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How has Lucas Duda's approach improved his performance?

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Observers have said that the big first baseman has been more aggressive at the plate. Has that led to his increased hitting prowess?

Patrick Smith

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:

Date AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BABIP
Since 5/26/2014 .284 .393 .599 .423 178 .301
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:

Date O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
Since 5/26/2014 28.3 62.6 41.8
Until 5/25/2014 26.8 61.8 40.9

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:

Pitch Type Count Swing%
Four-seam fastball 56 26.8
Two-seam fastball 33 27.3
Sinker 18 22.2
Curveball 31 9.7
Changeup 24 29.2
Slider 41 26.8
Cutter 6 50.0

Since May 26, 2014, 1–0 count:

Pitch Type Count Swing%
Four-seam fastball 25 48.0
Two-seam fastball 14 50.0
Slider 15 33.3
Curveball 9 11.1
Changeup 10 40.0
Slider 14 71.4
Cutter 2 50.0

Until May 25, 2014, 0–0 count:

Pitch Type Count Swing%
Four-seam fastball 453 18.1
Two-seam fastball 188 22.9
Sinker 175 19.4
Curveball 173 6.4
Changeup 171 24.0
Slider 164 15.2
Cutter 76 23.7

Until May 25, 2014, 1–0 count:

Pitch Type Count Swing%
Four-seam fastball 198 36.9
Two-seam fastball 81 35.8
Sinker 83 41.0
Curveball 55 16.4
Changeup 107 36.4
Slider 62 33.9
Cutter 42 40.5

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:

Date wFB/c wSL/c wCT/c wCB/c wCH/c
Since 5/26/2014 3.23 0.12 12.63 -1.62 0.86
Until 5/25/2014 0.60 -2.22 3.54 1.17 -0.19

FB = Fastball, SL = Slider, CT = Cutter, CB = Curveball, CH = Changeup

Overall, his improved results are as follows:

2014 season:

Count PA AVG OBP SLG HR
0-0 37 .432 .432 .838 4
1-0 24 .435 .458 .1000 4

Career:

Count PA AVG OBP SLG HR
0-0 132 .325 .350 .617 9
1-0 98 .385 .388 .708 7

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.

Future projection

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.