I liked Lucas Duda going into the season, you may have heard. Ten days ago, he had a .188/.216/.396 batting line and my twitter timeline was blown to pieces. I started planning a mea culpa and some sort of investigation into his contact problems. Good thing life got in the way — Duda’s past week cleaned up most of his peripherals in one fell swoop.
From April 21st until April 30th, Duda went 11 for 30 with a home run and a double. But the batted-ball results weren’t what provide the most hope for the rest of the season. Saying that he struck out six times against seven walks in those 37 plate appearances gets a little closer — he’d struck out 15 times against two walks in the 50 PAs that came before. But per at-bat results are still inferior to per-pitch results in the early season. Most importantly, Lucas Duda started making contact.
Contact rate stabilizes early in the season — probably around 100 PA according to Pizza Cutter’s landmark piece — and even 50 PAs into the season it was tempting to Chicken Little Duda’s double-digit swinging strike rate (8.5% is average most years) and say that he was likely to strike out in over a quarter of his PAs this season.
But now Dudarrific is closing in on 100 PAs and he has an above-average contact rate. His swinging strike rate is at 7.8% currently, which fits in with his 8.0% from last year. He’s cut his strikeout rate to the point that it’s legitimate to wonder if he can better his ZiPS rest-of-season strikeout rate (22%). His career number in the category is 18.9%, and he never struck out more than 20% of the time once he hit the high minors. His heat maps don’t seem to suggest he has a large hole anywhere (2010-2011 on the left, 2012 on the right):
It’s worth wondering if he can strike out less than 22% of the time going forward because that’s very relevant to his batting average. Dudat is showing adequate power, but most people had higher hopes than a .256 batting average. And with a 22% strikeout rate, ZiPs is projecting… a .256 batting average going forward. The good news is that he’s not striking out in a third of his at-bats, and that the projections have him remaining deep-league useful even at a 22% strikeout rate. Mixed leaguers can hope that he makes contact more like the last week-plus than the week before.
But contact rate may not be the whole story for his batting average. Given Duda’s 0.87 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio, and his 25.9% line drive rate, his batted ball mix actually suggests that his .296 current BABIP (and even his .305 projected rest-of-season BABIP) might be too low. His xBABIP is actually .341. Of course, that line drive rate will regress to the league norm — it’s a fickle stat, and only five players managed to put up a rate better than 25% last year. His xBABIP will go down along with his line drive rate. But the point is, there’s still upside in his batting average even if we ‘know’ what his contact rate will look like.
Power has always been an open question with the Dude. He didn’t show much in college or the low minors, and then found his Big Ox stroke in Double-A and hasn’t looked back. Honestly, if he repeated his four-home run opening month five more times, most owners would be happy with their investment. His batted ball angle and distance seem to suggest that he could hit a hot power streak. If you look at the angle on the left, he’s spraying right up the middle, just as he did before a power boost late last season (the spike in the second group of dots on the right hand graph).
A little over a week ago, Lucas Duda looked like a guy with above-average power and the contact problems of an all-or-nothing slugger. In OBP leagues, his walk rate was okay. In most leagues, he still looked like a dropper.
Now, after a nice week — not even an other-worldly week — he looks like a fine (at least bench) piece in any league. His baseline rest-of-season projection is looking a little like Luke Scott, now, maybe without the platoon issues that Scott has shown. But there’s still a chance El Dudaroni improves the strikeout rate to fall in line with his above-average swinging strike rate, and that his batted ball distance rises with the temperature as it did last year. A week ago, Luke Scott didn’t seem possible, and even Luke Scott has his uses. (Oh, and to get ahead of the next twitter debate, yes, I would take Duda over Scott.)
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