Wright, who now comes with back issues and that you control for just one expensive year, or would you rather have a Duda or Tejada, who you can control for five inexpensive years, and seemingly acquire for less of a cost?

The other four players listed do not have the track record of Wright. But this is why teams have scouts and number crunchers on their staff. Is Tejada for real? Can Duda continue hitting in the majors? These risks should be calculated without great difficulty by professional teams. We’ve already seen this risk calculated by fans, who by a nearly two-to-one margin prefer that they keep Davis over Wright, regardless of track record.

It figures to be a fascinating offseason for the Mets. It may be a tough one to swallow for fans, as the possibility exists that the team could lose Jose Reyes to free agency and Wright via trade. But however things shake out, this will be the year where Alderson firmly puts his stamp on the team. Fans have been happy to this point with the job Alderson has done. Let’s see if they say the same thing on Opening Day 2012.

Potential Mets trading partner: Rays

Last week I wrote about how the pieces on the Mets did not fit and that they needed to find a trading partner, one that had OF or pitching to trade for infielders, which the Mets have a few extra. A team that might make a good trading partner is the Tampa Bay Rays.

Before talking about specific players, let’s take a minute to understand the situation the Rays are in. They have a young team which has been very successful winning games the past four years (368-280) but one that has not been able to draw fans. This year their attendance was only 1,529,188, which ranked 29th out of 30 teams.

On Tuesday the Rays hosted a playoff game and drew just 28,229 fans.

Cot’s lists the 2011 Rays payroll as $42,171,308. The Mets seemingly have more money on the disabled list than that. According to Gary Shelton’s story in today’s St. Petersburg Times, the Rays “didn’t turn a profit this year.” It’s worth clicking through to the article to read some of the quotes from Rays Managing General Partner Stuart Sternberg.

With that as our backdrop, I propose that if the Mets re-sign Jose Reyes, that they send Ruben Tejada, and Lucas Duda to the Rays for B.J. Upton.

Why this works for the Rays:

Upton will be entering his third and final arbitration year this offseason. He was the second-highest paid player on the club ($4.825 million in 2011) and is likely to be the club’s highest-paid player if he is still on the roster in 2012. The Rays have a replacement in center field for Upton as Desmond Jennings was just as productive in 287 PA last year.

Duda and Tejada are pre-arbitration players, which makes them attractive to Tampa Bay. Duda could be their DH. In 2011 Johnny Damon was the Rays’ DH and he made the most money on the club at $5.25 million. Damon inked a one-year contract and would not have to be re-signed. Shortstop was a black hole for the Rays last year. Reid Brignac played the most games at the position and he had a 29 OPS+ and yes, that’s not a misprint.

Both Duda and Tejada are upgrades from what the Rays utilized at DH and SS, respectively, last year – Tejada significantly so. Duda’s 136 OPS+ comfortably beats Damon’s 110 mark in the category. By trading Upton and letting Damon walk, the Rays save over $9 million in salary compared to a year ago, once you factor in Duda and Tejada’s pre-arbitration salary numbers.

Why this works for the Mets:

Upton is a potential five-tool CF who hit 23 HR, scored 82 runs and drove in 81 in what was considered a disappointing year. It was not his best defensive season but he still had a 1.6 UZR/150. He would be an upgrade over Pagan defensively, while Pagan would be a giant upgrade over Duda in RF. Plus, Upton’s RH bat would help balance the lineup. The Mets would control his rights for 2012 and potentially have the inside-track on re-signing him long-term. And while it seems like he’s been around forever, 2012 will be his age 27 season.

With this trade, the Mets could trot out the following lineup:

Reyes
Murphy
Wright
Davis
Upton
Pagan
Bay
Thole

Why it might not work:

The Rays may feel that they can get more elsewhere for Upton. The Mets are concerned about Upton’s arbitration status and the likelihood of a $10 million+ contract for a guy with a low AVG and high K% marks.

Re-signing Reyes and trading for Upton would likely add around $30 million to the Mets’ payroll, which already has $63 million in obligations to just five players. The Mets would be forced to fill out their roster with low-cost additions to meet the expected $110 million payroll.

But guys like Upton don’t come around often for trade. His addition would give the Mets a much improved defensive outfield, which is one of the team’s goals. While it’s difficult to give up two guys who came up through the farm system, you have to give up something to get something and this trade would do a nice job of rebalancing the talent on hand. A team with Pagan, Reyes and Upton features three guys who are a threat to run at any time.

