keyboard_arrow_uptop

By this point, you’ve seen a few Tale of the Tape articles. Matt Collins kicked us off strong, Craig Goldstein refused to fall victim to groupthink and branched out with a dynasty league version, and Mr. Collins doubled up with another installment this week. The 2015 Tale of the Tape series shines a spotlight on two closely ranked players at the same position, hoping to pry them apart enough to help fantasy owners on draft day. Today, we’re featuring a showdown between Lucas Duda, who was a breakout guy last year, and perennial fantasy darling Brandon Belt. It’s East Coast vs. West Coast. The Big Apple vs. the City of the Bay. The penniless Mets vs. the World Champion Giants.

Truth hurts, Mets fans.

Batting Average

On one hand, Duda owns a career .248 batting average, while Belt has compiled a .268 average over four seasons. That seemingly makes the decision rather easy; however, the two first basemen swapped places in this area. Duda hit .253, and Belt scuffled to a .243 average. The former hovered around his career norms. But what happened to Brandon Belt? Most bluntly, the 26-year-old broke his thumb and only amassed 235 plate appearances. In that way, we should be careful to draw too many conclusions: (1) because it’s a small sample, but (2) because his thumb injury likely played into his BABIP being 45 points below his career average. Belt’s line-drive rate dropped to a mere 18.0 percent (22.3 percent average) and he featured the worst plate discipline of his career.

Duda didn’t show anything different in his batted-ball profile or his discipline stats. He was exactly what fantasy owners expected in the batting average department. Belt is the one who suffered the significant injury, which likely caused havoc with his swing and approach. While that’s placing a lot of emphasis on the injury, anything to the hand or wrist seems to warrant such a response. If Belt’s BABIP jumps back to his career norms, and the discipline stats follow suit, he’ll be the clear winner here.

Winner: Belt

On-Base Percentage

Although Belt has an advantage due to the higher batting average, Duda has the preferable peripherals. Check out how the two break down over their careers:

Player

O-Swing%

SwStr%

Swing%

BB%

Lucas Duda

27.0%

9.6%

40.7%

11.4%

Brandon Belt

33.7%

11.5%

51.3%

9.7%

I thought it was important to use career numbers to illustrate that split because the 2014 numbers are even more dramatically split, but come with the injury caveat mentioned earlier. Injured or no, Duda has historically shown more patience and has drawn far more walks, which helps him make up for the batting average deficiencies. Ultimately, though, one wonders how much they simply cancel out. If we suspect that Belt will see his batting average jump, the gap between the two in terms of patience would have to be massive. It’s big, but I’m not sure it’s that big. I’m calling it a wash.

Winner: Both

Home Runs

This category isn’t very debatable. Brandon Belt has yet to eclipse the 20-homer plateau, while Duda launched 30 bombs in 2014. That’s a significant distance, no matter how much you value Belt’s power potential. Furthermore, the difference in power is illustrated in the batted-ball distances. Duda ranked 22nd in all of baseball last year. Belt ranked 139th—and before we get too worked up and blame it on the thumb injury, it’s important to remember he ranked 130th in 2013. The power simply hasn’t been elite thus far.

Fantasy owners should also note that Citi Field has a home-run factor of 96 for lefties, while AT&T has an 84. Combine the lack of historical power production from Belt and the more difficult ballpark for lefties, and this category goes to the New York Met.

Winner: Duda

Runs Batted In

This category is largely dependent upon contextuals. Neither the Giants nor the Mets project to have an elite offense, and while Duda knocked in 92 runs last year, he benefited from more plate appearances and batting in the four-hole. Belt was shuffled around the batting order. Expect that to change in 2015 with the departure of Pablo Sandoval. Brandon Belt may be the new cleanup hitter in San Fran, and he’ll still have a solid group in front of him with Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey—a group I like better than Duda’s trio of Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy, and David Wright.

It’s largely guesswork, but I like the top of San Francisco’s batting order more than New York’s. If they’re both batting cleanup, which seems to be a reasonable assumption at this point, I’m going to say Belt finishes the year with more runs batted in.

Winner: Belt

Runs

It must be acknowledged that Belt is faster than Duda—and I’m sure that matters—but the back half of the Giants batting order projects to be rough. Casey McGehee could be the headliner, with Joe Panik, Gregor Blanco, Brandon Crawford, and the pitcher backing him up. I don’t exactly love those guys to drive home runs. Not that the Mets have it much better, but they at least have some interesting bats like Michael Cuddyer and Travis d’Arnaud. It feels counterintuitive to side with the 6-foot-4, 255-pound slugger over the more fleet-of-foot player, but San Francisco’s offense scares me after the top four.

