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Jul 10

Making Sense of Lucas Duda

Maybe it’s too simplistic to look at Lucas Duda’s batting line and pinpoint an exact time when things went haywire. Was it in early May when Duda’s OPS dipped below .800 for the first time, a few days before perhaps, or do we look to the very end of May when Duda’s OPS dropped from an impressive .947 to his current rate of .761?

We can certainly target June, seeing as every ounce of protection in the lineup evaporated with Daniel Murphy’s exit (June 4th was his last game until his recent return), Travis d’Arnaud’s return (June 10th) and subsequent injury (June 20th), and David Wright has been out since April 14th. It’s an obvious starting point. Two key contributors were out, and others such as Michael Cuddyer and Wilmer Flores hit .211/.237/.311 and .221/.257/.337 respectively. At-bats destined for Murphy, Wright, and d’Arnaud ended up going to two rookies and a minor leaguer. Throw in the carousel of outfielders seen throughout the month, and it makes sense. When did things go wrong for Lucas Duda? The moment when pitchers stopped throwing him anything to hit.

At least, that’s my line of reasoning. Seeing how Jake Peavy attacked Duda in Wednesday’s afternoon game, not to mention every other instance where pitchers worked him early in the count with fastballs that were marginally close to the strike zone then feeding him a steady diet of breaking balls that broke past his back foot or three feet in front of the plate, makes me think I’m probably right. I rarely am, but I think in this case I probably am.

Still. My own average on being right has fallen below the Mendoza line recently. Correct / Observations = Wild Guesses.

One way to see what’s happening is to look at how pitchers have attacked Duda. For the most part, since the first few months, pitchers have steadily decreased fastballs thrown to Duda while attacking him more with offspeed and breaking balls. So far, in July, pitchers have thrown Duda a breaking ball a whopping 37% of the time, which I suspect is because he’s so often behind in the count. That might be true too. A lot of things here might be true.

BrooksBaseball.net can show us how pitchers have pitched Duda, and in the early going, up until June, pitchers started Duda with a fastball a majority of the time and then moving to the offspeed and breaking pitches when they got ahead. When Duda was ahead, he saw the hard stuff 63% of the time from lefties and 64% of the time from righties. Since June, however, lefties throw fastballs (fourseamers, cutters, etc.) nearly 82% of the time while righties have dropped to 57%. Since he’s seen righties a majority of the time, the overall numbers favor fewer fastballs. From this kind of math, we can deduce (and the numbers back this up) that pitchers then proceed to throw him a steady diet of offspeed and breaking balls when they’re ahead. Right-handers, notably, now attack Duda with offspeed and breaking pitches 57% of the time when ahead and 57% of the time with two strikes. Those numbers are up significantly from the early part of the year when righties did the same 48% and 50% respectively.

Up until the end of May, in the first pitch of the at-bat, Duda swung only 22% of the time, and 43% of the time Duda was rewarded with a 1-0 count. That matters. He hit .526 with three doubles and a home run in 1-0 counts as opposed to .273 with a double and a home run down 0-1. This was just in May. On the season Duda hits .440 in 1-0 counts as opposed to .312 down a strike after the first pitch. If you’re wondering, he’s equally effective in counts where he doesn’t have any strikes at all. In those situations, he’s batting .414 with eight doubles and six home runs. It pays to be patient, right? So, since the beginning of June what’s different?

Since the beginning of June, Duda has swung at the first pitch in at-bat around 20.8% of the time, a slight decrease, but he’s started his at-bats in a 1-0 count nearly 52% of the time. That’s a big uptick in pitches out of the strike zone with that first pitch.

He actually swung at fewer 1-0 count pitches after the beginning of June (41.4% after compared to around 48% prior) while seeing a ball roughly the same percentage of time when he did take (34% after while 333.% prior). No, that doesn’t fully explain what my eyeballs are seeing, but if we look at his Strikezone Discrimination (again at BrooksBaseball.net) there’s a marked decrease in any ability to recognize the strikezone. Or, if he does, Duda doesn’t care one bit because he’s looking to provide some sort of offense to a struggling team.

Lucas  Duda Strikezone DiscriminationLucas Duda Strikezone Discrimination 2015

Fangraphs has heat maps that break down zone location based upon pitch count. This is a useful tool. While it won’t provide us with a breakdown by date, it’s interesting to see how pitchers are locating against Duda.1

Lucas Duda 0-0 Count

Lucas Duda Zone Profile 0-0

I’m not crazy then. It sure seemed as though pitchers are constantly starting Duda with pitches away. How does that compare with what Duda sees overall?

Lucas Duda Overall

Lucas Duda Zone Profile Overall

That matches up fairly well. There’s a little more activity on the inner black. I haven’t looked yet because I want this to be a surprise, but I suspect pitchers are attacking him inside with two strikes.Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 6.03.51 AM

Lucas Duda Zone Profile 2 Strikes

Well, down and in certainly, and there’s much more activity down and out of the zone. A result of all those breaking balls. If we look at one more image, we can see if Duda is swinging at these pitches:

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 6.09.06 AM

Lucas Duda Swing % All Counts

There’s a lot of blue. We can see, however, that Duda likes that pitch up and he’s not against taking hacks at pitches up and in. On 1-0 counts the chart looks similar.

The numbers at Fangraphs back up Duda’s aggressive approach as well. Duda’s O-Swing % (those pitches he swings at outside the zone) is up to 30% while his Swing % is up to 43.3%. If you think about that, Duda is swinging at 43.3% of the pitches that he sees and swinging at 30% of the pitches outside of the zone that he sees. He’s also swinging at 63% of the pitches that he sees inside the zone, markedly up from the 59-60% from his last two seasons. Sure, that sounds great and all, but that means he’s been more aggressive over all, perhaps swinging at pitches that are strikes but not exactly where he can drive it.

So, if all of this makes sense, Duda is thrown more junk since the beginning of June; he’s up 1-0 in the count over half the time; but now, anticipating that he’ll see more pitches out of the zone, Duda is taking more often 1-0 and ending up even in the count. Then, seeing his advantage quickly diminished, Duda is being too aggressive after being too passive. One more image will back this up:

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 6.16.10 AM

Lucas Duda Swing % 1-1 Count

Duda is swinging at a lot of pitches out of the zone 1-1. So, Duda is officially passive aggressive? My head hurts.

  1. I really need to refresh my PITCHf/x database. Sigh.

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