If you were Alderson – would you propose this trade?

Mets Notes: Herrera’s fast start, Duda’s contact, Turner’s RBIs

Since joining the Mets, Danny Herrera has faced 21 batters and allowed only three baserunners on two hits and a walk. That works out to a miniscule 0.474 WHIP. The surprising thing is how good Herrera has been versus RHB. Here are his splits this year with the Mets:

vs RHB – 1-10, SF, BB
vs LHB – 1-8, SAC

It’s not surprising Herrera has done so well against lefties, as he is a LOOGY after all. But his success in this brief sample versus RHB is nothing short of amazing. In his career in the majors, Herrera has a .569 OPS against versus lefties and a .948 mark against righties.

While Herrera will not be able to keep up this pace, especially against RHB, it will help tremendously in his case to make the 2012 Mets. Tim Byrdak has done a fine job in his role as the team’s LOOGY here in 2011. But Byrdak made $900,000 this year with another $300,000 in incentives also a part of his contract. With just over one year of service time coming into the season, Herrera will not be eligible for arbitration and will make roughly the league minimum next year, less than half of what Byrdak pulled down.

Byrdak did better than expected versus RHB this year, too. But he’ll turn 38 in the offseason and there’s no reason to pay a premium for 40 innings of work, which is about what Byrdak will finish the season with, as he sits at 35.1 IP through games of Thursday. If Herrera can be an effective LOOGY for the Mets, it will make the Francisco Rodriguez contract dump look even better.

DUDA MAKES CONTACT – Last year in his September callup, Lucas Duda had a 23.9 K%. This year in his first 10 games with the Mets, he had a 26.1 K%. But since coming up for good on June 10th, Duda has fanned 46 times in 303 PA for a 15.2 K%. He carries a .321 BABIP since the last recall and those two factors have helped him to an .851 OPS. It would be nice to see Duda increase his HR output, as he has just 9 HR in 285 ABs. But here’s where Citi Field rears its ugly head, as Duda has 7 HR this year on the road and only 2 HR at home. But he could conceivably up his HR production as he gains more experience. And right now the increased contact rate has served him well.

SCHWINDEN KEEPS BATTLING – After being knocked around in his first start, Chris Schwinden allowed 1 ER in 5 IP in his second start for the Mets. He doesn’t have great stuff but he throws four pitches and if he can keep the walks in check and keep the ball in the park, he’s got a chance to be a fifth starter in the majors. Earlier this year while he was succeeding in the minors, I compared him to Dillon Gee. So far this season, Gee has a 4.41 xFIP with an average fastball velocity of 89.8 miles per hour. Schwinden after two starts with the Mets clocks in with a 4.51 xFIP and an average fastball reading of 88.8 mph.

TURNER FINISHES SEASON STRONG – In his last 10 games, Justin Turner has a .912 OPS, fueled by 14 hits in 37 ABs. Throw in five walks and Turner has a .452 OBP in this stretch. But despite being on base nearly half of the time, Turner has scored only three runs in this span, an indication of the struggles of the offense here recently. Earlier in the year, Turner had a reputation as an RBI guy, but in this hot streak he has just, as Keith Hernandez would say, three ribeye steaks.

This season, Turner has come up with 264 baserunners. He has 49 RBIs and 4 HR, meaning he has driven in 45 of the 264 guys on base for a 17% OBI (others batted in) rate. That is the top rate for the current Mets starters (Duda has a 16% rate) but not one that jumps out as particularly noteworthy. Carlos Beltran had a 17.8 % OBI before he was dealt.

Unfortunately, Baseball-Reference does not have a split available for this number. My opinion is that Turner’s OBI% was in the 20s at the end of May and has been significantly lower ever since. Still, a 17% rate is a very strong number and it will be interesting to see if Turner can maintain that rate in the years to come.

OFFENSIVE WOES – The Mets have scored just 27 runs in their last 10 games and have gone 2-8 in that stretch. And one of the wins came via a 1-0 score. Terry Collins has kept the Mets from falling apart when it looked like that was imminent at several points earlier this season. He’ll have to continue to motivate the Mets if he wants to finish on a strong note. The club needs to go 8-4 to match last season’s disappointing finish.

Does Lucas Duda’s defense determine 2012 decisions?

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.

