MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets

The Case For Platooning Lucas Duda

The Mets have faced three lefty starters over the first month of the 2015 season. On April 13th against Adam Conley, Wilmer Flores started at first base and Lucas Duda entered the game in a double switch after Conley departed. On April 26th against Brandon Finnegan, Wilmer Flores started at first base and Lucas Duda entered the game in a double switch after Finnegan departed … although after Collins initially toyed with sending Duda up against Finnegan as a pinch-hitter earlier. On May 1st against Madison Bumgarner, Eric Campbell started at first base (Flores started at short) and Lucas Duda hit for Campbell after Bumgarner departed.

Michael Conforto, who is famously being platooned by Terry Collins, started the latter two of those games. So, if the guy “being platooned” faces two of three lefties, and the guy not being platooned faces zero of three, who is really being platooned?

Our fearless editor-in-chief Bryan Grosnick tackled the subject of platooning Duda a bit before the season in his Lucas Duda Narrative Buster column. Let’s go over the case again. Duda, for his career through 5/1/2016, has hit .225/.298/.368 against lefties and .255/.359/.480 against righties. That’s quite a major split, but it comes with a caveat: Duda actually hit lefties slightly better than righties in 2015. Indeed, Lucas Duda finally conquering lefties with a vengeance was a major narrative continuing through the 2015 season. But that caveat also comes with it’s own caveat, since Duda only saw 132 plate appearances against lefty pitching in 2015. Ideally, you would probably have someone on the roster who is capable of spotting Duda against most lefties. Maybe #notallsouthpaws, but if you can conveniently time a day off a week or so for games when tougher lefties are pitching, well, the old tough lefty flu never hurt anyone.

The main issue with platooning Duda–since Duda has so recently shown some life with the bat against portsiders–is that the Mets simply don’t have the type of lefty-crushing corner option that you would use to spot Duda. The Mets were connected with guys like Steve Pearce and Ryan Raburn who would fit this bill at various points in the offseason, but went into Spring Training short on bench room to carry that type of player. The Mets released Ruben Tejada in mid-March, which cleared a spot, but by that time the best fits were already elsewhere. And so they ended up carrying Eric Campbell as the right-handed corner backup. Again. You know, the same Eric Campbell that the Mets tried to eliminate from their roster last season when trading for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.

Around the sabermetric Met fan community, you will occasionally see defenses of Eric Campbell, usually involving BABIP and associated factors. It is true that Campbell’s BABIP in 2015 was probably unluckily low by 30 points or so, but even adjusting for that “luck” doesn’t turn a .197 hitter with a .295 slugging at the corners into a viable major league contributor on a playoff team. For his career, Campbell’s BABIP is a reasonable .290, and he’s hit a meager .230/.317/.324 overall and .224/.321/.336 against lefties. Campbell is 29, was never much of a prospect, and has simply never hit to corner-appropriate levels outside of the friendly confines of Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League. He shouldn’t be an option for a healthy contender, and is taking the space on the major league roster that should be used for Duda’s theoretical platoon mate.

The other straight platoon option on the roster is Wilmer Flores. Flores, only 24, really needs to find as much playing time as possible, and therefore probably should be starting somewhere against every single lefty the Mets face. But Flores is also covering three other positions, including David Wright’s frequent rest days and one other obvious platoon candidate in Neil Walker. Nor is Flores much of a notable lefty-masher to want to move his offense into regular playing time at first base on a contender.

In another recent article, I suggested that the Mets might solve some of this puzzle by giving Michael Conforto a first base glove. Conforto mentioned this spring that he was open to playing first, and had seen reps there in college. But in the aforementioned May 1st game that Duda sat, the Mets wouldn’t even flip Conforto to right—a much smaller transition—to get Juan Lagares in center, instead starting a sub-optimal defense where Yoenis Cespedes manned center and Lagares played right. Given the tear Conforto has been on, leaving him in the comfortable position of left fielder and three-hole hitter isn’t controversial.

With Triple-A Las Vegas mostly running out left-handed hitting journeyman Marc Krauss at first, I suspect the solution for a right-handed hitting complement to Duda might be coming in the form of a Juan Uribe-style trade acquisition over the summer. In the meantime, Collins should probably continue a soft platoon, getting Flores in at first against lefties when Duda could use a blow and Wilmer’s services aren’t required elsewhere in the infield. After all, if one of the biggest roster conundrums facing the Mets is replacing the 25th man with someone better, they’re probably going to keep being pretty good in 2016.

Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

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