Lucas Duda came through once again yesterday, hitting another crucial home run that would be the difference in the game. The home run was his 18th of the season, tied for sixth best in the National League and second among National League first basemen. Going into yesterday’s game, he was tied for 16th in all of baseball in wRC+.
In roughly the same sample size as this season, Duda was a sub replacement level player in 2013. This year, he has been worth 2.2 wins above replacement, averaging out to around 3.3 if he were to keep this up over a 150 game stretch. That’s a solidly above average player, one who would fetch $10-15 million annually on the open market*. The point is, this guy has been really good.
Say what you will about Duda’s approach at the plate under Dave Hudgens versus Lamar Johnson, but the strategy has been constant the entire season. Johnson has been the one tasked with preaching the very same system Hudgens taught, except to the minor leaguers. If anything, the way that has been delivered to the players has changed drastically since Hudgens’ firing (which his writing on hitting strategy could tell you).
The Mets have put Duda in a position to succeed this season by not asking him to be more than he is. As of now, Duda is a platoon player. As much as his production against right-handers is going to tempt people to want him to face lefties as well, that shouldn’t happen. Duda has proven throughout his career that he can’t hit lefties.
I’ve said all along that Duda could make partner with someone else to make a very productive platoon at first base. As someone who hits righties, Duda will play the vast majority of games. All the Mets need is find someone who is reasonably productive against left-handed pitching. They seem to have found that player in Eric Campbell. Campbell has hit lefties well this season (.3328/.357/.449) and can obviously play a host of other positions when not at first base.
What really ate into Duda’s numbers last year was his time against lefties. He got almost twice the exposure to lefties as he has this year. When you hit well under .200 against lefties, even in a somewhat limited sample, that’s going to eat into your overall statistics pretty badly. Against right-handers last year, Duda hit a very respectable .240/.369/.462, not the numbers he has put up this season, but very solid nonetheless. Duda having job security and a fresh voice in his ear in Lamar Johnson, the Mets are setting him up for this type of season.
If there is one player who the Mets have handled perfectly this season, it’s Lucas Duda. They put their trust in the right first baseman, even if it meant having to play someone else a quarter of the time. There is no shame in a platoon, especially if it produces these kinds of results.
As a team, the Mets have a 130 wRC+ from first basemen this season. Who is that tied with? None other than the Chicago White Sox, who spent close to $70 million on Jose Abreu this offseason.
The Mets made a gamble when they traded away Ike Davis and committed to Lucas Duda once and for all, but boy has it paid off.
*1 WAR has been worth roughly $5 million in free agency.