The Elephant in the Room, Part 2
In case you missed it, last week I outlined the proverbial elephant in the room with the New York Mets; how the Mets have tried to fit two natural first basemen into their lineup for some time now, and why that experiment likely won't last much longer.
I steadfastly believe that the Mets will not have both Lucas Duda and Ike Davis on their roster by the time spring training begins next February. Most likely, one of them will be the Mets' first baseman, and the other will be playing elsewhere.
With Ike Davis struggling at the plate, there had been some talk of demoting him to Triple-A and letting Duda take over at first base for a bit. Luckily for Davis, that doesn't appear to be an inevitability anymore. (At least, for now.)
So the million-dollar question is, which first basemen should the Mets trade, and which one should they keep? For the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming they do only trade one of the two, but nothing would surprise me this winter.
Right now, Lucas Duda is hitting .232, albeit with a .338 OBP and .454 SLG. His 13.0% walk rate would be fourth-best among all MLB first basemen this season. Duda's .222 ISO (isolated power, simply SLG minus AVG) would be just outside the top ten. The idea that Duda's bat wouldn't translate to first base is simply not true, in my opinion.
Duda's gotten "BABIP'd" to a degree, with a .270 BABIP that's nearly 30 points below his career (and roughly the league's) average. Yet what really strikes me about Duda's BABIP struggles are how it correlates to his oft-discussed struggles with runners in scoring position.
Yes, Duda is hitting .146 with a .491 OPS with runners in scoring position, and that's pretty awful. But as we dive into the numbers...
(That's probably a bit hard to read, so forgive me.)
But it seems like Duda's not doing anything much differently with runners on base or runners in scoring position, but those balls in play aren't falling for hits nearly as much. His BABIP tells a pretty significant story. .282 with the bases empty, .255 with men on base and a whopping .207 with RISP. For whatever reason, when Duda has put the ball in play with men on base/in scoring position, those balls have gotten converted into outs. Often. Like, freakishly often.
Interpret that however you like. I find it a little head-scratching. The power has come with the bases empty, while the walk rate has gone up when runners are on base for Duda. I'm not an armchair hitting coach. It just seems strange.
Despite his struggles, (and let's be honest, this is baseball; every hitter has their struggles) Duda has been the Mets' third-best hitter this season. Much of that is a reflection of his teammates, but even so, Duda has a 122 OPS+ on the year. That's pretty darn respectable, and I don't think Duda gets enough respect.
All of that being said, I think Duda should be the guy that the Mets dangle in trade talks, not Davis. I believe Duda is the more consistent hitter of the two, and I think even with his deficiencies in the outfield and on the basepaths, I think Duda has legitimate trade value. I can't say the same for Davis right now.
We know all about Davis's struggles. I don't need to shower you in data to back that up. But call me a BABIP sympathizer if you must, I simply cannot believe that his all-too-familiar first-half swoon is a permanent, long-term problem.
In Davis's first two MLB seasons, his BABIP was well over .300 (.322 in 2010, .344 in 139 PA in 2011). Last year? .246 BABIP. This year? .219 (!) BABIP. He had a career-best line-drive rate in 2011, and his BABIP fell 100 points. Don't ask me to explain why. That's beyond me. It really is a puzzling thing.
But the bottom line is that Duda has trade value, and Davis probably doesn't. Duda is riding relatively high, Davis is in the pits. I doubt you could get a good return for Davis like you might be able to get in a package involving Duda.
That's why, ultimately, I think the wise move would be to trade Duda at the trading deadline or in the offseason, ideally for an outfielder who can make an impact in the field as well as at the plate. That's for the front office to figure out.
Of course, that would leave us stuck with Ike Davis, which certainly doesn't seem as promising as it did by the end of last season. But that doesn't concern me all that much. Wilmer Flores can probably play first base, and he'd be a logical platoon partner if Davis doesn't get the kinks sorted out.
The bottom line is that Mets fans should cut Duda a little more slack and hope that he keeps getting on-base and hitting for power. I do think his struggles with runners in scoring position will come around, and that will only make him more attractive as a trade chip for an AL team in need of a first basemen.