Mets Notes: Acosta v. Parnell, Pagan’s 2012 status and Duda magic

Manny Acosta pitched two scoreless innings last night and struck out five of the seven batters he faced. After giving up 9 ER in his first 7.1 IP with the Mets this year, Acosta has allowed just 4 ER in his last 27.2 IP. He has a 1.30 ERA in that stretch with 7 BB and 31 Ks. Manager Terry Collins has finally allowed Acosta to pitch more meaningful innings but that seemingly has more to do with the implosion of other relievers than the success Acosta has achieved.

The Mets continue to give Bobby Parnell every chance to be a successful late-inning reliever despite a track record no better than Acosta’s. Parnell was gifted the eighth-inning role out of Spring Training this year while Acosta was exposed to waivers. Both pitched well in 2010 for the Mets but Acosta had a 1.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in ST while Parnell had a 4.09 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Parnell blew the save in last night’s game and picked up the loss. He has a 4.18 ERA on the year with a 1.54 WHIP. But because he can throw the ball 100 mph he gets every chance to perform in key situations. Acosta cannot reach triple-digits with his fastball, but with an average fastball velocity of 94.4 and a K/9 of 9.0 this year, it’s not like Acosta has anything for which to apologize.

In the last two seasons, here’s how Acosta and Parnell have produced for the Mets:

IP ERA WHIP K/9 HR BB K
Manny Acosta 74.2 3.13 1.232 9.3 10 28 77
Bobby Parnell 82.1 3.61 1.482 9.4 5 29 86

When he was struggling earlier this season, Acosta allowed 4 HR in his first 7.1 IP. He definitely has some gopher-ball tendencies, but even with that, he still has a better ERA than Parnell. It’s time for Mets fans to embrace Acosta and it’s time for management to make sure he is on the 2012 team. While he did not come up through the farm system like Parnell did (and is four years older, too), Acosta has earned the right to be used regularly in key situations.

HAS ANGEL EARNED HIS WINGS?: There has been a lot of speculation that the Mets will look to save money by non-tendering Angel Pagan in the offseason. Mets fans had high hopes for Pagan coming into the season and quite frankly he has not reached expectations. However, in his last 165 PA, Pagan has a .299/.323/.433 line. A .756 OPS would put him comfortably in the middle of the pack among full-time center fielders.

But it’s not his offense that may lead to the end of his Mets career. Baseball-Reference shows Pagan with a -0.9 dWAR this year. FanGraphs shows his RZR of .917 as ranking 15th among 20 full-time CF and his -17.8 UZR/150 ranks dead last. The Mets are 47-55 when Pagan starts in CF and are 16-9 when Jason Pridie starts there, despite Pridie’s inferior offensive numbers.

It should be pointed out that Pridie’s starts came while the team had Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the lineup and the Mets were playing their best ball of the season. But that does not take away from the fact that Pagan has had a poor defensive season. Under previous management, Pagan might be a cinch to return in 2012. But under Sandy Alderson, no one should take that for a given.

R.A. ROLLS ON: The Mets started R.A. Dickey on short rest Friday night and he responded with a Quality Start and picked up the win. It was the second straight victory for Dickey and the first time all year he had won consecutive decisions, much less back-to-back starts. Wins have been hard to come by for Dickey this season. After a rough beginning of the year, he has a 3.01 ERA in his last 20 starts but is just 6-6 in that span.

HOME SWEET HOME?: Of the remaining 25 games in the season, the Mets play 15 home games. For most teams that would be a welcome schedule; however, the 2011 Mets have played better on the road. This year they have a 37-34 road record, tied with the Diamondbacks for the fourth-best away record. But at Citi Field the Mets are 30-36, which ranks 13th in the 16-team NL. Last year the Mets were 47-34 at home and 32-49 on the road.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Lucas Duda’s RBI single in the seventh inning snapped a 2–2 tie and plated the decisive run in the Mets’ 3–2 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night. Duda had a .517 batting average from the seventh inning on in August, recording 15 hits in 29 late-inning at-bats and driving in 13 runs. That was the most late-inning RBIs for any major-league player in August and the only major-league player with a higher late-inning batting average in the month (minimum: 25 plate appearances) was Casey Kotchman (16 for 30, .533).

2011 Mets record by individual games started

The Mets are 62-68 but they have been hit with a ton of injuries again. In fact, I bet you don’t know which player has made the most starts this year for the Mets. Carlos Beltran was leading the team until he got traded. Jose Reyes was leading until he went on the DL for the second time. Now the team’s leader in starts is Jason Bay with 100.

