Lucas Duda, perennially understated and underestimated, is having a fantastic season. It’s always been criminally easy to overlook Duda, and this year is no different, given the tumult of the Mets’ still-young 2015 season. But it is high time that attention be paid to Duda and that he receives his due for what he has become: one of the 20 or so best hitters in Major League Baseball.
Let that sink in if it hasn’t already. Lucas Duda, the player who many serious fans have dismissed as "unconfident" and "passive" or worse over the years, and the player who the Mets weren’t sold on as recently as the beginning of last season, has taken his place among baseball’s very best.
He had his breakout season last year, of course, when he hit 30 home runs and finished with a 132 wRC+, but he’s even better now. In 195 plate appearances, Duda is hitting .305/.400/.539—great in any era and tremendous in this one—and he has a 165 wRC+. In a recent article about Wilmer Flores, I cited Duda as an example of the type of low-average, on-base, plus-power type of hitter that Flores should seek to emulate. Well, so far, anyway, that’s out the window, because Duda has apparently become a guy who also hits for average.
I imagine Lucas Duda would acknowledge his new-found success in that area with a simple, "It’s been nice." Indeed it has, Lucas.
It’s been nice because Duda hasn’t really changed anything in his fundamental game. His walk rate—10.8%—is customarily strong and is only a half-percentage point off his career mark. Strikeouts continue to be part of his game, but they’ve been less frequent so far this year (21.5%) than his career average (23.1%).
Granted, Duda’s BABIP is high at .364, which means he is probably means due for some regression in his average. That said, anyone who has watched Duda play so far knows he isn’t getting lucky with balls in play dropping in, per se; rather, he is simply crushing baseballs that no one can catch. To wit, Duda has already hit 15 doubles, which is tied for 8th-best in MLB so far, and over half his total of 27 last year.
Will Duda’s scorching success last all season? Maybe not. On the other hand, it really could. Duda is 29 years old, which places him square in the prime of his career. It is entirely possible that we are simply bearing witness to a very good hitter finding another, even better gear, because he’s just that good.
Two things seem clear so far about the Mets this year: They need to be better than they’ve been offensively, and they have an honest chance, given their strength in pitching and other teams’ general weakness, to hang around the wild card race throughout the season. Sadly, David Wright, the Mets’ best player for many years, can no longer be counted on to lift the team—at least not for the time being. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that Lucas Duda is perfectly capable of shouldering the load.