Last year, New York Mets first baseman Lucas Duda was terrible in the clutch. He hit .145/.343/.197 with runners in scoring position (RISP). His numbers in high leverage situations were almost as bad, as he slashed .169/.375/.282. He did most of his damage in low leverage situations, hitting 10 of his 15 overall home runs while putting up a slash of .262/.360/.577. This year, it’s been a completely different story.
In an admittedly small sample size here on May 14, Duda has a .421/.593/.684 line with RISP, including a homer and 12 RBIs. In high leverage situations, he’s hitting .273/.407/.455 with one of his four homers. He’s come through in key situations, such as when he drove in the tying run against the New York Yankees with a broken bat single on Monday night.
In addition, he’s been clutch in the field. Duda leads the team with two defensive runs saved and has made key plays in pressure situations. His scoop rate at first base (yes, they keep track of that) is third best in the league. He has often bailed out his infielders on bad throws to first base. He’s also improved his footwork and agility at first base, as evidenced by his two 3-6-3 double plays on Monday. While no one will ever confuse him with Keith Hernandez, he’s helping his team on defense, as opposed to when he was an outfielder when he had minus-41 defensive runs saved over a three-year span.
What’s changed for Duda since last year? Could it be that he has finally found that elusive confidence that everyone said he lacked? Playing first base certainly seems to agree with him. He’s much more comfortable there, and it may be taking pressure off of him at the plate.
As for his clutch hitting, last year’s failures were an aberration in his young career. He hit .275/.398/.453 with RISP in 2012 and .238/.355/.393 in 2011. The latter figure doesn’t seem that impressive, but it didn’t even come close to the futility he experienced in 2013.
Duda’s swing looks about the same, his approach is still patient, but he’s gotten a little more aggressive when he gets a pitch he can drive. That may be the difference between the Duda who couldn’t come through in big spots last year and the 2014 rendition who can. Or maybe Duda was simply unlucky last year (.204 BABIP with RISP) and luckier this year (.500 BABIP). Either way, Duda’s been a big part of the Mets’ offense and has come up big when the team has needed him to.