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Lucas proving he was the no-brainer choice at first base

April 18th seems like a very, very long time ago. That was the last time that Ike Davis was a member of the New York Mets. You would think that the former first baseman of the future, the 18th overall pick back in 2008, would be missed by the team that sent him packing earlier this year. But most Met fans have been able to forget about the struggles and disappointments from their once promising prospect Davis. That’s because the Mets put their faith in another big power lefty, and he’s finally starting to show why.

Lucas Duda was drafted a year earlier than Ike Davis by the Mets, but in the seventh round with much fewer expectations than the next year’s first round selection Davis. During the majority of Duda’s time in the big leagues he was stuck in the outfield as he would be blocked at first base by a healthy Davis. But at the times when Davis was either injured or struggling, Duda would get his shot at first base.

The Mets had seemed to finally lose their patience with Davis in 2013, sending him down to the minor leagues for close to a month. It seemed evident that Davis would not be with the team in 2014, and although he would not be moved in the offseason, there was no secret as to the organization’s displeasure towards Ike Davis. So finally on April 18th Davis was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, by default anointing Lucas Duda as the full time first baseman.

While Davis had certainly not lived up to expectations, there was no guarantee Duda would be the permanent solution at first base. After batting a solid .292 in his first full season in 2011, Duda had hit .239 and .223 for the next two. And even though Davis’ power bat had all but dried up, he had always been an exceptional fielder, while Duda seemed more like a potential big bat without a position. In late April of 2014, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the first base position for the New York Mets.

Fast forward to August 2014. Those question marks at first base are no more. Lucas Duda is here to stay.

There may have been some concern early after the trade about if Duda’s bat could hold up to everyday competition. His power numbers had always been sufficient, with 10 homers in 2011 and 15 in each of the next two seasons. But his average had dipped to as low as .228 on May 25th, over a month after the trade.

From that point on, Duda started to hit, and never stopped. After Monday’s loss to the Giants, Duda is hitting .261, a number he has flirted consistently with for about two weeks thanks to the fact that he has absolutely raked the past two months, hitting.282 in June and .293 in July.

And while the average has improved, even his power has as well. Duda launched home run number 20 on the season on Saturday night, giving him his first 20 home run season. Duda has taken the reigns as the home run leader for the Mets, showcasing his power after recent a stretch of six homers in nine games that was punctuated with number 20 on the year.  What does Duda contribute his improved offense to? Well if you ask Duda, it seems simple. “I’m just trying to get a pitch up I can drive. If I get it, I try to put a good swing on it. I can’t really dive too much into it, it is what it is.”

There are little factors that go beyond the numbers to Duda’s rise as well. His recent success has come in his new permanent home as the clean-up hitter for New York, although he had to earn that spot. After the Davis trade, Mets manager Terry Collins did not automatically plug Duda into the four hole. But as Duda started to perform, he started to rise in the lineup, reaching that cleanup spot and taking it by storm.  It’s a position that the Mets expected to fill with Curtis Granderson when they grabbed him in the offseason. And while Granderson has given the team stability at the top of the order, they still needed a power bat behind their star David Wright. With Lucas Duda becoming at least a legitimate 20 home run player, the Mets have finally found that support.

Speaking of Wright, he has underperformed much of this season. While he did pick up 3 hits in the Giants series, his season average is still down at .271. He is looking at his worst season for average other than a .254 mark in 2011, and his worst season for power other than a 10 home run year in the first season at the cavernous Citi Field, 2009. But where Wright has failed to produce, Duda has been there to pick up the slack. He’s on pace to get close to his first 30 home run season while bringing home close to 90 RBI.

While Duda did sit against lefties Cole Hamels and Madison Bumgarner this week, he had a huge at bat against lefty reliever Mario Hollands on Wednesday’s blowout of the Phillies, knocking an RBI single to the opposite field. And even though he blasted a 2 run homer in the 9th, Duda was more satisfied with the RBI off of Hollands. “Yeah probably the one off of the lefty [meant more]. Obviously I haven’t hit lefties very well to say the least…I have confidence in myself that I can hit lefties.” But that RBI single proved Duda can handle the occasional lefty, especially after David Wright had been intentionally walked so Hollands could face Duda.  

And although the Mets did give up a terrific fielder in Davis, Duda has blossomed into a more than adequate first baseman.  After jumping on a sac bunt attempt by Ryan Vogelsong in the 9th inning of Friday night’s game and turning it into a double play, his manager Terry Collins made sure to point out Duda’s improvement in the field. “I always thought Lucas was a pretty good moving first baseman. He might not have trusted himself [to make that play] earlier.”

His teammates are impressed with his transformation, and hope to see this Lucas Duda for the remainder of not just this season, but his Met career. Wright says that “It’s amazing, the transformation in such a short time period, that he’s become one of the more dangerous hitters in the National League and that’s been fun to watch because every time he picks up the bat you think he’s going to hit the ball hard and most of the time he does.”

Oh and by the way, Ike Davis is batting just .240 with 7 home runs and 33 RBI. It’s safe to say, for now at least, the Mets picked the right guy.