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Did Sandy Alderson get it right with Lucas Duda?

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Mets observers are celebrating that Sandy Alderson made the right choice in staying with Lucas Duda over Ike Davis. But are they letting a small sample size of at-bats this season sway their belief?

Jim McIsaac

It has pretty much been written in stone that Sandy Alderson was right on Lucas Duda. The I Like Ike signs sent to attics, or basements, or trash bins, or wherever fans keep their cleverly designed signs once they lose meaning. The Mets traded Ike Davis to the Pirates in April, ending an organizational debate on who the first basemen of the future should be. Ike or Duda? It took on a political campaign like intensity for the past several seasons. You couldn't meet a Mets fan who didn't have an opinion (and many still do).

Lucas Duda has a wRC+ of 176 since June 1. Over his last 207 plate appearances, he is absolutely crushing the baseball. He is hitting home runs and powering extra base hits all over Citi Field. Meanwhile, Ike Davis is wearing an unfamiliar black and gold, and batting a pedestrian 87 wRC+ since June 1. The debate is over! Sandy Alderson picked the right guy!

Or did he...

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG
Ike Davis 2026 74 0.242 0.336 0.424
Lucas Duda 1667 64 0.250 0.346 0.443

If we take the numbers that they flash on most sports telecasts, and look at Ike and Duda's career totals, we find very similar offensive players. Ike has had roughly 400 more plate appearances, helping his home run total, but in terms of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging, the two are extremely close.

Now, let's dig a little deeper.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ WAR
Ike Davis 2026 12.50% 23.10% 0.182 0.285 111 5.5
Lucas Duda 1667 11.40% 23.00% 0.193 0.295 122 1.4

Ignore the WAR column for a second, and focus on the offensive numbers. This second table shows, even when looking at some more telling numbers than batting average or cumulative home runs, we once again find two players who have had strikingly similar careers at the plate. It's uncanny, really. The WAR total is where we see the biggest difference, and that is because if there is one thing that there is no debate about it is that Ike is a better defensive player than Duda, as is pretty much any player with a glove. Ike has also had more playing time to build his win value total.

Why was it so hard to decide between Ike and Duda? Because in many ways they are the same player, at least offensively, which is where we will keep our focus.

The purpose of this post is not to get back into the Ike versus Duda debate, although I realize I just spent a considerable amount of time introducing it like it was. Context is needed to understand why Mets observers are so keen in anointing Duda the Mets first baseman of the future. After a long debate, it feels as if clarity has been found. Therefore, it's time to announce a winner and move on.

My point is not so fast.

Lucas Duda has put together an amazing two months of baseball at the plate this season which has supporters smiling in confirmation of their belief in the goofy first baseman. But is a small sample size driving what is otherwise a typical season from Duda? If we weren't sure about Duda last year, and his offense makes this year feel different, do we feel confident that he can sustain his improved performance at the plate?

Season PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
2013 384 15 14.30% 26.60% 0.192 0.276 120
2014 385 20 11.70% 21.60% 0.246 0.290 146
Career 1667 64 11.40% 23.00% 0.193 0.295 122

It is a perfect time to compare Duda's 2014 numbers to 2013 because he has nearly identical plate appearances this year as he did all of last season. As the table above highlights, he is without a doubt hitting the ball better than he has at any point in his career. His 2014 wRC+ of 146 is much better than his career 122 total. We also see that compared to last season, he is walking less, but striking out less, too. His K - BB %, which for a hitter you want to be low, is improved in 2014 at 9.9% compared to 12.3% last year. And the big one, ISO, which measures raw power, something that is very important to Duda's game, has jumped off the charts this year.

Duda is hitting for more production, while being more aggressive at the plate, and hitting for lots of power.

So how did Duda turn the corner? Let's check out his batted ball numbers.

Season GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB
2013 0.66 19.80% 31.80% 48.40% 7.60% 14.30%
2014 0.62 19.60% 30.80% 49.60% 8.10% 16.10%
Career 0.73 21.10% 33.20% 45.70% 7.60% 13.20%

This is pretty remarkable. Looking at Duda's line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates, he is almost hitting the ball identical to last season. His HR/FB rate has increased from his 2013 mark of 13.2%, but otherwise, Duda seems to be making very similar contact in terms of the type of balls he puts in play. Something you wouldn't expect looking at the rest of Duda's numbers.

The difference in Duda's production is coming from turning more line drives and fly balls into extra base hits.

Duda_bb_prod

When Lucas Duda hits a fly ball, he has a career wRC+ of 158. That is in over 1600 plate appearances. This season, that number has ballooned to 212. He isn't hitting more fly balls, or really doing anything much different than last season in terms of batted balls, other than having more of his fly balls land for home runs and extra base hits. The same can be said of his line drives. He is turning less line drives into base hits, but the ones he does turn into hits are falling for extra base hits more often this year.

So the task for Mets observers before they anoint Duda king and Sandy Alderson right in his decision to trade Ike is to think about Duda's fly balls. His HR/FB rate is 22% higher this year than it has been over his career. He is hitting a stunning 212 wRC+ on flies this year, above his 158 career mark. Can he keep that up? And if he doesn't, and if his batted ball types are the same - he isn't hitting more line drives or fly balls which would help him generate more extra base hits when the averages regress - will Duda still be the better option?

In baseball, like any analysis involving data, it is about sample size. Lucas Duda started the year, in his first 178 plate appearances, with a respectable 110 wRC+ and .178 ISO, or nothing too different from what he has shown over his career. In his last 207 plate appearances, he has turned into Miguel Cabrera. His wRC+ has skyrocketed to 176 and his ISO is an insane .307. Over the course of the entire season, we see that his batted ball types are almost identical to what he produced in almost identical plate appearances last season. In other words, he is doing what he usually does at the plate, save the increase in power over the past 200+ plate appearances.

Rather than saying that Sandy Alderson got it right with Lucas Duda, I think we should pay attention to sample size. Duda has had a great two months this year, but we know that his fly ball production will eventually regress. At that point, he will likely return to the type of hitter we have seen in over 1600 plate appearances. Not a bad player, but not one that is clearly better than Ike Davis either.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Jeffrey Bellone is an editor and featured writer at Beyond The Box Score. He can also be found writing for the saber-slanted site Inside the 'Zona, and about the Mets at Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. He writes about New York sports at Over the Whitestone. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @OverWhitestone.