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Royals add some left-handed thunder

It had to be done.

In a lineup that is so heavy on the right side, it received an invitation to speak at CPAC, the Royals finally added a left-handed stick to solidify the batting order. Welcome to Kansas City, Lucas Duda.

Of course you remember Duda’s role in Royals lore. The throw to home in the 2015 World Series is as Forever Royal as it gets. Naturally, the player he was trying to cut down at the plate, Eric Hosmer, is the player he’s been tasked to replace. Baseball does love its symmetry.

Duda joins the Royals on a one year contract at $3.5 million. There’s a bonus structure to the deal that can net him an additional $1.3 million should he reach 600 plate appearances. He’s never reached that number of plate appearances in a season in his career.

This represents a strong value play by Dayton Moore and the Royals. As noted in this space on Wednesday, the Royals desperately needed a left-handed bat. Preferably one with a touch of power to replace the production that has departed since the end of 2017 via free agency or trades. Logan Morrison, coming off a career year in Tampa, was a potential fit, but would have required a stronger financial commitment than the one the Royals made to Duda. The Twins snagged Morrison for $5.5 million with a vesting option that could be worth an additional $9.5 million in 2019. After arguing they’ve been living above their means for the last couple of seasons, the Royals seem serious about their austerity this time around. Their payroll commitment for 2018 looks to be around $113 million.

If Duda hits his PECOTA projection of 1.0 WARP, this is a good piece of business by the Royals.

In the aftermath of the signing, there were some quick to draw comparisons between Duda and the player he is effectively replacing in the Royals lineup, Eric Hosmer. Such comparisons looking at fWAR or WARP are simplistic and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Hosmer has posted three seasons in his career of a 3 WARP season or better. (Yes, that whole even-odd year thing is strange.) Duda has one. PECOTA projects a .275 TAv and 1.9 WARP season from Hosmer in 2018. It’s looking for a .272 TAv in what was noted above as a 1.0 WARP season with Duda. It doesn’t take much sabermetric number crunching to see the main difference between the two according to PECOTA can be found on defense. We’ve debated Hosmer’s defensive merits ad nauseam in this space. Duda’s work at first isn’t up for such debate. He’s a below average defender, and that’s putting it kindly.

(We’re just scratching the surface here and there’s always the potential, in the realm of a single season, for Duda to outperform Hosmer in 2018, but let’s not pretend Duda is better than or just as good as Hosmer. He’s an adequate, one-year replacement.)

Despite the need for the lefty bat in the lineup for balance, there’s plenty of evidence that points to Duda as a platoon option over the option of playing him every day. His career splits provide a compelling argument for benching him against left-handed pitching.

Platoon Splits
I Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip tOPS+
vs RHP 2350 1992 497 119 2 116 321 297 506 .249 .356 .486 .842 968 .274 111
vs LHP 745 673 147 34 1 22 84 58 239 .218 .289 .370 .659 249 .301 66
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/28/2018.

Only once in Duda’s career (2015) has he performed well against same-side pitching. There’s enough disparity and consistency between his OBP and SLG in his platoon splits that he needs to find his time limited against left-handers.

One area where Duda clearly outshines the departed Hosmer is power. It’s not even close. Duda has outperformed Hosmer in ISO since both were in the big leagues.

Year Duda ISO Hosmer ISO League Avg ISO

2011

.189

.172

.144

2012

.150

.127

.151

2013

.192

.146

.143

2014

.228

.127

.135

2015

.242

.162

.150

2016

.183

.167

.162

2017

.279

.179

.171

 That’s useful and important for the Royals who are looking at a lineup with some power potential, but not enough to be a consistent threat. PECOTA projects 22 bombs for Jorge Soler, 21 for Salvador Perez and 20 for Jorge Bonifacio. Duda shoots to the top of the projection leaderboard with a modest projection of 24 home runs. It’s a total he has surpassed in three of the last four seasons.

Duda isn’t a Three True Outcomes player in the extreme version we’ve come to know in the power game of today. He is a reasonable facsimile of one, though. He’s appeared in parts of eight seasons through his big league career and played in 100 games or more in six of those. In those years, Duda averages 56 walks, 115 strikeouts and 21 home runs. This is the type of offensive player we haven’t seen on the regular at The K. In fact, in the entire history of the franchise, there are only five players who have posted numbers above Duda’s average “healthy” season.

Results
Rk Player Year BB SO HR Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Eric Hosmer 2016 57 132 25 26 KCR AL 158 667 605 80 161 24 1 104 .266 .328 .433 .761
2 Alex Gordon 2011 67 139 23 27 KCR AL 151 690 611 101 185 45 4 87 .303 .376 .502 .879
3 Carlos Beltran 2002 71 135 29 25 KCR AL 162 722 637 114 174 44 7 105 .273 .346 .501 .847
4 Jermaine Dye 1999 58 119 27 25 KCR AL 158 673 608 96 179 44 8 119 .294 .354 .526 .880
5 Danny Tartabull 1991 65 121 31 28 KCR AL 132 557 484 78 153 35 3 100 .316 .397 .593 .990
6 Danny Tartabull 1988 76 119 26 25 KCR AL 146 593 507 80 139 38 3 102 .274 .369 .515 .884
7 Danny Tartabull 1987 79 136 34 24 KCR AL 158 667 582 95 180 27 3 101 .309 .390 .541 .931
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2018.

That’s some good Royal company.

There’s that Hosmer character again. He has a spot here in a season that is widely thought to be a down year, offensively speaking. In 2016 he finished with a barely above league average .261 TAv and 0.6 WARP. The Alex Gordon season was his pinnacle offensively speaking. Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye were both great contributors to the Royals offense at the turn of the century. The seasons listed above, however, do not represent their best seasons with the Royals.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the table above is that all of the seasons that fit the criteria came in what we would say was the prime of that particular player’s career. All of them fall between the ages of 24 and 28. Duda joins the Royals a less than a month after his 32nd birthday.

Duda alone won’t move the win-loss needle above .500, nor will he make you forget about the legend of Eric Hosmer. He will provide some power and balance in a lineup that was lacking. He’s a short term solution to a problem that’s been on the horizon for some time. Really, there’s nothing to dislike about this deal. If the Royals find a right-handed hitting compliment to Duda, they would absolutely maximize his value to the club. It allows Hunter Dozier to return to Omaha to recoup some of his development time lost to injury  last summer and get some reps at first, should the Royals decide that’s where his future is located. And if Dozier has a bounce back year and adapts to a new position, Duda’s affordable salary can make him an attractive trade candidate at the deadline. And should Duda stick it out the entire season in Kansas City, the first base position will be open for competition in 2019.

It’s a good deal for the Royals. And one they had to make.

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2 comments on “Royals add some left-handed thunder”

Ben

Craig – we need to lose baseball games for draft position and we need to see what our young guys have – Dozier, Schwindel or O’Hearn. This move does nothing for the Royals except cost us money and at-bats/development time for one of our younger players. Who cares about left-handed power?? This is a terrible signing, yet one that is signature Dayton Moore.

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