Winner: Duda

Stolen Bases

Brandon Belt has stolen 20 bases over the past three years. Lucas Duda has stolen 14 since the beginning of 2007. This one ain’t too difficult to figure out—I mean, even sabermetric-hating Jason Whitlock should embrace it

Winner: Belt

Platoon Factor

Despite all the hype and fantasy attention Duda enjoyed a year ago, it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that he hit .180/.264/.252 with a 8.8 percent walk rate and a 32.8 percent strikeout rate. Those numbers are drastically worse than what he accomplished against righties. When looking back to his last full season, Belt’s raw numbers against lefties—.261/.318/.437—seem much more palatable; however, the young man had some underlying issues. His BB:K rate halved from 0.48 against righties to just 0.24 versus southpaws. He actually performed better against lefties in 2014 than righties, but that came in 64 plate appearances. So who the heck knows what that means.

The struggles against same-handed pitching has dogged Duda throughout his major-league career. This isn’t a one-time deal. Fantasy owners who draft him in daily leagues must have a backup option to substitute when he faces a southpaw because he’s probably not even going to play, much less put up respectable numbers. Belt, on the other hand, has shown an ability to hold steady against lefties and avoid a dramatic platoon split. That should present fantasy owners with the opportunity to draft a first baseman who projects to play everyday without predictable downswings in performance.

Winner: Belt

Injury Risk

It’s tough to blame a guy for suffering a fractured thumb, but when you’re being compared to an iron man like Duda, those types of injuries are going to stick out. Duda has landed on the DL once in his major-league career. Belt crossed that mark just last year. Of course, the Giants’ first baseman also dealt with concussion issues in August and September. People have grown a bit weary over the concussion debate, but it’s a nasty injury that can have long-lasting effects. Justin Morneau and Corey Koskie are examples that spring immediately to mind, while Belt spent two separate stints on the DL with concussions last year. It seems that he’s recovered fully. Speaking from experience, though, head injuries are nothing to mess with after you get your first one. It makes me nervous—and not just for fantasy purposes, but for Brandon Belt, too. Best wishes, my man.

Winner: Duda

Risk/Upside

This is a no-brainer for me. The downside on Belt is that he’s James Loney circa 2008-2011, and while that’s not valuable in fantasy formats, the downside on Duda is what he did in 2013. He hit .233 with 15 homers in just 384 plate appearances, which ranked as the 53rd-best first baseman in ESPN leagues. That’s unrosterable in all formats, including your 20-team, 50-player, NL-only league. At least Brandon Belt-Loney can bring some value with his downside projection.

On the flip side, Duda’s ceiling is roughly what he did last year. He’s not going to play against lefties and won’t hit above .270, so hitting 30 homers with a .253 batting average is truly excellent from a platoon guy. He was the 14th-ranked first baseman. That’s the upside. For Belt, you’re looking at a guy who could be an everyday first baseman with 20-25 homers and a .280 batting average, and that will likely include a smattering of stolen bases and some solid run/RBI totals. That’s ‘14 Freddie Freeman with more power. I’ll take that.

Winner: Belt

Facial Hair

Facial hair is omnipresent in baseball, well, outside of the Bronx. It’s important that your fantasy first baseman sports a quality beard or mustache. I’m not suggesting everyone must strive to be Clay Zavada—and I’m certainly not condoning what Brian Wilson put baseball fans through—but the facial hair should be respectable.

Belt doesn’t have a strong beard game, but it’s solid-average. It’s full, well kept, and makes him smile. Unfortunately, Duda takes the point in this category. He’s maybe not the most handsome of men, but his beard is everything I would expect. It’s full, manly, and a little Adam Dunn-ian. I think it’s the last part that gets me. Adam Dunn has long been one of my favorite players. Duda has that kind of vibe to him, and I think it starts with the burly beard.

Winner: Duda

Overall

As one would expect among two players so closely ranked, the differential between Brandon Belt and Lucas Duda is razor thin. It should be noted that it’s possible to weight these categories differently. If your squad needs power, Duda will naturally get a bump. If you’re looking for the higher-upside pick, I think that’s Belt. And the latter ultimately gets the nod for me. Exercises such as this can really help owners fine tune their value rankings before heading into draft day. After all, I’ve now moved Belt ahead of Duda on my personal rankings. I suggest you do the same.

