Ben Berkon, Contributor to MetsBlog.com:
Lucas Duda has exceeded expectations since Ike Davis was traded to the Pirates in May. To date, the 28-year-old Duda has an 11.8 percent walk rate with 22 home runs spanning 450 plate appearances, as well as a park-adjusted 136 wRC+. The notoriously poor fielder has even looked more nimble at first base, gloving an impressive 6 Defensive Runs Saved in 926 innings.
Yet, with Duda’s sole possession of first base, his extreme vulnerability against left-handed pitching has only become more apparent. The left-handed hitter has accumulated a pathetic .156 batting average and 39 wRC+ with just one home run over 87 plate appearances this season against southpaws.
Need to Know: wRC+ is park and league-adjusted, allowing a comparison of players who played in different years, parks, and leagues,” according to FanGraphs.com. “League average wRC+ for position players is always 100. If a player has a 110 wRC+, they are 10 percentage points better than league average offensively.”
Duda’s stark weakness isn’t anything new, however. In fact, he has struggled at the major-league level against lefties since 2010, owning a .210 batting average and 74 wRC+ over 431 career plate appearances.
Considering the dire need to improve the team’s overall 88 wRC+ (tied for 24th in the league) and 92 home runs (tied for 26th in the league), the Mets can’t afford to wait for Duda to overcome this flaw. And while the team’s voids at shortstop and left field are certainly more marked, Mets GM Sandy Alderson must also look into acquiring a right-handed hitting platoon with Duda for 2015.
The obvious and most immediate solution would be signing free-agent Michael Cuddyer…
Cuddyer, 35, has owned a fruitful 131 wRC+ against left-handed pitching in his career. Paired with his competent 105 wRC+ against righties, Cuddyer’s experience in the outfield could additionally provide an upgrade over the 2014 Chris Young experiment, too. However, in the likelihood the Mets don’t want to give Cuddyer, say, a two-year ,$25 million contract, Alderson could alternatively check on the availability of other lefty-mashers, like Chris Carter and Gaby Sanchez.
With the rapid emergence of top prospects Jon Singleton and George Springer in Houston, the 27-year-old Carter could become a viable trade target for the Mets. Despite whiffing at a career 33.5 percent rate, the Astros’ slugger also boasts a 120 wRC+ and 5.9 percent home-runs-to-at-bats clip against left-handers. The combination of Carter and Duda sharing first base could realistically net the Mets 40 home runs next season.
And if the Astros’ asking price for Carter is too rich, Gaby Sanchez could be a savvy Plan B for the Mets. The Pirates have correctly used the 33-year-old Sanchez in a platoon, but with Pedro Alvarez likely moving to first base full time, Sanchez might be the odd man out in 2015. Although Sanchez’s success against left-handed pitching has dipped in 2014, slashing a 119 wRC+, the seven-year veteran still owns an impressive 141 wRC+ over his career.
As the Mets prepare for contention in 2015 and beyond, it’s important for Alderson to be honest—at least, internally—about the team’s present weaknesses. Duda will be 29 on Opening Day next season. No longer a prospect, platooning Duda wouldn’t be “stunting his growth,” but rather, utilizing his strongest asset for the greater good of the team.
Consciously wasting 150-200 plate appearances on an inept hitter goes against the fabric of winning. If the Mets currently lack the correct player for the right situation, then it certainly behooves them to change their future fate and acquire that player this offseason.
Ben Berkon’s work has been published on Huffington Post, The Onion, and various other mainstream sites. Follow him on Twitter at @BenBerkon.