Why Is Nobody Talking About Adam Duvall? by Saul Forman June 15, 2017 I was planning on writing about Justin Smoak, but Jeff Sullivan stole my thunder and for some reason people like reading articles written by professional baseball analysts more than articles from college undergraduates (but I guess it’s still worth a read). So, I moved on to the next guy on my list. First of all, if anyone is going to benefit from their environment in a lineup, it’s Adam Duvall. The Reds have turned out to be one of the most productive lineups in baseball (as a Cardinals fan, it hurts to write that). It starts with the best base-stealer in the MLB followed by the player about to overtake Mike Trout as the best of the 2017 season in terms of WAR, followed by one of the best hitters in baseball, followed by Duvall. He’s protected by a surging Eugenio Suarez, a breakout Scott Schebler (who many in baseball refer to affectionately as “this year’s Adam Duvall”), speedy Jose Peraza, and recently-discovered greatest player of all time, Scooter Gennett. Great American Ball Park has the best right-handed home-run factor in baseball. Overall, Adam Duvall has it good in Cincy. We’ll start with the most obvious factor in what makes Adam Duvall such a force in the Reds lineup: the elite power. Duvall’s .530 slugging percentage and .258 isolated slugging are good for 26th (right behind Kris Bryant) and 28th (behind Paul Goldschmidt and ahead of George Springer) in the majors, respectively. By all accounts, he is one of the top 30 pure power hitters in the league. This much has not changed. What makes him interesting as a hitter is not a major change of swing plane or pitch selection like Alonso or Lowrie. He has always been near the top in FB/GB rate (20th this season with a 1.22 ratio). The obvious “yes…but” to all of this is his plate discipline. Yeah…fair point. In 2017, he has a weak 24% K rate, and an even worse 6% walk rate, making a 0.26 BB/K ratio (ouch). We can hope for a Justin Smoak-esque transformation in the future where he starts making contact with two strikes without sacrificing any power, but in the meantime, what we should look for is what happens with the balls he does put in play. Batted Ball Data When I examined the batted-ball data, it doesn’t look like there’s a major change. Year GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Pull% Cent% Oppo% 2016 0.72 19.4% 33.8% 46.7% 17.8% 49.5% 31.1% 19.4% 2017 0.82 22.3% 34.9% 42.8% 19.7% 45.8% 33.1% 21.1% There are very slight adjustments, some that might fall within the range of statistical noise, but interesting nonetheless. It looks like there’s a slight decrease in the number of fly balls, increasing his GB% by 1 and LD% by 2. It also looks like he’s becoming slightly less of a dead-pull hitter and hitting the ball more to center and opposite field. All of this resulted in a slight uptick in his HR/FB rate. This decrease in fly balls is confirmed by the difference in the two years’ launch-angle charts: 2017 Launch Angle Chart 2016 Launch Angle Chart It seems clear that this year, in terms of launch angle, there’s a much larger difference between his home runs and fly balls. Last year, the majority of his hard-hit balls were square at 20 degrees. This could explain some of the jump in HR/FB rate. Platoon Splits One of the things that jumps out in Duvall’s stats from this year to last is the major transformation in results in his platoon splits. wOBA/ Year RHP LHP 2014 0.272 0.245 2015 0.374 0.233 2016 0.332 0.335 2017 0.338 0.455 What is the reason for this sudden transformation against left-handed pitching? Is it just luck? BABIP/ Year RHP LHP 2014 0.208 0.231 2015 0.273 0.273 2016 0.273 0.286 2017 0.287 0.353 It looks like there’s a combination of things at play. First, his BABIP in 2016 was right around league average for both right- and left-handed pitchers. His BABIP against righties basically followed the league average while against lefties it rose to almost .050 points higher than the average. It could be luck…or something has really changed for the rising power hitter. He Goes Down Swinging…Hard Here’s one of the coolest changes in Duvall’s performance the last few years. Avg EV/ Year 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2 2016 83.5 81.3 81.4 86.2 84.1 82.2 85.9 90.5 83.0 NA 90.1 91.7 2017 88.0 87.1 91.9 90.7 89.6 87.1 93.7 86.6 88.4 NA 87.7 89.3 The 2016 data seems like what you would expect from a power hitter. Weak contact with two strikes, watch out when you fall behind in the count to him, and full-count with first base open, it might be worth walking him. However, the 2017 data shows a major difference. He’s averaging 92 mph exit velocity on 0-2?? He’s not getting cheated on any count. This explains some of the change in BABIP over the past two years. Instead of choking up and trying to make contact after falling behind in the count, he’s more consistently driving the ball. This comes with appreciable increases in exit velocity when ahead in the count 1-0 and 2-0. Pitch Breakdown My next thought was: maybe this is the result of differences in his approach to certain pitches. This is where stuff gets interesting. I looked at the pitch breakdown for the past two years against Duvall and found major differences between years. More than half of the pitches he’s seen this year are fastballs, 138 of them two-seamers (pitchers around the league have decided low and outside sinkers are the only way to get him out). In those 138 pitches, he has a .481 average and is slugging .852…That’s not a typo. Around half of the time his at-bat ends with a two-seam, he gets a hit. Here’s the breakdown of his results against two-seams by year. Year Pitches Hits AB AVG SLG Whiffs 2016 409 25 107 .234 .570 105 2017 (6/9) 138 13 27 .481 .852 4 He’s always hit them pretty hard when he makes contact (.570 SLG vs .234 AVG in 2016), but the biggest difference is apparent in the last column: he stopped whiffing on the two-seamer. Most of the change in slugging percentage can be explained by the massive .250 point increase in average against what used to be one of the most effective pitches against him. Because his underlying K rates haven’t changed that much, we can assume that it’s not just that he’s putting the sinker in play more, but that he’s driving it. So we know he can hit the sinker now; what about other pitches? Below are his results on changeups. Year Pitches Hits AB AVG SLG Whiffs 2016 208 15 49 .306 .612 41 2017 (6/9) 77 6 20 .300 .600 10 He’s whiffing slightly less and still getting on base more often than not, driving the ball a significant amount. While we can expect some of the spike in BABIP to be a result of batted-ball luck (and thus regress in the coming months), some of that change has come from an increase in exit velocity and above-average performance against the pitch that most lefties attempt to put him away with. The lesson here is if I were a DFS player and I saw the Reds facing…I don’t know…a Jason Vargas-type pitcher, it might be worth coughing up the money to buy one of the more-overlooked assets in the Reds lineup.