Will 2015 be the year Lucas Duda finally figures out left-handers? That is one of a number of questions that have surrounded Duda this spring, and so far the answers are a mixed bag. In 2014, Duda went from bust to success story by season’s end after belting 30 home runs and driving in 92 RBI, both career highs. He hit .253 on the year, which was a major leap from the .223 and .239 averages that he batted in 2012 and 2013, and put together some consistent splits between pre- and post-All Star Break.
That being said, Duda still saw a lot of inconsistency. He hit only .227 at home, compared to .274 on the road, and more troubling, he hit .273 with 28 home runs and 82 RBI against righties and .180 with two home runs and 10 RBI against lefties. Those are disparities that leave many wondering whether Duda will ever become a consistent hitter.
Sure there have been moments of brilliance, even this spring. This past weekend Duda hit a home run off CC Sabathia (a left-hander) in a 6-0 Mets victory over the Yankees at Port St. Lucie. However, let’s remember that Sabathia has been losing a few ticks on his fastball the past couple years, and is trying to rebound from an injury plagued year in 2014. So to say Duda’s home run off him is a sign of things to come is jumping the gun.
Overall, Duda is 2-for-10 against Lefties this spring. Those are not numbers that will be too encouraging unless you take a look more closely and see he is hitting .182 against righties as well. In other words, what can we really learn from Spring Training anyway with such a small sample size?
Here is what we do know, Duda needs to hit lefties better. He is certainly putting the work in, and the learning will continue into the regular season. If his struggles continue, the Mets will be in trouble. New York expects Duda to be a clean-up hitter, or, at least a fifth place hitter this season. The Mets do not have another lefty power bat like Duda in the lineup. Curtis Granderson has power, but his better home run days are behind him. Of course, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer hit right-handed.
Lefty power bats are hard to come by, especially those who learn how to hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching. When Carlos Delgado was the Mets first baseman in the mid-00’s, his numbers were better against right-handed pitchers, but he still put up respectable numbers against lefties. In his final full season with the Mets in 2008, Delgado hit .267 with 12 homers and 47 RBI against lefties. In his career, Delgado hit .263 against left-handers.
The Mets can only hope Duda becomes that consistent against lefties. Maybe he needs to carry a journal around like Delgado did, or simply work on going the other way and spraying the ball to all fields.
Now let me compare Duda to the guy he’s reminded me of so far in his career: Adam Dunn. Dunn never figured left-handed pitchers out. He hit only .218 against them, yet still managed to belt 118 home runs against lefties. Dunn was the classic all-or-nothing left-handed hitter. Either he hit a mammoth home run or he struck out. Duda has built that tendency in his three short seasons with the Mets. Now is the time for Duda to break from that mold and become a new kind of left handed hitter. If the work that he and hitting coaching Kevin Long have put in this Spring is indeed a sign of things to come — then the Mets will only be better for it as a team.