Adam Duvall: An Underrated Trade Deadline Target

Is the Marlins' slugger a steal for a contender?

With just over a day left before MLB’s Trade Deadline, contenders are trying to get any sort of edge that might just push them towards a title. And while pitching is always at a premium—starter or reliever—position players can be had at a relative discount and have a ginormous impact on the final two months of the regular season. For teams that have eventually called themselves champions, notice the trend of what they’ve done offensively.

Offensive Traits Of Champions (With Season Ranking)

The name of the game is scoring runs and preventing your opponent from doing the same. It’s exactly what the table above reflects, where you consistently put the ball in play while doing damage when you do, in addition to being above-average defensively.

Enter Adam Duvall, the antithesis of putting the ball in play consistently. The Marlins’ outfielder has hit a rather pedestrian .229/.275/.481, highlighted by a ghastly combination of a six percent walk rate and 31.4% strikeout rate. But if you’ve followed Duvall throughout his career, you would know that it’s not far off from his career marks of 6.8% BB and 27.8% K. So the question is, why should we care about Duvall heading into the deadline?

The 32-year-old has excelled in a couple of aspects that are highly coveted around this time of year—driving in runs and playing solid defense. Defensively, Duvall has posted 12 DRS (third-best amongst outfielders this season) and 2 OAA (45th best), representing above-average marks in the outfield. And even though those numbers are conflicting over how well Duvall has done defensively, there is one number that shows how elite Duvall has been—68 RBI, ranking third-best in the National League, seven behind teammate and NL leader Jesús Aguilar.

He’s done that by being a dominant hitter with runners in scoring position, as he has a .329 batting average (.297 xBA), .753 SLG (.701 xSLG), and .446 wOBA (.425 xwOBA). With his expected results nearly matching his actual, Duvall has shown the ability to not only hit the ball hard in those spots but also keep the ball off the ground, with just over 66% of his batted balls resulting in either a fly ball or line drive. But that’s not where the story ends.

Duvall has hit 11 of his 22 home runs with runners in scoring position, tied with Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers for the most in baseball. Here’s what those home runs look like, both are instances of great hitting and perfect examples of why Duvall has driven in so many runs this season:

 

 

In the first GIF, the situation is a runner on third with two outs, on a 1-1 count—against a dominant Zack Wheeler, I might add. Of course with two outs, a sacrifice fly will not do—Duvall must get a hit to drive in the runner from third. So when Wheeler is in that 1-1 count, he thinks he can drop a “get me over” curveball and get the hitter in a two-strike count. Duvall, seemingly looking for it, stays back and drives the ball over the right-field wall and adds two to his RBI tally.

The second GIF is another job of great situational hitting—this time, a runner on third with just one out, meaning a fly ball of reasonable distance should score the run. With two strikes already recorded in the at-bat, Jake Arrieta decides to try and catch Duvall looking with a tailing two-seamer on the outer edge. Once again, the 32-year-old stays back and flips the ball over the right-field fence for yet another home run.

Though despite the superb efforts of the previous two long balls we saw, Duvall has still suffered a loss of power this season compared to the past two years in Atlanta. Granted his lowered .252 ISO is still a top-30 figure in baseball, the diminished slugging figure is a bit of a surprise especially since Duvall is hitting more balls to the pull side this season (48.6%, highest mark since 2016) while performing to better results.

Batted Balls By Direction

The sapped power is seemingly coming from Duvall’s inability to hit the ball with the same authority he did for the past two seasons going to center and right field. While the Marlins’ slugger has undoubtedly suffered from bad luck on batted balls hit straightaway, the mark he’s posted is still far beneath that of his time in Atlanta, explaining the gap between the power marks.

In total, this gives us several things Duvall really excels at. Firstly, that’s driving in runs. Second? Pulling the ball with authority. Then, of course, there’s the defensive ability. This means that we need to find places that Duvall can thrive in down the stretch, utilizing the strengths that he’s displayed so far this season.

 

The Market

 

With our aforementioned criteria in mind, here are some contending teams that could benefit from Duvall’s arrival.

Possible Suitors For Duvall (With Ranking)

Atlanta lost their star center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. earlier in the month, and it’s propped up a hole in the outfield even with the addition of Joc Pederson recently. Bringing Duvall back to the place he found himself again would be a great story and a boon to their ailing outfield defense while also providing depth to the lineup which currently has Guillermo Heredia and a platoon of Abraham Almonte and Orlando Arcia/Ehire Adrianza. Though considering the Braves have already made an offer to the Marlins and a deal has not been made, the likelihood of this seems small despite it logically making sense.

