Lucas Duda and Postive Arbitrage | The Process Report

Lucas Duda and Postive Arbitrage

Over the last few weeks, I have been asked by a few people whether the Rays will be buyers or sellers. To which I reply, “Neither.”

If we have learned anything from following the Rays, it is that they do not limit restrict themselves to a label. Instead, they set out to acquire assets with little regard for the outward appearance of their methods.

It’s not a surprise then that the crux of our trade deadline coverage has been on talent that may be acquired for below market value. R.J. Anderson covered Nick Hundley; a somewhat proven commodity with cost certaintity whose value appears lower than it actually is. Another player with those attributes is Lucas Duda of the New York Mets.

This is not the first time Duda’s name has been associated with the Rays–he came up during Matt Garza trade coverage, too. He is young, cheap, controllable, and has past success at the big-league level. Add in his recent demotion to Triple-A–ostensibly lowering his potential sticker price–and you have many of the qualities coveted by Tampa Bay.

In parts of three seasons, Duda has produced a slash line of .259/.342/.391 in 794 plate appearances. He owns a walk rate just below 11 percent with a strikeout rate just north of 21 percent. He is not necessarily a slugger; however, his .175 ISO is on par with players like Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Heyward, and B.J. Upton.

Last season, he hit .292/.370/.482 with a .368 wOBA in 347 PA. In nearly the same sample size this season (355 PA), his numbers have dipped down to .241/.335/.391 with a .321 wOBA. His walks have slightly increased, but his strikeout rate stands at a career-high 27 percent.

Considering Duda’s home ballpark and the decreased offensive output league wide, he is still a slightly above-average hitter. On the surface, a slightly above-average hitter would be a welcomed addition to the Rays offense; however, if used properly, Duda could be even more effective.

As a left-handed batter, Duda has struggled with the platoon split. Perhaps fooled by decent production against southpaws in a small sample last season, or eager to get the youngster as many reps as possible, Mets’ manager Terry Collins gave the 26-year-old 120 plate appearances versus lefties this season–or about 34 percent of his total appearances. Opposing lefties have pounded him low-and-away leading to a paltry .265 wOBA and 42 strikeouts.

With the platoon advantage, Duda has been much better. Although his .350 wOBA is still below the .386 from a season ago, it is plenty productive. Of his 42 walks, 35 have come against right-handers.

Aside from the platoon splits, Duda’s biggest problem is defense. He is essentially a designated hitter/first baseman forced to play the corner outfield.

It seems that Duda is strong-side platoon player who has been misused offensively, and should be used sparingly on defense. That profile is not necessarily a need on the current Rays’ roster, but a Duda acquisition would have future ramifications because of his service time. Duda could still fill a role on this Rays team by replacing Hideki Matsui as the left-handed power option off the bench. Beyond 2012, he could help fill holes at first base or DH.

Andrew Friedman is market-driven. Acquiring players for less than they are worth is not just a hobby, it is his modus operandi.  This dedication to “positive arbitrage” that has allowed Tampa Bay to ball on a budget since 2008. Acquiring Duda or Hundley might not fit what the fanbase had in mind for the trade deadline. But both players appear to fit the Rays’ functioning method.

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