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Adjust, Then Trust Past Busts Again

It’s 2013. I just drafted Lucas Duda again.

I just can’t quit him I guess. No, I’m not a glutton for punishment. I can give you the caveats — it was pick #328 in a 14-team league with five outfielders — and we can talk about Lucas Duda specifically, but that might not be the point in the end.

So I picked Duda, a year after he threw up that dud of a season. In the three hundreds, a pick after I took Adam Eaton, I was thinking (hypothetically, for it was an industry mock I put together) that between Duda and Eaton I might have a fifth outfielder or utility player. That one was a power sleeper and one was a speed sleeper wasn’t really the point so much as the fact that one of them might end up being a major league regular outfielder with non-horrible stats. Others have agreed with me — I’ve seen Duda go #385 and #323 in other high profile industry mocks.

Of course jeers went up in the draft room. “There’s your boy!” Hey, I deserve it. Not many of our long-shot sleepers work out, but maybe I was swayed by the utter decency and nobility of Duda in his plight. Knowing how hard he had to work to get where he was, and how hard he still had to work to even approximate outfield defense, I fell for him. A few long pokes in batting practice in pitchers’ parks didn’t hurt. A year before, it was the athletic prowess and slowly improving contact skills that drew me to Will Venable. We find these guys, we spend a dollar on them, and we hope they’ll work out.

Should we just discard our past busts and move on? Take Lucas Duda specifically. There’s no chance he can be useful this year in fantasy? Let’s try to find some comps and see what they did.

Since his career has been short so far, and up and down, let’s go with a definition of Duda based on the biggest sample available to us. At the end of the season, he was a 26-year-old outfielder with a .172 isolated slugging percentage, a 10% walk rate, and a 22.2% strikeout rate. These are the things most salient to him as a player, since he’s a power and patience guy if he’s ever going to be useful. One thing we learned last year is that his defense won’t help him, so let’s take out center fielders. They get chances if their bat doesn’t show up right away. He also doesn’t have any speed with which to add value, so let’s take all the five-toolers out.

Setting some bounds above and below that definition, let’s see some recent players that looked a little like the Dude at his age. It’s not a huge list, but it feels right:

Jason Kubel 1285 43 8 8.2% 17.4% 0.177 0.268 0.326 0.445 102 -21.1
Logan Morrison 1146 36 3 11.0% 18.2% 0.192 0.25 0.339 0.442 112 -22.7
Lucas Duda 898 29 2 10.0% 22.2% 0.172 0.256 0.338 0.427 113 -36.3
Trot Nixon 981 27 12 11.9% 16.7% 0.188 0.274 0.361 0.462 108 22
Bobby Kielty 975 27 15 13.4% 18.8% 0.167 0.261 0.367 0.428 109 -7.3

The good news is that these guys all had careers beyond their first 800 plate appearances. Their power and patience was enough to keep giving them chances, despite their lack of speed or defense. Okay, Trot Nixon was okay, but he wasn’t employed for his defense, so he fits in. Logan Morrison doesn’t tell us much, but how about the rest?

Nixon didn’t quite strike out as much as Duda, nor was he as terrible on defense. But he did have a slow start to his career, and didn’t hit his power peak until he was 29, when he hit 28 homers and had a .272 ISO for the Sawx. Kubel also seems like a great comp, and he just hit his power peak last year at thirty, but he also had his second-best year when he was 27. These guys represent the best-case scenario for the Dude.

Bobby Kielty is the red-headed boogeyman here. He only managed another 1109 plate appearances and never slugged as well again as he did as a young man. A part-time player before he turned thirty, his flaws were too many for his modest power and patience.

This could happen to Lucas Duda. But he could still be Jason Kubel next season too. And when you are hanging out in the three hundreds, looking for a sixth outfielder, that can work.

The general lesson here is that we have to try to clear our minds of last season. Like the closer that just blew a save, we must move on. No reason to hold Duda’s 2012 against him if his 2013 might yet be interesting. Remember when Lance Berkman was toast? And then he wasn’t! It happens all the time.

We have to adjust. I might pick Will Venable in a league or two this year — hey the 30-year-old has his platoon flaws, but the fences are coming in and some of my rosters go 40+ deep. And Duda is still a dollar play for me, but he’ll probably only be a pick in my deeper leagues this year, and then as part of a package of bench fliers at a weak position.

But in the right league, at the right spot? Sure, I’ll give him another chance. He’s just so dreamy!