Look, it’s going to be a rough year, in all likelihood. That loss last night dropped the Mets to 10-14; that’s a 67 win pace, which seems about right. If you like Pythagorean record, they’re a more palatable 12-12, but powered by such things as John Buck’s historic April and Matt Harvey’s 1.56 ERA-which, I mean, Harvey’s excellent, but probably not 1.56 ERA excellent.
There’s been another outlier, and one I have wondered about. Lucas Duda is second in the National League in walks, with 20. That’s essentially Duda doubling his walk rate; he was at 11.1% walks in his career plate appearances, but 22% in 2013.
So has Duda mastered the strike zone? Or is this just a function of no reliable hitters behind him? Well, Buck hit behind him for the first four games, only once since. The list of other protection for Duda is: Nieuwenhuis, Tejada, Baxter, Byrd, Davis and Recker. It is easy to see why pitchers would pitch around Duda in those instances.
The run of ball fours from Duda reminds me a bit of another breakout bit of patience the Mets once enjoyed: the April/May 2005 of Victor Diaz. From April 6 through May 28, 2005, Victor Diaz walked 19 times in 98 plate appearances. Accordingly, his slash line was a robust .292/.422/.528. That meant a guy who had never walked much in the minors, and walked once in 53 plate appearances for the 2004 Mets, had morphed into an ultra-selective hitter.
Or not. From May 29 through the end of the year, Diaz walked 11 times in 204 plate appearances. His slash line dropped to .241/.279/.440. And in 119 plate appearances over the rest of his career, Victor Diaz walked… once. One time.
So what happened? Diaz had been hitting eighth; the Mets moved him up in the lineup, and pitchers began to throw him strikes.
We’re likely to see something similar from Duda at some point. His slash line is .246/.429/.522. He’s hitting some, but mostly, he’s walking. Will pitchers keep walking Duda if he doesn’t punish strikes? Obviously not.
Now, just because Victor Diaz’s patience turned out to be a mirage doesn’t mean that Duda’s will, too. For one thing, he’s never been this patient, but he’s far more patient than Diaz ever was (save those two sweet 2005 months). Really, we’ll have a better sense of this another 100 plate appearances from now, which is when Fangraphs has found walk rate to be statistically significant.
Duda needs to be a very useful hitter to make up for fielding like this. So if he’s not just a power source, but a walk machine to boot, it becomes that much easier to justify his spot in the lineup.
And in a year like 2013, these are the important things to watch for. Because as you’ve probably figured out by now, the standings aren’t going to hold much drama for you.