A Case Of History Repeating?

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening – whichever is applicable to you.  Every High School in America has at least one coach who has no business in a classroom. Let’s make this clear; I’m not suggesting all coaches are unqualified teachers, I’m simply stating that some are not. Many will accept positions in Health or Physical Education or another alternative subject. Some will guide tomorrow’s leaders through one of the core subjects. During my senior year I was the student of one of these obligatory hires. Make no mistake – this particular individual was a heck of a guy; easily a Top-5 on the “Guys to Have a Beer With” list. While those types of people make the world great, even at that age I didn’t want them for an educator. So here I was, being led in American History by an individual who I’m not quite sure could have passed the course himself.

Because of this train wreck of an experience, I failed to find the value of history in my youth. As the years have passed and the mileage in the rear view has increased, my appreciation for it has grown. Naturally as a baseball fan in general, the historical events of its past creates a bench mark for what is great. I have found that History has value for the Fantasy community as well. While the statistical aspect of the game certainly comes into play, I have found that historical player comparisons can be a very helpful tool in evaluating talent moving forward.

Bryan LaHair made his MLB debut in 2008 at the age of 25. After getting the call-up due to a Richie Sexson injury, LaHair managed to hit .250 with three home runs over the course of 45 games and 150 plate appearances. In 2009, LaHair spent the entire season at Triple-A posting a very solid .289 AVG with an OPS of .884 and 26 home runs. After signing a Minor League deal with the Chicago Cubs, LaHair spent the entire 2010 season at Triple-A hitting .308 with an OPS of .942 and 25 home runs. LaHair had even more success in 2011 hitting .331 with an OPS of 1.069 and 38 homers. That production earned him a September call up and LaHair managed a .288 AVG with an OPS of .784 and two home runs.

Given his success at AAA, and with the Cubs’ rebuild underway, LaHair at 29 was given his first everyday job in major league baseball. Fresh out of a Hollywood script, LaHair took the job and ran with it, hitting .286 with 14 home runs and earning an All-Star nod for his accomplishments in the first half. Bryan LaHair returned to the Cubs after the break, but that particular player was never seen from again. LaHair hit .202 with two home runs in the second half, losing the first base job to a kid named Rizzo whom you may have heard of, and ultimately became a bench bat. His first full major league season would be his last as the most appealing offer LaHair received was from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Adam Duvall made his major league debut in 2014 at the age of 25. A deadline deal last season sent him to Cincinnati, and really opened the door of opportunity for him. After hitting .263 with 30 home runs at two Triple-A stops, Duvall earned a September call-up. While his .219 AVG failed to impress, he did show some good pop, hitting five home runs in only 72 plate appearnaces with an ISO of .266. Ultimately what he showed was enough to earn him his first MLB Opening Day Roster spot at the age of 27.  After a slow start that saw Duvall hit .226 in April with two home runs, his May has been of the few bright spots of the Reds 2016 season thus far. Duvall managed to hit .289 with an OPS of 1.004 and 11 home runs.  For the season Duvall is hitting .256 with an OPS of .862 and 13 homers which is tied for the 5th most in the majors. While the All-Star nominations are still nearly a month away, could we have another Hollywood Script in the works?

While both LaHair and Duvall got their first taste of the majors at age 25, and made their MLB debuts at 29 and 27 respectively, both would be considered late bloomers when it comes to getting their first extended look.  Both LaHair and Duvall managed to produce outstanding minor league numbers, however, both were likely accompanied by an eyebrow raise or two. LaHair had a three year stretch from 2009-2011 were he averaged .309 with 29 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 78 runs scored. It’s hard to argue with those numbers, but at the same time they did occur during his 4th, 5th, and 6th stints in Triple A at the ages of 26, 27, and 28 respectively.  

In 2012 Adam Duvall had an excellent season at High-A, hitting .258 with 30 home runs, scoring 101 runs with 100 RBIs. In 2014 during his first AAA stint, he managed to hit 27 home runs, and during his second tenure in 2015 he combined for 30 homers.  In reality, however, on the Prospect Growth Chart in terms of age, Duvall would have been considered old at each stop along the way. Both featured similar plate discipline in the minors. LaHair had the better eye of the two, but Duvall had a slightly lower K%. LaHair’s AVG was significantly better while Duvall featured the more power of the two.  Statistically they may not have been carbon copies of each other, but regardless, given the level of success and similar career arcs I find the comparisons to be meaningful.

