Fantasy Baseball Analysis: Who’s the Next Lucas Duda?

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Updated: January 22, 2015
smoak

Who's The Next boxThe second in our 2015 “Who’s the Next” series examines if Justin Smoak (above) compares to a surprise 30-homer breakout from last season – Lucas Duda.

We had Duda with a projected line of .241 average, 46 runs, 13 homers, 49 RBIs and 0 steals in 392 plate appearances. He was ranked No. 41 at first base and No. 105 in the outfield in our preseason rankings.

The Mets chose Duda to start at first base over Ike Davis, who was later traded to the Pirates. The move paid off in spades when Duda became the Mets’ top power hitter with a line of .253-74-30-92-3 in 596 PA that made him the 14th-ranked first baseman and No. 31 outfielder on ESPN’s player rater.

Duda was supposed to break out in 2012 after posting a .292/.370/.482 triple-slash with 10 homers in 100 games in 2011.  The following two seasons saw his strikeout and walk rates soar but his averages fell to .239 and .223, respectively, with 15 homers in each season.

Going into his age-28 season, we were left to guess how the Mets would sort out their Duda-Davis conundrum. Finally in a full-time role, Duda was able to flaunt his patient-power approach and with it his strikeouts came down and his homers went up.

At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and with career rates of 11.4 BB% and 23.2 K%, it’s easy to see in hindsight how this worked.

coming off his best season in 2013 with a solid .284-66-10-73-17 line, but that made him more of a reserve in a deep mixed league. Coming out of the minors, it had appeared Brantley would be more of a base stealer than a power hitter, as he had 14 homers and 85 steals in 289 games between Double- and Triple-A.

So we actually have a trio of candidates for who could be the next Duda: Logan Morrison, Smoak and the aforementioned Davis.

Each is entering his age-28 season like Duda was last year. Each has a similar patient-power approach to Duda, including career walk rates over 10%.

Here is a comparison of their projected stat lines for 2015 next to the line we were anticipating for Duda last year:

Logan Morrison .258-67-20-71-4 in 576 PA

Justin Smoak .241-55-17-60-0 in 458 PA

Ike Davis .241-57-17-60-1 in 504 PA

Lucas Duda .241-46-13-49-0 in 392 PA

Obviously an extremely similar set of projections on a per-PA basis.

Morrison is listed as 6-foot-3, 245 pounds and has a career 10.2 BB%. Smoak is 6-4, 230 pounds with a 10.7 BB%. Davis is 6-4, 220 pounds with a 12.6 BB%.

Morrison is penciled in as the starting first baseman for the Mariners, which is reflected in his projections and should see him get picked ahead of the other two in mock drafts. Smoak has escaped Seattle and will battle for playing time in Toronto, which has Edwin Encarnacion who can DH if Smoak wins the first-base job, but Dioner Navarro is also in the DH picture after being displaced at catcher by the signing of Russell Martin. Davis is changing teams again, heading to Oakland to likely be the good half of a platoon at first base.

Since Davis has such pronounced splits (3-for-32 against lefties last year compared to .247 vs. RHP), we have a hard time seeing Davis getting the plate appearances necessary to reach the 32 homers he hit in 2012. And since Morrison has such a clear path to regular playing time, we see him as a cut above what Duda was going into last season.

So we’re going with Smoak, who is a switch hitter without platoon splits (career .223 vs. LHP, .224 vs. RHP). Smoak’s 2013 triple-slash of .238-.334-.412 with 20 homers hints at the type of breakout he could have as he gets to a far better ballpark and a more productive lineup.

Smoak was so bad last season (.202/.275/.339 with 7 homers) that it’s hard to get too excited about him. But that’s exactly what could make him such an excellent value come draft day. The line he put up in Triple-A last year could give a peek into the type of breakout that isn’t out of the question – .337/.422/.502 with 7 homers in 56 games.

The projected line of .241-55-17-60-0 in 458 PA could become .255-80-30-95-0 in 650 PA if all goes right, so don’t be afraid to target Smoak late in deep-mixed and especially in AL-only leagues.

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