In the past few months, Lucas Duda has emerged as a much-improved hitter, one who can now be considered a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat. Many (especially our very own Gary, Keith, and Ron) have attributed this to a more aggressive approach at the plate, specifically against first-pitch fastballs. How much has Lucas Duda improved, and is this supposedly new approach the main driver behind his improvements? What can we expect from him moving forward?
Note: all statistics are up-to-date through August 4, 2014
How much has Duda improved?
We can track Duda’s emergence to May 26 this season. He has improved across the board with respect to nearly every single offensive metric (those relating to power, plate discipline, etc.), with results as follows:
|Career until 5/25/2014||.244||.338||.419||.333||113||.294|
This is undoubtedly a drastic and marked improvement, but is this a large enough sample size for the improvement to be meaningful? Duda has 234 plate appearances since May 26, which is not a meaningless sample size. It doesn’t seem to be completely luck-driven, though Duda can't be reasonably expected to produce a .423 wOBA hitter moving forward.
How has Duda improved?
Let’s consider how Duda’s approach may or may not have driven this improvement. Let’s take a look at his total swing rates, first of all, to see if he has been more aggressive at the plate:
There’s not much change here. If we want to take an alternative approach, Duda has averaged 4.15 pitches per plate appearance since May 26, and 4.09 pitches per plate appearance before that date—again, not much change. But as we’ve noted, Duda has appeared more aggressive early in the count.
Let’s take a look at his swing rates on first pitch and 1–0 counts by certain pitch types:
Since May 26, 2014, 0–0 count:
Since May 26, 2014, 1–0 count:
Until May 25, 2014, 0–0 count:
Until May 25, 2014, 1–0 count:
We can see that Duda has indeed been swinging more aggressively early in the count, and not only at fastballs. This change in approach has correspondingly led to better results for Duda. Unfortunately, I can’t find data that separates his performance against fastballs and off-speed pitches by count, so I’m not sure if his greater swing rate against early-count off-speed pitches has also led to better results. However, he has become a better hitter against pretty much every pitch. Stats indicate runs above average per 100 pitches by pitch type:
FB = Fastball, SL = Slider, CT = Cutter, CB = Curveball, CH = Changeup
Overall, his improved results are as follows:
Note: I am unable to obtain data from a specific date range, so I only have the following data for full seasons. Note, as well, that the career data is inclusive of his improvements, so his career until May 25, 2014 would actually look a bit worse.
These early-count results are certainly better—notice the significantly greater power Duda has exhibited in such counts. Again, the 2014 sample sizes don’t appear quite large yet, so we can’t say for sure how much this can continue, but his early-count results nonetheless have been a significant driver of his overall results.
Lucas Duda has performed better by swinging more often early in the count (first pitch or 1-0), leading to much better results. However, the sample size on his improved performance still isn’t that great. Yet we can’t discredit Duda’s results. We can expect to see pitchers adjust to his more aggressive approach, for example by throwing more balls early in the count, so Duda’s performance may continue to change into the future.
It’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about Lucas Duda. For now, what we can say is that he’s performed better, primarily due to his more aggressive approach early in the count.