Fourteen different players have made at least 30 starts for the Mets this year. Here they are arranged by the team’s winning percentage in games that they start:

Player Record Win Pct.
Pridie 22-16 .579
Beltran 50-44 .532
Murphy 46-44 .511
Duda 28-27 .509
Turner 44-43 .506
Reyes 49-49 .500
Thole 37-37 .500
Bay 49-51 .490
Tejada 31-35 .470
Davis 16-20 .444
Pagan 42-53 .442
Wright 31-40 .437
Paulino 20-28 .417
Harris 10-23 .303

I think it’s easy to read too much into these numbers but at the same time there are some really interesting things. Here are three things that jump out at me.

Mets better with Josh Thole starting – This is even more surprising when you recall that Thole started nearly every day early in the season when the club got off to a 5-13 start. In those 18 games, Thole started 14 of them and the Mets were 3-11. Since then, the club is 34-26 with Thole behind the plate. That’s pretty impressive for a guy that the mainstream media and a bunch of bloggers will tell you is a poor defensive catcher and one who needs to step up his game if he wants to remain a starting backstop.

Center field defense is important – To the naked eye, Jason Pridie looks much better in center field than Angel Pagan has this year and the numbers above certainly seem to reinforce that point. And if we only consider the 25 games that Pridie started in center, the Mets are 16-9 (.640 winning percentage).

If we look at their time in center field only, Pridie has a +3 DRS in 244.1 innings while Pagan is at 0 in 831 innings. Total Zone has Pridie at +1 and +5 in 1,200 innings while it has Pagan at -10 and -14 in 1,200 innings. UZR has Pridie at -0.7 and -1.1 in 150 games while it shows Pagan at -12.4 and -17.8, respectively. I like Pagan but I think there’s little question his poor defensive play this year has hurt the club.

Lucas Duda needs consistent playing time – If asked before putting together this chart, there is no way I would have thought the Mets’ record with Duda starting was above .500 for the year. He’s been starting most of the games since Beltran left and the club is 7-15 in August. But the Mets were 8-2 when Duda started in June and he was a complementary piece to Beltran. If Ike Davis can come back close to the level he played this year while healthy, a Davis-Duda-Wright middle of the order may be enough to win games on a consistent basis.

A lot of people will latch on to the club’s record when Wright is starting and that’s certainly not anything to write home about. But Wright has been in the lineup here with Beltran, Davis, Reyes and Daniel Murphy missing and that has certainly hurt his numbers in this chart..

The Mets were 43-36 (.544) when both Beltran and Murphy started the same game.

It’s time to promote Reese Havens to the Mets

Reese Havens is really good at playing baseball. Unfortunately, Havens is not very good at staying healthy. Since being the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Havens has been on the disabled list six times. His injured body parts include: elbow, groin, quadriceps, hand, oblique and back. And prior to this season he had a piece shaved off his rib in an effort to prevent further back and oblique issues.

A college shortstop, Havens has been moved to second base, where if he can stay healthy he has the chance to be a real plus player. He has played 66 games in his career at Double-A and he has a .302/.378/.486 slash line in 278 PA. He’ll take a walk (28 walks in AA) and he can hit the ball out of the park (9 HR, although Binghamton is a good hitter’s park).

But those non-stop injuries have kept Havens from appearing in more than 97 games in a single season. This year, despite two separate trips to the DL, Havens has played in the second-most games in his pro career, with a total of 51 games played.

Everyone has a theory on how to keep Havens healthy but nothing seems to work. Here’s my theory: Screw the injuries.

While the common refrain has been that Havens need to stay healthy to get a shot at the starting job in the majors, it’s my belief that the time has come to turn conventional wisdom on its head. The Mets should promote Havens to the majors and install him as their starting second baseman for the rest of the year.

Let’s face it – the 2011 season is shot. The rest of the year should be spent on evaluating players for the 2012 team. We know that Lucas Duda is an acceptable option at first base, where his bat will play and his defense seems passable. But can he play the outfield? He should be in RF or LF every game for the rest of the year.

The same logic applies to Havens. Can he hack it in the majors? What better way to find out than to have him play for the Mets in the final 35 games of the year. He’s relatively healthy at the moment and the Mets should take advantage of that health – and their miserable slide – and give him a shot with the best coaches and best medical personnel available in the organization, which are presumably in Queens.

