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August 4, 2014

The Buyer's Guide

Lucas Duda

by J.P. Breen

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Every fantasy owner has a handful of players who have repeatedly burned them. Like the sleeper picks who don’t pan out, yet leave you undaunted and going back to the well next season for another bucket of water, only to find out it’s still polluted, pungent, and undrinkable.

Brandon Morrow was one of those guys for me. I felt a brief sense of vindication when he dominated with a 2.96 ERA over 21 starts in 2012, only to suffer extreme heartbreak when he plummeted into the abyss the following year. Luckily, that next season, I shied away from him in general and only resented my impetuousness in a single league. Progress, right?

Another one of “my guys” for a couple years was Lucas Duda. I picked him up in the second half of the 2011 season, where he helped lead one of my keeper leagues to victory with a massive .322/.411/.546 slash line after the All-Star break, and I glommed onto the bandwagon and seemingly couldn’t dislodge myself until this year.

Surprise! I finally discard Duda as a mere piece of fantasy baseball refuse, and he seemingly has become the second coming of Chris Davis—well, the otherworldly version of Chris Davis. His performance has reached another stratosphere in recent weeks. He’s hitting .288/.387/.606 with 15 doubles and 13 homers since the beginning of June and is the fourth-best fantasy player over the past 30 days (FYI: The ageless Torii Hunter is no. 1 in that stretch). Pitchers across the league currently tremble when he digs into the box right now. Simply put, he has been a monster.

Normally, the players featured in this space come from your suggestions in the comments and on Twitter (@JP_Breen). I eschewed a dozen-ish names that were tossed my way on Twitter because I desperately needed to dissect Duda’s performance and ascertain what has been happening. Should we reasonably expect this decimation of the National League to continue? Should fantasy owners try to slide in on the ground level while some folks are likely treating this as a flash in the pan?

As you’re well aware, dear reader, that’s what we do here. Get comfortable. Strap in. Let’s do this.

*****

First things first. Lucas Duda isn’t destroying every pitcher in baseball. The 28-year-old continues to have no clue against left-handers. He’s hitting .167/.254/.233 on the year against southpaws. His value is stemming from his ability to annihilate right-handed pitching, which he’s doing to the tune of a .285/.381/.577 slash line. Almost all of his homers (19 of 20) have come against righties and his 18.4 percent strikeout percentage against righties skyrockets to 34.3 percent against lefties.

This isn’t exactly news. The Mets have limited him to merely 60 plate appearances against southpaws—against whom he owns a career .215/.293/.323 slash line. The organization understands his limitations and is attempting to put him in an overall position to succeed.

In terms of fantasy value, being a platoon first baseman with outfielder status isn’t a death sentence. Brandon Moss, for example, is the 10th-ranked first baseman and has seen fewer than 80 plate appearances versus southpaws. Even Chris Davis, who was the number-one fantasy first baseman a year ago, only hit .235/.289/.475 against lefties—though he admittedly didn’t lose many at-bats against them.

So, Lucas Duda isn’t a washout merely because he can’t hit lefties. What we know, though, is that Duda really has to mash against righties to be worth it for fantasy owners. I mean, he has to straight-up own them. He’s passing the bar, thus far, with an .849 OPS. Perhaps even more telling, his .352 TAv against righties is the sixth-best mark in all of baseball (min. 100 PA), which is even better than the Chicago Behemoths, Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo.

Herein lies the rub: I’m not banking on the rockstar performance against righties to continue. He should remain above average, but to be truly relevant in all fantasy formats as a platoon lefty, above average isn’t good enough. The performance must be elite. I don’t foresee the likelihood of that being very high.

The reason is simple. Lucas Duda doesn’t dominate righties all the time. He dominates righties when they throw him fastballs. When he’s dished up a bevy of hard stuff, he chomps on it. When he’s tossed a cornucopia of breaking balls and changeups, he’s left dazed and confused.

Here’s his production against righties in 2014, when broken down by pitch category (per Brooks Baseball):

Pitch Category

Count

BAA

SLG

ISO

Hard

631

.371

.795

.424

Breaking

332

.146

.218

.073

Offspeed

263

.196

.321

.125

The pattern isn’t difficult to discern. Fastballs are smashed. Everything else is either missed entirely or hit poorly. One would assume, as the rest of the league catches on, Duda’s weaknesses will be exploited and his overall offensive production against right-handers will decline—which would work counter to his “must be elite versus righties” mandate.

It’s difficult to dominate over an extended period when one can only do damage against fastballs and sinkers. If we look at what Brandon Moss has done this year and what Chris Davis did last year against righties, it’s apparent that Duda is not on the same level.

Brandon Moss, 2014

Pitch Category

Count

BAA

SLG

ISO

Hard

695

.265

.563

.298

Breaking

288

.303

.515

.212

Offspeed

306

.198

.395

.198

Chris Davis, 2013

Pitch Category

Count

BAA

SLG

ISO

Hard

1014

.330

.740

.410

Breaking

394

.294

.689

.395

Offspeed

276

.328

.776

.448

Those are elite numbers on two different levels, where Chris Davis’ work against right-handed pitching in 2013 was unearthly. The difference between Moss/Davis and Duda, though, is stark. The duo of Moss and Davis did damage on secondary pitches, while Duda is limited to fastballs and sinkers. It’s not right to put the three hitters in the same category—which is significant, as Duda is seen to be a tier below Moss, who is only the 10th-best fantasy first baseman this year.

Something important needs to be said in Duda’s favor, though. He has seemingly discovered his strengths as a hitter. The data suggests he understands that he does more damage on fastballs, and thus, he’s begun swinging at them much more often this year.


Two years stand out on the graph: 2011 and 2014. In both of those seasons, Duda compiled very solid overall numbers. Those are the only two years in his career in which his TAv has eclipsed .300 (.314 and .325, respectively). Thus, it appears Duda has somewhat gone back to what made him successful in his magical second half in 2011. He’s swinging often at fastballs and demolishing them.

There’s something to be said for recognizing the hard stuff and turning it loose. To me, the data suggests anything non-spinning—so anything “hard” or “offspeed”—gets the green light. That’s likely because Duda is trying to capitalize on his strengths.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure hitting one pitch from only right-handers is going to be enough to make him an elite hitter against right-handed pitching, and without that elite level of production, it makes it difficult to consider him an up-and-coming fantasy star. I see him more as a daily fantasy staple, such as Seth Smith this year, who you can get for cheap on draft day and take advantage of the matchups. He’s not someone for whom you should leverage valuable assets to acquire in your fantasy leagues. However, if he’s on the waiver wire (0.1 percent of ESPN leagues), he’s a no-brainer pickup.

Buyer’s Advice: SELL
The sudden hype around Lucas Duda is similar to what we saw with Jake Arrieta about a month ago. People are treating him as a sudden star. Unlike Arrieta, though, I’m not convinced that’s close to correct. Thus, if you own Duda in your league, you should be looking to sell high—not because he can’t be useful if employed correctly in daily leagues, but because his perceived value is higher than his actual value. I don’t suggest targeting him for your run at a championship. Again, if we’re talking about a lesser Brandon Moss, that’s something (especially in real baseball)—just not something about which to get overly excited in fantasy formats.

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J.P. Breen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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