Adam Duvall Is Having a Breakout Season for the Cincinnati Reds
When looking at the lineup of the Cincinnati Reds, there are a few well-known names that jump out immediately as offensive threats: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips. However, to draw from HBO's Game of Thrones, perhaps the biggest threat is the one you do not "see."
“The unseen enemy is always the most fearsome.” #GameofThrones
— Tyrion Lannister (@GoT_Tyrion) August 26, 2013
In the case of the Reds, the "unseen enemy" is Adam Duvall because of his unproven track record coming into this season. Prior to 2016, he had played just 55 games in the big leagues and owned a .204/.268/.409 slash across 149 plate appearances.
He did show some pop however, hitting 8 home runs and posting an Isolated Power (ISO) of .204. This power is likely why the Reds asked for him in return for trading pitcher Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants last season.
Duvall hit 53 home runs in 191 Triple-A games between 2014 and 2015 in the Giants' farm system with a .301 ISO in 2014 and a .266 ISO in 2015. With a chance at consistent playing time at the Major League level for the first time in his career, Duvall is showing that his minor league power can be carried over into the big leagues.
He's hit 16 home runs this season, which is tied for fourth-most despite 32 fewer plate appearances than those with whom he is tied or who are leading him. His most recent tater was a no-doubter that ended up being the game-winner against the Washington Nationals on Saturday.
Duvall's home run on Saturday gives him 8 in his last 12 games. This power surge has helped lead to a .343 ISO, which ranks second-best this season -- for reference, only two hitters posted an ISO of .300 or better in 2015 -- and his .608 slugging percentage is third-best.
So how has Duvall found success this season? Simply put, by hitting the ball hard and by hitting lots of fly balls.
Duvall's Batted Ball Profile
According to FanGraphs, Duvall has a 40.0 percent hard-hit rate, which means exactly that, the percentage of balls he hits for "hard" contact. This is the 18th-best percentage among qualified hitters this season and well above the current league average of 30.8 percent. He ranks even better when using ESPN's version of hard-hit rate.
Updated hard-hit rate leaderboard (hitters)
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— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) June 6, 2016
Duvall has the 12th-best hard-hit rate through yesterday's games. When you couple this with the amount of fly balls he's hitting, you're generally going to see exactly what we have so far: lots of home runs.
The league average for fly ball rate -- the amount of fly balls hit per plate appearance -- is currently 34.2 percent in 2016. Duvall owns a mark of 45.6, which is the 18th-highest this season. Fly balls give hitters the greatest chance of hitting a home run, so a hitter who consistently hits lots of them, in addition to hitting the ball hard, is going to have plenty of opportunities for bat flips.
Duvall has been an excellent home run hitter this season, but that's about all he's done well at the plate.
His .265 batting average is above league average (.252), but because of a minuscule walk rate (3.6%) and a high strikeout rate (29.7), Duvall's .298 on-base percentage is well below the .320 league average. These issues are likely tied to his penchant for keeping the bat off of his shoulders.
Lots of Swings and Chasing Pitches
Duvall is the type of hitter who likes every pitch he sees. He has a 54.8 swing rate, which is the 10th-highest this season. Making matters worse, the percentage of pitches he swings at outside of the strike zone is 40.2 percent, which is sixth-highest.
Fortunately for Duvall, his aggressive approach at the plate hasn't meant less success against non-fastball pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, despite hitting just .209 against sliders this season, Duvall has hit four home runs off of this pitch, and two more against curves, while also batting .278. His ISO against sliders is .349, and his ISO against curves is .444.
Changeups seem to be the pitch causing him the most problems, as he has yet to hit a tater off of a changeup and his ISO is just .136. It would not surprise me if Duvall starts to see an increase in changeups as the season progresses.
Duvall certainly has room to improve overall as a hitter (especially with his walk rate), but his power has clearly translated to the big leagues and is the main reason he has a .378 wOBA, which is just outside the top-30.
He's also become an excellent fielder.
He's made a few diving grabs already this season and owns a 3.7 Ultimate Zone Rating, which is best among qualified left fielders, and his nine Defensive Runs Saved are tied for the most. It's a small sample size (383 1/3 innings), but Duvall is looking like a power hitter who is also capable of playing superb defense.
Duvall currently has a nERD of 1.73, which ranks 54th-best, and we project him to hit another 13 home runs over the remaining course of the season. Considering he was acquired for a pitcher in his walk year, the Reds did well to nab him.
If he continues to showcase his power, Duvall will no longer be "unseen" in Cincinnati's lineup and rather will be the hitter to avoid.