Havens is no kid – he’ll be 25 in October. He played three years of college ball and has been in pro ball parts of four other years on top of that. He’s the same age as Ike Davis. Few people complained about the results Davis produced in the majors after being promoted following 182 games and 769 PA in the minors. Havens has more minor league experience than that, with 203 games and 883 PA.

This is not to say that Havens will enjoy the success in the majors that Davis has. It’s only to point out that it’s not preposterous to suggest that he can handle it. Yes, Davis had more success in the minors than Havens has had. But how much of that can we attribute to Davis’ health? Maybe some, maybe none, maybe all – I don’t think anybody knows.

The worst-case scenario is that Havens stays healthy and doesn’t hit. And if that turns out to be the case, Alderson and Collins have had a much more up-close and personal look at Havens to determine if he can be a player in the future. Duda didn’t hit last year and it did not seem to hurt him in the long run.

If he gets injured, he gets injured. And with his track record, that’s about what we should expect to happen. And if the Mets call him up to play second base and he gets injured, than they just slide Justin Turner back into the lineup and nothing is lost.

Actually, the existence of Turner is what makes Havens in the majors so appealing. Turner is a legitimate starter for a major league club at second base. He’s not a star, but he does not embarrass the team by being in the starting lineup. Turner is the perfect caddy for Havens. If Havens is indeed a better player (far from a certain thing at this point) when healthy, let’s play him while he’s not injured, knowing that we have the perfect insurance policy in Turner ready on the bench.

It’s time to promote Havens and hand him the starting second base job.

Mets Notes: Warthen’s pitching staff along with Bay, Duda and Pagan streaks

Eight pitchers for the Mets have thrown at least 20 innings in both 2010 and 2011. Here are their ERAs for those two seasons:

Name 2011 2010
R.A. Dickey 3.77 2.84
Jonathon Niese 4.05 4.20
Mike Pelfrey 4.58 3.66
Dillon Gee 3.92 2.18
Francisco Rodriguez 3.16 2.20
Bobby Parnell 4.20 2.83
Manny Acosta 4.00 2.95
Ryota Igarashi 5.56 7.12
Total 4.08 3.48

The 2010 group pitched 747.1 innings while this year’s collection has 719.2 innings. As a whole, the Mets’ pitching staff has a 4.13 ERA compared to 3.70 a season ago. And yet no one talks about the role of the pitching coach in the pitching staff’s struggles. This time last year, Howard Johnson was on the hot seat for his role in the struggles of the offense. But Dan Warthen sits pretty as a picture, seemingly with no worries about his future employment.

Last November I wrote an article where I expressed disappointment that Warthen was not among those to go in the offseason house cleaning. Since then, nothing has changed with my assessment. In the November article, I asked who could we point to as success stories for Warthen? And the only answers I came up with were Dickey and Pelfrey. Both have regressed significantly this season.

The closest you can come to for a success story in 2011 for Warthen is Niese, who has an ERA 0.15 lower than a season ago. But that is a bit misleading. Last year Niese really fell apart down the stretch, which dragged his overall numbers down. This time last year, Niese had a 3.38 ERA. Can you really point to him as a success for Warthen?

Despite playing in a pitcher’s park, the Mets rank 13th in the 16-team National League in ERA. Since the All-Star break, Mets pitchers have a 4.64 ERA, which is 15th in the league. No pitcher has taken a leap forward and no pitcher is raving about the new pitch that he learned from Warthen. So, what exactly is he doing for the team and why should he be here next year?

DUDA ROLLS ON – Many people were worried how the Mets would replace the big bat of Carlos Beltran in the lineup. But the Mets have missed little offensively with the insertion of Lucas Duda. Since he was recalled from the minors in early June, Duda has a .301/.368/.494 line. That’s an .862 OPS in 191 PA. If he hit that well the entire season, that would put him between Jay Bruce (.865 OPS) and Kevin Youkilis (.861) this year.

Since becoming a regular on July 27th, Duda has 4 HR and 15 RBIs in 66 ABs (78 PA). And he was robbed of a HR by 6-foot-6 Kyle Blanks in that stretch. Duda has been one of the bright spots for the team here in the second half and it looks like he can be an asset for the 2012 squad. Now the only problem is where to play him defensively. His best position is first base, where he seems to be about average defensively. But if Ike Davis comes back healthy next year, Duda will be in an outfield corner, where he is stretched defensively. In 320.2 lifetime innings defensively in the outfield, Duda has a -32.9 UZR/150.

