Adam Duvall came to the Reds as the second piece of the Mike Leake trade at the 2015 mid-season deadline. Duvall had played 3B and 1B in the San Francisco Giants organization with a one-tool reputation of hitting with power. The Giants had given Duvall only 77 major league plate appearances by the middle of his age-26 season.
Upon his arrival to the Reds organization, the front office assigned Duvall to play left field for his hometown Louisville Bats. That’s also the position he manned during a September call-up with the Reds.
Gertrude Stein said that coffee gives you time to be yourself, and have a second cup. Duvall’s cup of coffee at Great American Ball Park qualified. In his 72 plate appearances, he hit .219 with a walk-rate of 8.3 percent while striking out a whopping 36 percent of the time. But Duvall’s power revealed itself. He hit for isolated power of .265 (the major league average was .150). Of course, it was too short of a try-out to learn much, but there were positive signs in the mix.
In 2016, the Reds gave Adam Duvall the left field job out of spring training and he played enough to receive 608 plate appearances. That’s a larger sample size, but the erratic nature of his production makes it difficult to characterize his 2016 as a whole. In general, Duvall hit well above average for power. His isolated power (.257) was comparable to what he had shown with the Reds in 2015 (.265) and the numbers he’d produced for the Giants AAA club (.266) earlier in 2015.
Duvall’s 2016 walk-rate (6.7) was a little low and strikeout rate (27.0) a little high, but within the mainstream of the league. Overall, Adam Duvall produced runs slightly (4 percent) better than a league average hitter.
But if you break Duvall’s season into segments, evaluation becomes … complicated. He started off ice cold, went nuts for 6 weeks, then returned for the rest of the year to the level of his early season woes.
Obviously, we need a chart to help figure this out. Here’s one that shows his production before, during and after a crazy-hot six-week period in May and June.
[Caveat: Arbitrary endpoints are the devil’s workshop.]
Duvall struggled in April. Even his anemic batting average of .226 was kept afloat by an out-of-whack .357 BABIP, 80 points above his career number. He struck out nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances. Duvall hit 2 home runs and drove in 5 runs – in a month. That’s on pace for 12 homers and 30 RBI. In April, Duvall produced runs at a rate 13 percent below league average. Did writing this about him on May 2 cause what happened the next day?
For six weeks, Adam Duvall mashed like nobody’s business. From May 3 to June 18, Duvall hit 18 home runs with a .278 average (.258 BABIP); he produced a stratospheric isolated power of .411. Yes, Duvall walked only 3 percent of the time but he also slashed his strikeout rate to 23.7%. He was swinging early, often and connecting. For six glorious weeks, Duvall’s wRC+ was MVP-class 152. (Perspective: Joey Votto produced a wRC+ of 158 for the 2016 season.)
Bruce Springsteen wrote about growin’ up. Those month-long vacations in the stratosphere, it’s really hard to hold your breath. Facing the kind of competition in the major leagues that makes you grow up real fast, Adam Duvall fell back to earth. From June 19 to October 2 – fully 60 percent of the season – Duvall was back to hitting below average. He batted .227, which is in line with April 2016 and September 2015. On the plus side, Duvall’s ISO was .196. That’s the level of power he had shown in April and above the norm. But overall, Duvall produced runs 12 percent below league average.
Adam Duvall’s inconsistency may evoke memories of Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier. But Bruce produced at 20 percent above league average from 2010-13. Frazier did likewise in 2012, 2014-15. Duvall was just 4 percent above average in 2016 adding the good to the bad.
It’s tempting to think of Adam Duvall as a young player, with a nice little place in the stars waiting ahead of him. But Duvall is too far along the MLB aging curve to expect improvement. It’s possible, but against the odds. Jay Bruce was age 23-26 during those seasons, Todd Frazier 26-29. When the Reds look to contend in 2018, Adam Duvall will be 29.
Which narrative makes the most sense?
- Adam Duvall is a guy who produces in spurts. His numbers over an entire season will add up to being a bit above average. Or,
- Adam Duvall is the guy he was for more than 70 percent of 2016. The six weeks in May-June were an anomaly. The Giants didn’t have Duvall on the fast track. Duvall was something between a throw-in and headliner in the Leake trade. Or,
- Adam Duvall will learn from his first full major league season and the productive periods will become more frequent. Maybe he’ll hit like Todd Frazier at roughly the same age. Or,
- Pitchers adjusted to Duvall after his hot six weeks and head-turning appearance in the Home Run Derby. Duvall’s dreary second-half production is his current stasis point. Can’t blame his slump on the Derby it started a full month before his first back … back … ack.
Projecting Adam Duvall’s 2017 season is fraught with uncertainty. The good news is the Reds don’t really need to unless Duvall’s name finds its way into trade discussions. ‘Tis the season of sorting not contending, and Duvall is Exhibit A. However, by the end of 2017, Duvall’s meaningful track record will have just about doubled. Same with the data on his promising defense in LF.
Will Adam Duvall be a valuable contributor in 2018 and beyond? Ask me in a year.