In (Somewhat) Defense of Adam Duvall

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Adam Duvall
Adam Duvall #23 of the Atlanta Braves reacts to a called third strike made by umpire Doug Eddings #88 during the eighth inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on September 7, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Source: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

2018 was not Adam Duvall’s year.

It doesn’t matter how you break it down, it wasn’t a good year. First half. Second half. Righties. Lefties. Home. Road. Reds. Braves. He stunk.

But was he truly as bad as we all thought?

Even more important — should that be what stops him from getting a fair shake as a starter in 2019?

Yes and no.

On paper there is plenty of cringe to find. His .195/.274/.365 slash line was easily the worst of his three year’s as a starter. And his .277 wOBA and 69 wRC+ were bottom five amongst NL outfielders.

If you dig a little deeper there may not be a lot to like, but there is a lot less to hate at least.

Like despite the fact he struggled mightily on the offensive side, every defensive metric still loved what he was able to contribute. Statcast’s Outs Above Average put him at a +7 for a second consecutive year, good enough to be a top twenty outfielder. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average had him at 7.0, while Fangraphs had him at 16 Defensive Runs Saved.

Adding another elite defensive player into the mix with an all-world CF in Ender Inciarte and an emerging defensive force in ‎Ronald Acuña could give you the best outfield in all of baseball roaming the grass at SunTrust.

All aspects of his game considered, he still managed to have positive value on all three scales:

fWAR (Fangraphs): 0.2 wins
bWAR (Baseball Reference): 0.9 wins
WARP (Baseball Prospectus): 1.1 wins

Those numbers aren’t going to set the world on fire, but you also have to consider he only started 86 games and had 427 plate appearances — with only 9 of those starts and 57 of the PA coming after the trade to Atlanta on July 30th. To say his playing time came to a screeching halt would be a bit of an understatement.

And as you can see from his rolling wRC+ over the course of the season, his lack of playing time certainly contributed to his decline:

He was up and down for the first part of the season, but once his playing time came to a halt after hitting the wall rather abruptly in Atlanta, the wheels just completely fell off.

Ok, 2018 sucked. What next? What can we expect from 2019?

Well, for starters there are 1,404 plate appearances worth of data that very much overshadow the paltry numbers from last season. Over that time, he put up a .241/.296/.480 slash line and averaged a homer every 19.5 PA, which all equated to a 99 wRC+. A lot more compelling than if you look at the 50+ trips to the plate he made with the Braves. And keep in mind a league-average hitter is a lot easier to bury in the lineup if you’ve added a premiere bat already, and that league-average hitter is able to provide top-shelf defense.

Duvall also saw a ridiculous drop in his BABIP and ISO from years past. Comparatively, those numbers were .279/.240 over his first 1,400 PA and .236/.169 last year. Statcast also favors a bit of bad luck, as it shows a .313 xwOBA next to the actual .278 wOBA he put up.

Baseball Prospectus’ newest metric, DRC+ (https://www.baseballprospectus.com/drc-deserved-runs-created/) was even more favorable than any other stat. I’ve provided the link to BP’s front page if you missed the roll out on what the stat represents, but in short, it is touted as being the most accurate and predictive of the catch-all offensive metrics. DRC+ doesn’t exactly say Duvall had a great year, but his 86 DRC+ is comparable to that of Dansby Swanson (89) and Charlie Culberson (91).

We are also at a point now where the 2019 projection systems have kicked into high gear and we can start seeing how guys may look going forward. And 2019 Duvall is, I dunno, better?

STEAMER – .226/.289/.416 – .190 ISO – .269 BABIP – 0.6 WAR
ZiPS – .233/.289/.425 – .192 ISO – .282 BABIP – 0.7 WAR

Not… great. But keep in mind most projection systems heavily favor the previous year’s output, which in Duvall’s case is an outlier.

Ok, so, what changed?

Well, none of his plate discipline metrics strayed from his career numbers. In fact, his batted ball profile showed an improvement over 2017, as both his solid contact percentage (8.2% vs 5.6%) and his barrel percentage (10.4% vs 8.9%) rebounded to 2016 territory. Duvall also saw a spike in his exit velocity for the third straight season (89.0 MPH in 2018).

The interesting stat via Statcast? His batting average and wOBA on balls he made solid contact or barreled. In 2016 and 2017, he hit .727 (n=77) and .767 (60) respectively off those types of batted balls, but that number dropped to .592 (49) last year. Not only did he get less chances to accumulate more hard-hit ball events, but he ran into a considerable amount of bad luck when he did. If he were given the opportunity to get back to the 600+ PA level he had in 2016 and 2017, perhaps he ends up with more hard hit balls and his success on them begins to balance back out, which could lead to an impressive bounceback.

What does all of this mean?

Simply put, I believe Adam Duvall is still a much better player than what we saw in 2018 — especially in Atlanta. He’s probably not the All-Star type player he was in 2016, but he is certainly a better option than Preston Tucker was at the start of 2018, Charlie Culberson ever could be, or what the rebound version of Nick Markakis is likely to be.

He may not be the everyday answer in a corner outfield spot for the Braves next season because he does have flaws, but based off of his numbers in the past and the evidence that he did run into some luck last year, he at least deserves to be in the conversation for 2019. It may require the addition of a platoon to prop him up a bit, as Josh pointed out when he covered the outfield vacancy a couple days ago, but Duvall can at least be servicable at the absolute worst when you factor in what he can add defensively to a team that may not be as desperate for offensive as it was a year ago.

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