Over the course of a 162-game season, baseball players fall in and out of slumps. After slow starts this year, Zack Wheeler and Lucas Duda are currently playing as well as anyone at their respective positions, and the numbers saw it coming. Both players were catching a bit of flak earlier this season. Wheeler was compared to Matt Harvey and Duda to Ike Davis, who the team traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in April.
Mark Simon wrote an excellent piece this morning detailing some of the underlying numbers that indicated Wheeler and Duda were due for an increase in productivity.
When Wheeler was going bad, we noted three issues hindering his performance -- the Mets' inability to get outs when he induced a groundball, his struggles against left-handed hitters, and his performance when the opponent had runners in scoring position…
Wheeler has also bettered his strikeout-to-walk rate, going from a pitcher with a 2:1 ratio to one with a 3:1 ratio. He has 68 strikeouts and 22 walks over his last 11 starts. In turn, the numbers have balanced themselves out. Wheeler’s 3.64 ERA and 3.47 FIP on the season are now a near-match.
A couple of things have happened for Duda of late. Most notably, his line drive rate has soared, while his groundball rate has declined. The fly balls have soared, too. Duda has made the most of venues friendlier than Citi Field, with seven of his last ten homers coming on the road. He also has found success in Flushing, though, with eight doubles in his last 48 at-bats there. Meanwhile, his rate of hitting the ball hard has stayed consistent. In fact, his 24 percent rate in 2014 matches that of Troy Tulowitzki for best in the National League.
It’s been very encouraging seeing these two players turn around their games, especially given how they’ve done it. Wheeler has avoided the "big" hit and has made 10 starts in which he has gone at least six innings while allowing only one run. Duda has been pouring it on as of late with four home runs in the last seven games while being much more aggressive at the plate this season.
Of course, Simon reminds us that the underlying stats have a way of evening themselves out. The current play of both players is sure to cool off a bit, but it will more likely be a balance of what we’ve seen as a total this season.