Although probably not readily apparent, I intended for the title of this article to be read in the high-pitched tone of voice that was a big part of 90’s pop culture brought to us by everyone’s favorite television nerd, Steve Urkel of Family Matters, as one of his catch phrases was “Did I do thaaaaat?” Go ahead, try it, recite the article title in your best Steve Urkel voice. See, sounds very similar to the Urkel-ism, doesn’t it? But anyway, yes we are here to discuss Lucas Duda of the New York Mets and he has been doing a lot of “thaaaaat” this season, but what exactly is “thaaaaat?” Well, that is what I will show you. But first let me also give you another 90’s sitcom reference and show you how Duda compares to Chandler Bing in Friends when it comes to being the subject of photographs (if you know your Friends then you’ll already know what I am talking about): Duda can be found here, courtesy of Chet Gresham of The Fake Baseball, and Chandler can be found here. Such brilliance.
The left-handed swinging Duda had a breakout season in 2014 when he showed off his muscle as he finished the season with a .253 AVG, 30 HR, 92 RBI, 74 R, and 3 SB. The power was impressive and although he did show a penchant to strikeout at 22.6%, he also displayed a good ability to take a walk at an 11.6% clip. However, there was a big flaw in his game and it was the inability to hit left-handed pitching.
In 2015, Duda owns an overall line (through May 21) of a .302 AVG with 5 HR, 19 RBI, 23 R, and 0 SB, and he is showing a slightly improved strikeout rate (20.7%) and the same type of plate discipline skills to take a walk (10.9%). But what has gotten into “The Dude?” Hitting for such a high AVG is uncharacteristic of him, but the reason is that he is just destroying left-handed pitching. On Thursday versus the Cardinals, he hit 2 HR and both of them came off first pitch offerings from left-handed pitchers. One was versus starter Jaime Garcia and the other was off left-handed specialist Randy Choate. Let’s compare last year’s splits against lefties to this year’s.
2014 vs. left-handed pitching: .180/.264/.252 with 2 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R, 1 SB, and 41 K/11 BB in 111 AB
2015 vs. left-handed pitching (through May 21): .409/.480/.727 with 4 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB, and 10 K/4 BB in 40 AB
So versus lefties this year, he is hitting more than .200 points higher, has already doubled his HR total, and matched his runs total and we aren’t even in June yet. This is a drastic improvement and one that he credits to consulting with Keith Hernandez, former Mets left-handed hitting first baseman and current Mets broadcaster, with Hernandez lending his knowledge of the tendencies of left-handed pitchers. But what is Duda physically and consciously doing that is leading to these improvements? He is not pulling the ball as much, as his pull % versus lefties is down from 39.4% last year to 32.4% this year. Instead, he appears to be staying back on the ball more to drive the ball up the middle as his center % versus lefties is up from 35.2% last year to 44.1% this year, and 4 of his 5 HR this year have gone to center (as opposed to just 7 of his 30 HR last year to center).
Duda is also hitting line drives at a much higher rate versus lefties, and overall in general, which could be the result of staying back on the ball to drive the ball up the middle or to the opposite field. Last year versus lefties, Duda hit a line drive just 23.9% of the time, but this year it is all the way up to 38.2%. And Duda is actually leading the Majors in overall line drive rate at 36.0%, blowing away the competition with Jorge Soler in 2nd at 31.3%.
Last year, Duda was in a semi-platoon as his struggles versus lefties were well documented. But he has a new life this season and manager Terry Collins sees that Duda undoubtedly has made adjustments to his approach versus same-handed pitching, and will run Duda out there everyday as his first baseman no matter who is on the mound which will help Duda’s counting stats. Duda does have a surely unsustainable .467 BABIP versus lefties this season, so that is clearly going to come down and he won’t be teeing off them at a .400 clip all season long. But I feel that he still should be able to hit for a decent overall AVG with these improvements (certainly higher than his mark of .253 last year), and if he can get his power output back up to pace where he was at last year, then this is a pretty nice and undervalued player to have.
However, just like hitters make adjustments, pitchers will try to do the same against Duda and his new found approach. But I love what I am seeing from him so far and will give him a rest of the season line of: .276 AVG, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 58 R, 2 SB