Despite the recent series against the Detroit Tigers in which he went 4-for-7 with a home run and three RBI, left fielder Adam Duvall has struggled mightily this season. In 2018, he’s hit .199/.282/.416 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI, 21 runs scored, 25 walks, and 67 strikeouts. Duvall has never been a player that hits for average, but in 2018, his BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS have all been the lowest of his Reds career. His wRC+ currently is at 84, also the lowest in his four years with the Reds.
Duvall’s struggles started long before this season, however. In fact, they date back to late 2016. Duvall made the NL All-Star team that season after a monstrous first half. He finished the season with 33 home runs, 31 doubles and 103 RBI, but in the first half, he hit .249/.288/.551, with an OPS of .839. In May alone, he hit 11 of his 23 first-half home runs, and had a 1.004 OPS and an eye-popping 158 wRC+. But something happened in the second half of 2016. July and August were so-so, but then the slide started. In September 2016, his wRC+ was 71, and he hit only four home runs while striking out 31 times.
Duvall started 2017 better than he ended 2016. He crushed it in May and June, hitting seven home runs and 28 RBI with a .782 OPS and a 120 wRC+ in May. June brought one of the best slash lines of his career, .323/.375/.634 with a 1.009 OPS and a 155 wRC+. But then — like the previous summer — the wheels fell off. In July, his wRC+ was just 73 with only four home runs. He hit a little better in August and September, but not by much. Overall, Duvall finished 2017 with a solid .249/.301/.480, 31 HR, 99 RBI, .782 OPS, but it could have been much better if he didn’t put up an 0-fer in the home run category and have a 43 wRC+ in September. And then that dreadful month carried right over into the 2018 season.
It is true that Duvall has been hitting better of late. In the last seven games — small sample size alert — he’s hitting .357/.438/.714 with an OPS of 1.152 and five hits, including a home run, three RBI and two walks. Part of that might be luck. His BABIP in April was .191 and his BABIP in May was .196. But his BABIP in June is at .357. It’s quite the contrast to go from hitting everything at defenders to hitting above .350 on balls in play, but he’s having more success right now and finding more gaps in the outfield.
Duvall has always been a classic power hitter. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but has the power to hit 30 home runs a year, similar to Adam Dunn (though Dunn was a better hitter overall). He’s not going to change now, and hopefully the Reds realize that.
So, what should the Reds do with Duvall? With Jesse Winker showing he can play at the major league level, the Reds might try to trade Duvall at the deadline. Despite his stats, he could still provide a team in contention with a power bat. However, it’s also very possible that the Reds won’t be able to trade him because of his poor production at the beginning of the year.
While Duvall is not a free agent until 2022, he will be 30 in September and is arbitration eligible next season, which means he’s due for a pay raise. I don’t think the Reds will be successful in trading him next month, and will therefore have a decision to make in the off season. If the Reds don’t trade him, he will probably get a one-year deal worth a couple million dollars.
And then there’s the question, “What happens to Jesse Winker if Duvall is with the Reds in 2019?” While Winker is not the best outfielder, he seems to play better in left field than right field. I was curious to know if Duvall had ever played right because if the Reds were to keep Duvall, it might make sense to have him in right and Winker in left. Well, Duvall has played right field–43.2 innings (or six games) in 2016, to be exact. In a very small sample size, his defensive runs saved (DRS) was -2 and his ultimate zone rating (UZR) was -1.7. If a number is negative, that’s not a good indication of his performance. Compared to four years in left field, where he has a 35 DRS and a 17.0 UZR in over 3000 innings, it doesn’t look like a feasible option on the surface. Plus, why play Duvall in right when Scott Schebler also plays there?
But the Reds should consider all options. And if Winker doesn’t improve in right, maybe they should play him in left every day and have Duvall try right field, at least to spell Schebler. This also implies the Reds won’t trade Billy Hamilton, and Schebler won’t be playing center field. What it comes down to is that the Reds have many decisions to make over the next month (and beyond) regarding the outfield rotation, and Duvall is only a small piece. But if he doesn’t get his season turned around, he may (deservedly) find himself on the bench.