At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Lucas Duda has the frame to be a big power hitter in right field for the New York Mets. Coming into 2012, he had a chance to prove himself day in and day out in a big league lineup. So far the power numbers are an improvement over the 129 games he had played prior to this season.
Through his 129 games between 2010 and 2011, Duda recorded 14 home runs in 439 plate appearances alongside an .815 OPS. Coming into the all-star break in 2012, Duda has posted 12 home runs in 330 plate appearances with a .756 OPS. Much of the dip in the OPS can be attributed to a dip in his batting average which is partially due to an increase in strikeouts.
Duda, as is often the case with power hitters, is incredibly streaky. While some streaky hitters have weeks on and weeks off, Duda goes through peaks and valleys. Slow builds lead to a peak and he gradually bottoms out before starting up again. His OPS was up over .800 on two occasions in June and has slipped back down to the mid-.700s here in early July.
Duda’s production places him among the slightly above average hitters in baseball — even after these peaks and valleys. I believe a mechanical tweak in his swing could unlock his potential and create solid offensive output from the middle of a batting order.
In September 2009, Jose Bautista made a similar adjustment to the one I believe would help Duda immensely. Incidentally, they both appear to suffer from the same hitch in mechanics which causes inconsistent contact and a higher strikeout rate.
Several batters use a toe tap to time their swings and many utilize it to great success. In the cases of Duda and the pre-2009 Bautista the leg movement acts as an impediment to the power of their swings and stops their forward momentum.
Here’s a look at Duda’s double toe tap…
As you can see the rhythm in his swing is interrupted by the toe tap and he’s forced to complete the motion by over-swinging with his arms. Even if he were to make contact in the above clip, it would be out of synch with his power and likely result in a fly out or ground ball.
Shifting momentum also makes it harder for batters to pick up on pitches. The way the batter is left trying to speed up his swing prevents him from keeping two eyes on the ball at all times, thus making it harder to pick up on movement and actually hit the pitch itself or simply let it go by for a ball. Rather than recognizing the pitch immediately and swinging through, they’re left trying to catch up because they’ve slowed their progress during the swing.
Here is Jose Bautista taking a pitch from his days with the Pirates…
While you don’t see the toe tap, the hesitation in Bautista’s motion leaves his lower half stationary and forces him to swing with his arms. He addresses the ball in a similar manner to Duda and isn’t as ready for it to cross the plate. As a result, Bautista was much more prone to striking out than he is now due to a combination of taking bad swings and misreading pitches. Today he strikes out far less and draws walks regularly because he is ready to meet the ball.
The way he shifts his weight in the batters box above is a far cry from how his mechanics look in 2012.
The changes Bautista made in September of 2009 are pronounced. His arms are much higher, he loads his back leg and the swing through the ball is much more aggressive and generates higher amounts of batspeed. The swing is much more violent, yet fluid, than it was earlier in his career. Essentially, he’s trusting his ability to make contact, rather than awkwardly trying to cover more of the plate, and as a result he is setting himself up to hit it a long way.
A similar tweak could do Lucas Duda wonders.
Duda’s natural power comes from his size, certainly more so than his ability to get the bat head moving the way Bautista does. Duda can ‘muscle’ balls over the wall at 6-foot-5 in a way Bautista, who is five inches shorter and sixty pounds lighter, simply isn’t physically capable of. It follows that if Duda puts himself in better positions to load up that power he has the potential to become a much more accomplished power hitter than he is today.
Due to his toe tap, Duda has trouble getting around the hard fastballs and driving them into the outfield. Of his 12 home runs this season, only three have been hit off of pitches which were thrown higher than 90 miles per hour, the latest of which coming off of a Brandon Wood offering on July 6. Duda’s successful swing exhibited, intentionally or otherwise, many of the same hallmarks of the back-loaded Bautista swing.
As you can see, Duda had two eyes on the ball from Wood’s release point, loaded his back leg much more effectively and swung his weight through the ball. He still taps his leg twice, but the second is held longer and carries his full weight. The mechanical similarities are more clear from a side view of the swing.
On top of looking like a similar swing and effectively generating power, Duda’s reach allows him to drive a fastball which is running away from him to right center field. Allowing his body generate the power allows him to hit more than hanging curve balls.
Suggesting that Lucas Duda’s swing could be tweaked the way Jose Bautista’s was isn’t to say that Duda will lead the Major Leagues in home runs each year. It’s not that simple. Though by eliminating the double tap from his swing, Duda can effectively maximize his body’s power and improve his swings.
The simple leg lift, a motion similar to the clipped motion above, gives him more time to watch the ball out of the pitchers hand, better control of his body and consequently, a greater ability to swing his weight through the ball mechanically. A conscious effort to stick to this motion alone ought to yield much better results for Duda and keep him on top of pitches.
Lucas Duda has the frame to be a very good hitter. He just needs his swing to get up to speed.
References & Resources
All stats come courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.
Lucas Duda and Blue Jays Jose Bautista .Gifs were made by myself for the purposes of this piece.
Pirates Jose Bautista .Gif was found here.