LaHair’s struggles could be attributed to two areas: Strikeout issues and his inability to hit LHP as a left-handed hitter. While LaHair’s walk potential showed through during both stints with the Cubs (13% in 2011 and 10.3 in 2012) his K totals proved problematic. During his brief stint in 2011 he stuck out 26.1% of the time, and in his first full-time season that mark was 32.6%.  While a high K rate can be tolerated from a superstar, it doesn’t go down as well for a 29-year-old rookie who managed a career .098 AVG vs. LHP. While 96 plate appearances doesn’t define a career typically, that type of ineptitude sample size comes in a smaller cup.

While LaHair’s big break was provided by being on a bad team, the very same scenario could have been the reason for his short tenure. At 29, LaHair was exposed as a full-time player. Being a rebuilding team at the time the Cubs had no interest in signing a bench bat. While platoons were around in 2013 they weren’t quite as prevalent as they are today. Thus teams were hesitant to invest money into that type of situation. Ultimately it was his first half success that earned the attention of oversea teams which ultimately took him out of the bench bat pay scale.

Duvall’s story has yet to be written, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better scenario for him to be in. The Reds are going nowhere fast, roster openings outweigh the options to fill them, and Great American Ballpark is on the short list of the most hitter friendly parks in the game. So while the setting is ideal, I’m still finding it difficult to believe the end result will be better than the final chapter of the Bryan LaHair story.

Duvall’s plate disciple has been horrid. His BB% of 3.4 is tied for 9th worst among qualified hitters, and his 29.9% K rate is 13th worst among qualified hitters. While his 73.2% contact rate isn’t desirable, the most concerning statistic for me would be the O-Swing% of 40.5, which ranks 7th worst among qualified hitters. To further highlight the swing-and-miss skill set, his SwStr% of 14.9 ranks 9th among qualified hitters. If we take all this data and combine the Minor League numbers, it’s not hard to imagine that a lackluster average is a very real possibility for Duvall.

As of June 2nd Duvall is hitting .256; last season he managed a .219 mark in 72 PA. For me the .219 seems more realistic than the current .256 mark. While a drop from .256 to .225 means a little something in fantasy, the true value of Duvall lies in home runs. On the plus side he’s got the batted ball profile for it. His current GB/FB rate is 0.75; in his cameo last year that number was 0.61. His current HR/FB rate is 25.5, which is good for 7th among qualified hitters. Last season in those 72 PA that number was 27.8. If you combine the two numbers you’re looking at about 246 plate appearances, hardly a reference point to establish the legitimacy of numbers.

While I do believe Duvall can establish himself as a hitter in the 18-21% HR/FB rate range, ultimately his lack of plate discipline will take himself out of the rarified air he currently resides at in terms of HR/FB rate. Once you factor in the AVG, you’re essentially comparing a good Chris Carter (2016) to the less than spectacular Chris Carter (2015). Much in the way LaHair’s struggles cost him his roster position; Duvall could face the same roster squeeze should struggles find him. Jesse Winker will likely hit the major league roster at some point this season. Also Jose Peraza is currently in the OF mix – given Brandon Phillips unwillingness to leave and mild late-career successes. And consider Billy Hamilton and the LH-hitting Scott Schebler, acquired in the Todd Frazier deal. All of a sudden you could have five players vying for three spots.

While I failed to acknowledge the importance of history in my youth, time has managed to show me the value it has.  I have become aware of the likelihood of history repeating itself if the proper adjustments or changes are not made. As mentioned before, the Bryan LaHair story was one of the few bright spots for the 2012 Cubs (trust me, I had plenty of viewing experiences). So while the entire script has yet to be written, it sure feels like the first half of 2016 is heading in the Bryan LaHair direction for Adam Duvall. As a fantasy owner I want no part of how the 2nd act is going to play out. Even the obligatory Coach/Teacher can figure that one out.


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Josh Coleman

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Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.

2 thoughts on “A Case Of History Repeating?”

  1. Great article Josh. While I don’t necessarily disagree with your overall premise, could we not point to Nelson Cruz as an example that Duvall might actually carve himself out a nice big-league career. Nelson also had his first cup of coffee at 25 and didn’t have a full-time gig until he was 28. Now he has been mashing for a good 8 seasons. Food for thought.

  2. I’m wrong about a lot of things, this could certainly be another one. Cruz did have better plate discipline and had less AVG risk.

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