Lucas Duda, Ground Balls, Power, and Daily Fantasy Baseball

July 29 5:18am

Fly balls mean power. That makes sense intuitively, right? Can’t hit em out until you can hit em up. The average batting line on a fly ball is .213/.208/.554. On a ground ball, those numbers drop to .234/.234/.253. Or, another way to say it is, somewhere around zero percent of ground balls leave the park, while around 10% of fly balls leave the park. Get some loft on that swing, rook!

We’re always looking for an under-rated power source for our daily picks. With the points as they are, a home run from a cheap source can turn a lineup around. But how do we use our knowledge of the link between fly balls and power to get the jump on our competitors?

The answer can be found by examining the Ox. Lucas Duda, all six-foot-four-inches-and-250-pounds of him, has been handed that moniker upon entry into the big leagues. And yet, despite his nickname and large frame, he’s managed only two home runs in 140 plate appearances. He’s also hitting as many ground balls as fly balls after being distinctly more fly-ball oriented in his debut last year. Write him off as a cheap power source?

Not quite. One thing we also know is how long it takes ground ball and fly ball rates to become reliable. Excellent work by author Pizza Cutter has shown us that it takes 200 plate appearances in order to ‘trust’ a player’s grounder rate, and 250 PAs for fly ball rate. In other words, after 200 PAs, a player’s ground-ball rate can predict his rest-of-season ground-ball rate with a 70% reliability.

So back to el Duderino. At 140 plate appearances, he hasn’t passed either of these thresholds. The Dude abides but he has not been in the majors very long. So we cannot trust his 38% fly ball rate, especially in the face of his 2010 46% fly ball rate. There could be more loft coming as he gets used to the major leagues, and we know that with more loft comes more power. This is a player that had a .295 isolated slugging percentage (slugging percentage minus batting average, or only extra-base hits) at Triple-A two years in a row. He also had more fly balls than ground balls at every stop in the minor leagues save one.

The missing part of our batted-ball trifecta of analysis so far are the line drives. These actually become reliable quicker than the other two (at 150 PAs), and they have a nice batting line of their own (.722/.718/.968). Yes, that’s almost a 1.700 OPS. One more reason to be excited about this Dude is that he’s got this part of the package on lock down already. His 23.8% line drive rate is well above the league average (19%) and it’s close to being reliable.

Lucas Duda is a big man with a history of power in the minor leagues. He may not have the prospect pedigree that comes with so many exciting young hitters, but we can use that to our advantage. He hits line drives and looks like he will in the future. He’s not hitting fly balls but it looks like he might hit more in the future. With those fly balls will come more power, making him a cheap choice for power. Just remember to use our other tips, about platoon splits, platoon splits on pitches, and park factors in order to figure out when to use the large lefty at just the right time.

Eno Sarris will have a little fun on Fridays while using sabermetric research to try to help you better your FanDuel choices. He also writes for all three blogs at FanGraphs and recommends them heartily. In his free time, he does his best at Bloomberg Sports, RotoWorld, RotoHardball and the best Mets site out there, AmazinAvenue. He does what he wants to at and hopes you don’t mind.

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