Could we have predicted Lucas Duda?

BY foxsports • August 6, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that people in general, and baseball writers in particular, don’t do enough soul-searching...

Which is why it’s so refreshing to see Andy Martino writing through his process of trying to understand why he thought Ike Davis was a better bet than Lucas Duda. Martino:

This position came about the right way, from reporting. Since 2010, when both Duda and Davis arrived in the major leagues, I dug for stories about them, and found troubling anecdotes about the former.

- He once told the owner, Fred Wilpon, that batting cleanup made him nervous. This is a no-no. You’re supposed to pretend you’re fine in that situation, even if you’re not.

- He repeatedly confessed to two managers and many coaches that his heart rate accelerated significantly when he batted with runners on base.

- He made similar comments in many interviews, including one I conducted with him last September. Duda had just hit two homers in a game, and we began with what I thought was a softball to warm him up.

“Lucas, when you first came up, you were open about how hitting in big spots made you nervous. Now that you’ve been in the league a few years, is it easier?”

His answer? Laughter, followed by, “No.”

A moment later, when the camera was off, Duda dropped his head, said, “tough question, bro,” and sulked away. Seriously. Eeyore.

Don’t you have to wonder, just a little bit, if it’s still "the right way" when the position winds up being wrong?

Indeed, Martino does back off a little at the end of his piece: “Reporting is still the best way do the job, but it must include an additional step: Pause, step back, be aware of what you are feeling. And question it, more than I did while working this particular story.”

This is a great start, but I still get the feeling there’s something missing ... because it still seems to be about feeling. Martino admits that his position was based on two things: his reporting – that is, his inside knowledge that Duda admitted that he didn’t enjoy pressure situations – along with his general preference for Davis’s personality over Duda’s.

About the latter, it seems Martino actually admitted this to Duda. Which took some courage, no doubt. And you have to admire Duda’s response: “He’s an awesome guy. He’s funny. He’s outgoing. He grabs people in. For me, I like to stay by myself, and dodge you guys when I can. No disrespect to you guys. That’s just my personality.”

Reporting, personality … these certainly are things worth knowing. But one thing that’s strikingly absent from any of Martino’s self-reflection: statistics.

Yes, he uses statistics while pointing out that Duda looks like a better hitter than Davis. That’s the only reason this column exists at all: Duda’s seriously outperforming Davis, and Martino was humble enough and honest enough to admit he’d been wrong about them. But Duda’s ability to play well in pressure situations – as opposed to his personal feelings and heart rate during those situations – is easily measurable, and in fact is measured in many ways.

In Duda’s career, he’s got a 784 OPS with runners in scoring position, and a 782 OPS with the bases empty. According to another, better measure – Clutch, shown here – Duda has not performed well in pressure situations, costing the Mets about two wins in his career.

But not doing well isn’t the same as doing poorly. We’re talking roughly a half-win per season, which is probably just statistical noise (as most clutch stats are). Realistically, the clutch stats don’t really tell us anything about Duda’s abilities that’s particularly worth knowing ... which of course is true for the great majority of players.

Sometimes it comes down to this: What are you gonna believe? Your reporting, or what’s actually happening in the games? In this case, there were plenty of good non-reporting reasons to prefer Davis over Duda. Davis is a year younger, he was a significantly higher draft pick, and he advanced through the minors quicker than Duda. In their first three seasons, Davis out-hit Duda. All of these were good reasons to prefer Davis! It wasn’t until last season that Duda out-hit Davis, and in fact there’s no guarantee that Duda will continue out-hitting Davis.

If Martino erred, I think he just gave a bit too much weight to his reporting and not enough to all the other evidence so readily available. Funny thing, though. Even without the insider info, I probably would have concluded exactly what Martino did: that if you had to pick just one first baseman, Davis seemed the one.

We all have a tendency toward myopia. What separates us is our ability to fight through that tendency, and see the things that others are seeing, too. Or, you know, looking up on Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Then again, just looking at B-R and FanGraphs, I wouldn’t have nearly guessed that Dee Gordon would be an All-Star in 2014. So I might have some tendencies to fight through, too.


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