Obviously, you can’t have an article focused on a potential power threat on the trading block and not talk about Cleveland. Given their dearth of offensive talent, Cleveland could absolutely use Duvall over Daniel Johnson and even Bradley Zimmer in center in an attempt to solidify the middle order. But with their lack of offensive ability also comes their tight finances—and Duvall fits that description perfectly. Duvall is currently under a one-year $5 M pact that does have a mutual option for 2022 at $7 M should that interest both parties.

The other NL East foe is the Phillies, who have struggled to find production from center field between Odúbel Herrera and Luke Williams of late, while also having a poor defensive outfield as Andrew McCutchen (-7 DRS/ -4 OAA) has graded as one of the worst defensive outfielders in left field this season. Duvall could undoubtedly fix that problem while also solving the other, and that is Philadelphia’s middling numbers with runners in scoring position, slotting him in the sixth spot behind Rhys Hoskins as a buffer to drive in runs. Currently, that spot is occupied by Didi Gregorius, who has the 13th lowest wOBA with runners in scoring position in 2021. Additionally, Citizens Bank Park has been graded as the seventh-best park for right-handed hitters for the past three seasons by Baseball Savant, so this fit should really be a seamless one should it be made.

As I started to write this yesterday morning, it was rather confusing at first to see how Duvall could fit in the Bronx. He’s a right-handed hitter with little on-base ability while striking out a lot—things a lot of Yankees’ hitters currently do. However, considering the team has struggled mightily with runners in scoring position and could use help defensively in the outfield, it seemed to make more sense. That is, of course, before the news of Joey Gallo heading to the Yankees instead, who is an upgrade over Duvall in nearly every facet of the game, so this is not a possible destination anymore.

Which leads us to the Red Sox. Referring to our table, Boston seemingly has all of those bases covered. In the outfield, Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe have been positives both at the plate and defensively, while top prospect Jarren Duran is now up with the big club. So why is Duvall on this list? Well, back as recently as 2018, he played 57 innings at first base and graded out as an average defender (1 DRS/ 0 OAA) in his short time there. While the offensive profiles of Duvall and Renfroe could be redundant, replacing the anemic production of first base with hitting ability that the 32-year-old possesses would definitely be a huge boost and could push Devers in the second spot in the order while Duvall could occupy the sixth spot—a run-producing position. If you then include that he’s a right-handed pull hitter that would call Fenway Park home and that’s cheaper than either Anthony Rizzo or Carlos Santana, this seems like a real possibility.

 

Conclusion

 

Adam Duvall hasn’t particularly changed over his big league career, posting low on-base totals with immense power and above-average defensive ability. But within that profile now comes the ability to drive teammates with runners in scoring position as well as pulling the ball with greater authority. With those added traits, Duvall has cast himself a wide net and should be a sought-after name at the trade deadline despite flying under the radar.

Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Jai Correa

Jai Correa is an alumnus of UMass Amherst. He is incredibly passionate about the Red Sox, Indian cricket and economics.

4 responses to “Adam Duvall: An Underrated Trade Deadline Target”

  1. vr says:

    Is driving in runs and being clutch a skill now? I could see why a fly ball power hitter might uniquely excel but is there any data to support that this is a sustainable skill?

    • Jai Correa says:

      Hi vr, thanks for reading!

      I’m not sure if being a good hitter by driving in runs is necessarily a skill since it requires having a good number of plate appearances in those spots to drive in runs, but it’s still desired by teams looking to make a playoff push. And for a Miami team that’s sitting fourth-worst in runs scored this season and with NL RBI leader Aguilar on his team, it should be noted as an impressive feat (though since Duvall’s generally struggled with RISP so I would say that this is a career year). Furthermore, the fact that his real and expected numbers with RISP are within the same ballpark, tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised if this continues through the end of the season.

      Now, in the article, I referenced his ability to keep the ball off the ground, not only to show that Duvall has the ability to apply himself at the plate despite what his poor plate discipline metrics might dictate at first glance, but as a potential explanation for why his numbers have improved to his career-best figures — which leads us to your second question. Duvall’s generally kept the ball off the ground — generally north of 50%, but this year is a career-high — but it hasn’t necessarily translated to success (this should mostly come from just hitting the ball better when in the air, particularly the home runs, though it’s hard to really pinpoint what it might exactly be), implying that the success isn’t sustainable in his case. It could be for other hitters, but league-wide I think it would be hard to claim. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth a look for further study!

      Hope that helps answer your questions.

  2. Jordan Ohlone says:

    You think my Giants could be a good landing spot?

    • Jai Correa says:

      Hi Jordan Ohlone, thanks for reading!

      The Giants seem pretty settled in the outfield — offensively and defensively — so I can’t imagine they’d go after someone like Duvall. They’re probably looking for more pitching now (probably bullpen depth but maybe a closer too?), especially now that Brandon Crawford is back and the Wade/Ruf platoon has been great at first, solidifying the offense.

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