Winner: Belt over Duda, 6-5

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
TwinsfanTravis
1/15
This article is clearly written by someone bias toward Belt going in. Take the upside/risk section- saying Belts downside is James Loney is not a very good sell. Nor is it remotely true. Belt has cracked double digit HRs just twice with his career high being 17. So his downside would be in the single digits which would be unrosterable in most leagues. Duda's floor is about equal to what you can reasonably expect from Belt except for average. Meanwhile, you put Belt's upside at 25 HRs (which he has never come remotely close to in his whole professional career) while saying Duda has reached the peak of what he can do last year. How can you give one guy massive room for improvement while giving the other none? Even if that is true, I'll take the upside that's actually happened rather than continue to dream on a soon to be 27 year old. Throw in the injury risk and Belt looks even less attractive.
joseconsuervo
1/15
Belt hit 12 hr's in about 1/3 of a season's worth of plate appearances in 2014. That pace would have put him well over 25. Not to mention he was injured for a good deal of it.
TwinsfanTravis
1/15
There's always a reason. What was his excuse in 2013?
rweiler
1/15
In 2013 he hit 17 HR in 570 PA. His excuse for not hitting 25 HR is that he was 25 years old with a little over 1 full year in MLB before that. In 2012, he was returning from a broken wrist. For some of his 2014 plate appearances, he was playing with a concussion. The fact is that Belt's best year so far is about as good as Duda's best year, and his worst years so far have been quite a bit better than Duda's worst. Finally, Belt is 2 years younger so he should be entering his peak years. That said, Belt plays 1/2 his games in a park that isn't well suited to left handed line drive hitters, and while the accidents do seem sort freakish, he does seem to be prone to them. I could see going with Duda just on the assumption that he is more likely to be on the field.
TwinsfanTravis
1/15
"Belts better year so far is about as good as Duda's best year"

Show me some stats to back THAT wild assessment up!
rweiler
1/15
Brandon Belt, 2013: 289/360/481 OPS: 841, OPS+ 139, WAR: 4.3
Lucas Duda, 2011: 292/370/482 OPS: 852, OPS+ 137, WAR 0.8
2014: 253/349/481 OPS: 830, OPS+ 137, WAR 3.7

There 2 players are a lot more similar than they are different though they get there via different routes. I don't see anything all that wild about concluding a player with an OPS+ of 139 is about as valuable as a player with ant OPS+ of 137.
TwinsfanTravis
1/16
The difference is 13 HRs and 25 RBIs, which in fantasy is pretty significant especially at a position like 1B where power production is essential.
TwinsfanTravis
1/16
I'm just saying don't pay Belt based on expectations for him to outperform anything he has ever done in either the majors or minors.
rweiler
1/16
Belt did hit 23 HR in 2010 in the minors, 9 of them at Richmond in AA in 200 PA which is by all accounts a tough place to hit HR. He also hit 9 in 2011 in 200 PA in the majors. Overall in his MLB career Belt has hit 45 HR in 1321 PA for a rate of 1 every 29 PA and Duda has hit 74 in 1878 PA for a rate of 1 every 25 PA. Project that out to 600 PA and it works out to 20/year for Belt and 24 for Duda. RBI's ? Runs ? Who knows? Depends on who is hitting around them. Like I said I could see a reasonable person preferring Duda because so far he has been more durable and at least for 1 year, his HR rate improved considerably, but I could also see taking Belt on the hope that as a 27 year old , he improves his HR rate slightly (as most players, including Duda do) and stays healthy for an entire season. I wouldn't over pay for either one.
misterjohnny
1/15
Albert Pujols hit 14 home runs in April 2006. His upside in 2007 must have been 84 home runs a year!

Edward Encarnacion hit 16 in May last year. Imagine what he could do in a whole season! Oh wait, he only hit 34 last year in 542 PA. Maybe we can't do this extrapolation thing.
jfranco77
1/15
Go back and read the 1B valuation article. Loney was at something like 9 bucks mixed/19 bucks AL last year.

And Duda was the 53rd ranked 1B in 2013.

If that's their floors, Duda's is clearly lower.
TwinsfanTravis
1/16
Duda also had nearly half the ABs in 2013 than Loney did. But that wasn't the point of my comment. My point was Duda's floor with a full season of ABs would be about equal, from a fantasy perspective to what Belts 2013 minus the average. Belts floor would have to be lower than that unless you are saying his best season so far is an acceptable floor.
huztlers
1/15
Mark it down - Duda had one fluke good season. He is not a good player. Advantage - Belt.
seanqueue
1/16
As a Met fan I dearly hope I'm wrong, but I absolutely see some regression coming for Duda next year. A line like .240/.330/.430/18/75/70 would not surprise me in the least.
Menthol
1/16
I love Belt, but I'm not convinced that Pence will be hitting second in the Giants lineup. Most likely, it will be Panik in the two spot, which may slightly deflate Belt's RBI potential.
phgold09
1/22
As a Mets fan, a lot was said about

A) Lucas Duda finally being handed the reins. This is the first time he didn't have to battle for a job. Psychologically it makes sense that he might have been more comfortable once Ike Davis was shipped out of town.

B) Getting him to be more aggressive. His BB% AND K% were down from 2013. He's still learning to be more aggressive and not let so many hittable pitches go by.

C) No mention of his xBABIP being .310 (according to this article at Fangraphs posted 9/5/2014 [http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/verifying-xbabip-potential/]) and his actual value being .243 a fairly substantial difference.


My money is on Duda.
phgold09
1/22
And I'm a Brandon Belt fan. I just think Duda is better in fantasy.