A CHANGE OF PACE FOR GEE – Heading into Wednesday’s start, Gee had a 5.61 ERA in his previous nine starts. For some reason – perhaps inspired by his pitching coach – Gee started throwing fewer change-ups and more fastballs and curves. And the results were horrible. Wednesday Gee returned to throwing more changes and he allowed 1 ER over 6.2 IP and picked up the win. Here are his off-speed breakdowns for his last two starts:

8/12 – Gee throws 14 change-ups, 4 sliders and 7 curve balls and goes 5.0 IP and allows 4 ER
8/17 – Gee throws 29 change-ups, 2 sliders and 5 curve balls and goes 6.2 IP and allows 1 ER

In the earlier start, Gee threw his change 56% of the time when he didn’t throw a fastball. In his last start, that percentage increased to 81%.

AUGUST AGREES WITH ANGEL – In 14 games during the month of August, Angel Pagan has a .333/.365/.500 slash line over 63 PA. He’s hit safely in 12 of the 14 games and reached base in all of them. Additionally, he has 9 Runs, 6 RBIs and has 6 SB compared to 1 CS. Pagan has been batting leadoff for the club since Jose Reyes has been on the DL and it will be interesting to see where Terry Collins bats him in the order when Reyes returns. Pagan has done his best work of the year in the 5th spot in the lineup, where he has an .803 OPS this season.

BAY ON HITLESS STREAK – Over a 14-game stretch covering the end of July to early August, Jason Bay had 22 hits in 53 ABs (.415 AVG) and Mets fans were hoping that Bay was finally going to pay dividends. But since that streak, he is 0-20 with 6 Ks. He just looks hopeless against both outside pitches and pitches below mid-thigh.

FRENCHY CASHES IN – Old pal Jeff Francoeur inked a two-year, $13.5 million deal with the Royals on Thursday. Francoeur got off to a tremendous start and has a .793 OPS overall this year, good for a 119 OPS+. Of course the issue is that Francoeur always gets off to a good start with a new team. Here are the starts he got off to with all four clubs he has played for in his career:

Atlanta – 274 PA, .884 OPS in 2005
New York – 308 PA, .836 OPS in 2009
Texas – 56 PA, .848 OPS in 2010
Kansas City – 126 PA, .980 OPS in 2011

Since the first 126 PA, Francoeur has a .264/.320/.411 line in 91 games and 387 PA. If that line looks vaguely familiar, it’s because it fits so perfectly with his career numbers. Lifetime, Francoeur has a .269/.312/.430 line.

Kudos to the Rangers for getting the good start and then cutting ties with the charismatic Francoeur. And condolences to the Royals fans out there, who have to put up with him for two more seasons at an inflated rate.

Duda and Thole making their case for 2012 and beyond

Lately there hasn’t been much to get excited about when it comes to the play of the Mets. They continue to be ravaged by injuries and are seemingly dead in the playoff hunt. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to look forward to down the stretch.

Although a lot will happen between now and next April, when it comes to the roster makeup of the New York Mets, the development of Lucas Duda and Josh Thole is making things worth watching as the season winds down.

The biggest off-season question mark for the Mets, of course, is if they will resign Jose Reyes and give him his big bucks. If not, will the Mets look to Ruben Tejada as the solution at shortstop?

And assuming they are healthy and not traded (which seems highly unlikely), Ike Davis should be back manning first base for the Mets with David Wright back at the hot corner.

So, after Reyes (if he is resigned), Davis and Wright, no jobs seem to be guaranteed going into next year as Terry Collins has already attested.

Other roster questions also remain abound.

What will the Mets do at second base? Do they keep Justin Turner around despite him being nothing more than an average player? Do they dare let Murphy go back there? And if not at second, where else do you put Murphy- in left field? If that’s the case, what do you do with Jason Bay and his debilitating contract?

What about Angel Pagan? Some pundits are saying Pagan might be non-tendered this offseason and that these could be his last two months with the Mets. So who then would play center?

General Manager Sandy Alderson has a lot of tough decisions to make on the makeup of the 2012 Mets.

