Rays Acquire Lucas Duda | The Process Report

Rays Acquire Lucas Duda

(Note: Out of respect to a classic film, in addition to an intelligent audience, the author will be refraining from any Dudeness, Duder, El Duderino if you’re not into the brevity thing-isms.)

With the acquisition of Lucas Duda the Rays have done well to increase their offensive presence while giving the team a little insurance at first base in the event that Logan Morrison’s joints are wearing down from everyday play. It cost very little as the team flipped non-prospect relief pitcher Drew Smith, himself acquired prior to the season for Mikie Mahtook, to the Mets. Duda is the kind of player that will not help across the board. He struggles with lefties, is an average defender at 1B if we’re feeling generous, and won’t do much on the bases. That shouldn’t belie the very good things that he can bring to a lineup and in the locker room. To wit:

Starting with his exit velocity and launch angle you can see that he has done well to continuously raise the speed of the ball off the bat over the course of the season. His starting point was solid, but he has done well to pick that up into elite territory. While hitting the ball hard is a big part of the equation you still need to see launch angles that allow that velocity to maximize it’s potential. This is another area where he is excelling as his most recent stretch has sustained into a place that shows good angles that lead to solid production. One issue that won’t show up here since this research does not consider the lateral, or spray, angle of the ball off the bat is that hard contact to the pull side in the form of grounders will absolutely crush a slow runner like this. To see him elevating the ball properly lends credibility to the idea that this is a good hitter.

When we plug those above figures into the algorithm we can see expected and actual production on those balls in play. Again, we see a well above average hitter, and this isn’t something new as he has kept it up all season. There is a rather obvious gap between the metrics as the season wore on, which may support the notion that while his elevated well-struck balls are a good thing, those that stay down are almost always going to be outs. The Rays will want to see him continue to elevate the ball as Logan Morrison is doing and Carlos Pena before them. It’s ok to be a dead pull hitter if they get it up. That seems like something he is capable of doing, but this also shows that while it looks like he should be performing even better than his tremendous line there may be a legitimate reason to not expect these two things to converge.

Balls in play are one thing, but over a third of his at bats end up as either a walk or strikeout. For batters like this, especially, we need to fold these non-balls in play into the equation to get an idea of his True wOBA* (twOBA*). We do see some giveback here as he runs a strikeout rate that is a little above average, but the walks are even moreso. Factoring all these variables you can see a couple perious of strong performance and a dip in the middle. Lucas Duda looks like a fantastic addition to the lineup when he’s putting up a .400 twOBA*, but when he’s closer to the league average it will be hard for him to provide production considering the deficiencies in the rest of his game. Some of this may be mitigated by shielding him from lefties, but the Rays have shown all year that their emphasis on left-handed hitters wrecking righties does mean that those same guys have to face their same-handers on a fairly regular basis.

Plotting each of his balls in play you can see so much to like on the right. A ton of hard hit balls in the homer nitro zone, and the lower angles are hit hard enough to lead to extra bases with frequency. His lowest liners are often turning into singles, but there are just as many outs, too. The flyball outs are prevalent and will be a downside of this approach, but focusing on the good shows a guy that hits the ball hard often, and his swing generates the kind of loft and carry that frequently sees him providing the kind of power that any lineup would desire.

Additionally, Duda seems like the ideal fit for the Rays rival the Yankees of New York who could use any sort of lefty bat, and preferably one they can play at first base with confidence. The Rays are showing surprising urgency within a division that is absolutely up for grabs between three fairly even teams. Each with their own holes the Rays have done well to take a useful piece from a rival while supplementing a strength that will continue to be important even with the league throwing every lefty they can at the team. Great job, Rays!

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