Examining Lucas Duda’s Amazing Start to 2015

As recent as a year ago, Duda’s ability to contribute on the MLB level was in question. Today, he is one of baseball’s hottest hitters.

Figuring out how to succeed as a hitter in Major League Baseball is nothing to scoff at. When succeeding means failing to do your job 70 percent of the time, trying not to fail too much can be overwhelming. Lucas Duda, 29, has shown this season that basic changes while trying not to fail can turn a career around.

The 243rd overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft wasn’t picked with the expectations of becoming a top-flight player, but Duda’s ability to be patient at the plate and hit for power kept him moving through the Mets’ system. Remember when Ike Davis was going to be the future of the Mets and man first base for the foreseeable future? Me neither, and Duda can credit himself and the addition of hitting coach Kevin Long to the Mets coaching staff.

A New Approach

Joel Sherman of the New York Post chronicled Duda’s transformation at the plate under the tutelage of Long. The former Yankees hitting coach was brought in to help players such as Duda based on the recommendation of Curtis Granderson, a former Yankee who had consecutive 40 home run, 100 RBI seasons under Long.

Long has since added a toe-tap to Lucas Duda’s swing to help him get his timing down and learn how to hit the ball to all fields against both right- and left-handed pitching.

It appears to be working, and it’s showing on the stat sheet.

The Results

In 2014, Duda slashed .180/.264/.252 against southpaws and .273/.372/.543 against righties. This season, Duda has improved his slash line against left-handed pitching to .367/.446/.653 and has held pretty steady against right handers, slashing .271/.375/.496.

Credit some of the dip in power against righties to Duda’s ability to put the ball in play more often on the left side of the diamond in part because of pitches on the outer half of home plate.

The power is starting to shift towards the right field power alley, a good sign, and his line drives are starting to spread across the field. His 2015 heat maps against lefties are showing strengths everywhere except high, low and outside away from the strike zone compared to an ability to only hit pitches middle and inside in 2014.

There will be critics who point to a career-high .355 Batting Average on Ball in Play (BABIP), considering his career average was .281 coming into this season. It is fair to assume that, during the course of the season, more of the contact Duda is making will lead to outs than it currently is, but there is a good reason why the drop may not be drastic.

An increase in his line drive percentage from 20.4 in 2014 to 32.3 in 2015 is giving opposing defenses fewer chances to field batted balls in play. He is also driving the ball to the center of the diamond 39.8% of the time, the highest percentage of his career. Prior to 2015, Duda had never hit the ball up the middle more than 34.7% of the time and had pulled batted balls in play no less than 42.8% of the time. Something as basic as a toe-tap can and should be credited for these changes.

The icing on the cake is Duda’s improved defense at first base. No longer saddled with trying to manage the corner outfield spots as well as first base, the well-conditioned version of Lucas has saved six runs in 426.1 innings played in 2015. That is one more run in 798.2 fewer innings than in 2014 and a marked improvement from his negative four runs saved at first in 2013 in only 280.0 innings.

An Amazin’ Future

We could be witnessing the start of something special with Lucas Duda, who once had to fight for playing time with Ike Davis. At his current level, Duda is now arguably the best (left-handed) hitter in New York today.

Fingers crossed, the hard work and effort continue to show in the stat box both for Duda and Mets fans alike.