However, with the recent play of Thole and Duda, the decision on their future with the team is becoming less murky by the day as they both looked poised to be everyday starters for the foreseeable future.

Both Duda and Thole have been scorching hot of late and have picked up the slack while the team copes with the injuries to Reyes and Murphy, the lingering effects of the Carlos Beltran trade and the general inconsistencies of Bay and Pagan.

Thole is in the midst of a torrid streak in which he is batting .314 in his last 29 games. Early on while Ronny Paulino was swinging a hot bat, Thole was mired in a miserable slump and sat on the bench as a result. But credit Thole for sticking it out, working hard and forcing his way back into the lineup. With the way Thole is hitting, it might behoove Collins to play him more against lefties to see if he can handle that workload. At the age of 24, it’s obvious Thole is the future at catcher since there seems to be no other promising catchers in the Mets’ system.

While platooning Thole and Paulino to start off the year made sense, it would be a wise idea to start Thole more often to gauge how he can handle lefties. Thus, this will give Thole a better grasp on things heading into 2012.

As for Duda, I have already lauded his improvement before, and since that post he has only gotten better.

Since he was recalled from the minors on June 10, Duda has hit .310 to go along with five home runs and 28 RBI in 166 at-bats.

The maturation that Duda has shown in the last few months has been very encouraging. He seems to be tackling the nuances of the game and will only get better with time. Duda seems to have a cerebral approach at the plate and could offer the team plus-power for years to come.

Now the only concern for Duda is if he can comfortably play right field on an everyday basis. Since Murphy went down with his season-ending injury, Duda has exclusively played first base out of necessity. However, Collins wants to play Duda more in right field to know what he’s playing with. Additionally, there are tentative plans for Duda to play right field in winter ball.

Regardless, outside of any major trades or free agent signings shaking up the team, expect Duda and Thole to be starters and major contributors in 2012. Hence, the next few weeks could be vital in the development of these young two blossoming Mets.

Is Lucas Duda ready to bust out?

If you haven’t noticed, /d/dudalu01.shtml?utm_source=direct&utm_medium=linker&utm_campaign=Linker”>Lucas Duda is in quite the zone lately.

Since July 20, Duda is batting .405 with seven RBI’s while finally delivering on some of his power potential by slugging two home runs in the past week.

Are we ready to see the new Lucas Duda?

With the highly anticipated departure of Carlos Beltran becoming official this week, Duda has firmly entrenched himself as the heir apparent in rightfield. It’s time to see if Duda, does in fact, have a potential long term future with the Mets.

As of Friday, Duda owns a respectable .283/.359/.465 slash line.

What Duda does remarkably well is get on base via the walk while making productive outs. Duda has 15 walks on the year and has a very commendable .359 on-base percentage as a result. In the last 16 games it has been even better, as Duda has been walked nine times, while only striking out three times.

What was missing from Duda’s game for most of the year, was remarkably his power. So, the two home runs hit in the last week is definitely an encouraging sign. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to end the year with around 10 or so dingers.

It’s conceivable that Duda can become a regular 20-30 home run type of hitter, maybe as soon as next year. I have called Duda a poor man’s Adam Dunn in the past, and there is no reason to believe that can’t be a valid comparison with the way Duda swings the bat and gets on base.

If Duda shows that consistent source of power down the stretch that he was lacking earlier in the year than Duda just might find himself as the Mets’ regular right fielder moving forward.

If you look at the Mets lineup, with an eye on 2012 and beyond, you figure rightfield is the only logical place for him to get at-bats. With Jason Bay and his immovable contract in left, and Ike Davis a fixture at first base (Duda’s other possible position), than right field is the only place where Duda can seemingly fit in.

With Beltran gone, Duda has to step up and show he’s got a major league game. With the Mets currently on a five-game winning streak and scoring runs at will, Duda must take what he learned from Beltran and apply it with consistency if he wants to keep this job.

So far, so good on that front. With Beltran gone, and with him being such an integral part of the lineup, guys like Duda, Bay and David Wright have to keep the middle of the lineup a semi-feared unit.

It’s likely that the Mets won’t be all that aggressive in the open market come this winter. All of their available money should be earmarked to keep Jose Reyes in town. So, Duda assuredly will want to seize this opportunity and run with it. Internally, there doesn’t seem to be any other plausible candidates to challenge for the right field position.

Right field is Duda’s job to lose. Let’s hope he continues making strides and becomes the player we all envision him to be.