Dropping Allen Craig for Lucas Duda

These are dark times for Allen Craig owners.

It’s not just that those of us who drafted him realize he’s having a bad season — that fact became shriekingly apparent months ago — it’s that there aren’t a lot of signs that he’ll turn things around, and worse, such word is spreading throughout the fantasysphere, eroding his trade value.

Red flags? It’s getting hard to count them all. Craig carried a woeful .244/.293/.355 slash line into the all-star break. He’s on pace for just 11 home runs. Even his ability to hit with runners in scoring position, the calling card for which he became such a useful fantasy option, has collapsed to an icky .258 average.

There’s no shortage of explanations: Jeff Sullivan picked apart Craig’s issues with inside fastballs earlier this month, but to sum up, his groundball rate has soared, his fly ball rate has continued to plummet and his walk/strikeout rates are ticking in the wrong directions.

Understand, many of us Craig owners went into this year with the best of intentions, not asking him to carry the water as a bopper at first base but rather as a guy whose first base/outfield eligibility made him a useful fantasy problem-solver. I, myself, drafted him in the fourth round of my keeper H2H league to use as a swingman either to back up Eric Hosmer at first, fortify my, ahem, can’t-miss outfield of Ryan Braun, Yasiel Puig and Wil Myers or anchor my DH spot. Coming off three seasons in which he averaged a 141 wRC+, Craig — despite a troubling drop-off in home runs between 2012-13 — seemed like a perfect “flex” player — so my plan went.

OK, so you already knew Craig has been terrible. But this article isn’t really about him. It’s about why Lucas Duda is quietly having a great season and deserves more love in fantasy filling the role, in a sense, that Craig was supposed to be filling.

PERIOD PA HR RBI BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+
3/31-5/26 155 6 20 8.4 23.2 .164 .276 .236 .310 .400 104
5/27-7/13 169 8 29 15.4 20.1 .284 .310 .277 .391 .560 167

On May 26, the Mets, frustrated in the midst of what clearly was becoming the franchise’s sixth straight losing season, fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens, replacing him with Lamar Johnson. You can’t fire an entire team, so the baseball cliché goes, so you settle for cosmetic solutions in the hopes of demonstrating to your disillusioned fanbase that yes, measures are being taken to right the ship.

I can’t speak to whether Johnson possesses magical abilities, but the team has played .500 ball since he was tapped as hitting coach, averaging slightly more runs a game. And whether it’s been Johnson’s tutelage or just the way the moon and the stars have been aligned, Duda has become a different player.

What’s changed? He’s been much more successful hitting offspeed pitches, and almost everything about his approach at the plate has turned around for the better. He’s swinging less often at pitches outside the strike zone while making better contact on the pitches he can hit. In doing so, Duda has seen his line drive rate spike, while also seeing an increase in fly balls, to the point where he now leads qualified National League hitters in fly ball percentage. That’s great to see, because as Duda, 28, has gotten older, his batted ball distance has steadily increased each season.

I pause here to provide recent video evidence of what I’m talking about:

There’s more good news. Over the winter, I complained noted that Duda hit a pitiful .145 with runners in scoring position last year, with 13 of his 15 home runs coming with the bases empty. That is simply no longer the story; although Duda is not the RBI machine that Craig was over the past two seasons, he’s nearly doubled his batting average with runners in scoring position, delivering a .994 OPS with five home runs. That’s critical production for someone who’s settled in as the Mets’ cleanup hitter, while Craig is beginning to tumble down in the Cardinals’ run-starved lineup.

Fantasy-wise, perhaps the biggest concern facing Duda is playing time. Ike Davis is out of the equation, but the team continues to sit Duda and his lifetime .216 average against lefties. But Kole Calhoun owners will tell you that’s not the end of the world, and manager Terry Collins has spoken about giving Duda more at-bats against southpaws to boost his confidence. Besides, now that Oscar Taveras is in St. Louis, it’s no longer guaranteed that Craig will see more playing time than Duda anyway.

Which brings us to our central question: Is it worth dropping Craig for Duda, given that the Mets’ first baseman has the same first base/outfield eligibility in most formats? Obviously, that’s a tough call that can only be made on a case-by-case, bench-space-by-bench-space basis; surely there are still owners out there who would offer something for Craig’s name, and perhaps he’s just a mechanical tweak or a trade away from becoming fantasy relevant again. Craig enthusiasts, if they’re still out there, might point to Steamer and ZiPS having similar projections for both players the rest of the way, and argue, not without merit, that a best-case scenario for Duda can’t match pre-2014 Craig-like production.

But as the weeks go on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Craig isn’t going to match pre-2014 Craig, either, and we’re approaching the stretch run in the fantasy season. Duda remains widely available in all three major formats — he’s unowned in a whopping 75 percent of Yahoo leagues — and if you drafted the Cardinals’ would-be slugger as much for his versatility as his power, Duda might be the best available candidate to replace that role on your team.




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Journalist by day, baseball writer by night, Karl learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he contributed a chapter to the 2014 Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.


22 Responses to “Dropping Allen Craig for Lucas Duda”

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  1. Lenard says:

    This post has been sponsored by Eno Sarris.

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  2. stonepie says:

    poor man’s brandon moss

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  3. Anthony Lorenzo says:

    As a Mets fans I’ve always pulled for Duda to do well so they would keep him. He’ll be an Athletic or Ray one day.

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  4. brianwilliams42 says:

    I am a Calhoun owner and I just pair duda with him to make a nice 3rd OF combo.

    A lot of my league are Mets fans, but they were sleeping on duda. Probably just disillusioned!

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  5. Clark D says:

    Today is Craig’s 30th birthday…the hits keep coming.

    Not literally.

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  6. TL says:

    I play in an OBP league and this guy has a lot of value in that format. 22-25 HR power plus a .350 OBP? Sign me up!

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  7. Mike Wimmer says:

    Stick with Hosmer over Duda or does Duda outperform him the rest of the year?

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  8. phils fan says:

    Just traded Craig and Josh Harrison for Cespedes. Thoughts??

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  9. Edgar4Evar says:

    I hate dropping players like Craig because inevitably they find their swing the minute I drop them. Last year I put up with Andrus’ lousy hitting for three months. I dropped him and I swear the next day he started hitting again. I lost the championship because I didn’t have a good shortstop. This year I’m being more patient with players who have exhibited talent and I’ve been rewarded. I might try to trade Craig for another struggling player. Because I also picked up Duda for all the reasons mentioned by Karl.

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    • KG says:

      Pretty selfish of you to keep him, knowing that all you need to do is drop the guy to shake him out of his slump. Please reconsider your stance for the betterment of mankind.

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  10. Jay says:

    I traded Craig in a 14 team 4-keeper league with add limits that’s heavily pitching oriented, so I could obtain Collin McHugh and immediately DL him to free up a slot to add another pitcher.

    I had an extra OF bat so it was of no loss to me but I was pretty much ready to drop Craig regardless. This late in the season you can’t hang onto dead roster spots like that if you’re even remotely in contention.

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