Well, Hello There, Adam Duvall

If you hit 10 home runs in 15 games for an awful, last-place team, will anyone notice? What if you hit 10 home runs in 15 games after entering the season with just eight major-league homers to your name — will anyone notice then? These are the questions Adam Duvall is asking the baseball world right now. While spending his first season as a major-league regular in the relative baseball obscurity that is 2016 Cincinnati, the 27-year-old Duvall is suddenly begging the baseball world to take notice. Well, we see you, Adam, and we want to get to know you better.

Power has always been the key component to Duvall’s game. He has 130 career minor-league home runs, most of which came during his time with the Giants organization. In June 2014, during Duvall’s major-league debut, he homered off Reds pitcher Mike Leake. Just over a year later, the Reds traded Leake to the Giants and in return received none other than Adam Duvall in return. As a September call-up for Cincinnati last fall, Duvall made an early case for the 2016 everyday left-field job, recording five home runs in just 72 plate appearances. This spring, he officially won the job over guys like Jake Cave, Scott Schebler, and Kyle Waldrop. So far, it sure looks like the Reds made the right decision.

Duvall’s current hot streak is part of a larger season-long trend of tremendous power-hitting — historically tremendous power-hitting, even. Of his 50 hits this season, 31 have been of the extra-base variety — 17 home runs and 14 doubles – which gives Duvall a 62.0% extra-base hit rate. In the modern era (since 1901), only two players have posted a higher XBH/H% over a full season: 2010 Jose Bautista (62.2%) and, naturally, 2001 Barry Bonds (68.6%).

But if you need a reminder that we’re still in the small-sample weirdness part of the season — despite the fact that Memorial Day has already come and gone — check out the top-10 all-time extra-base per hit rates, with 2016 included:

Best XBH/H% Seasons (since 1901)
Year Player XBH%
2001 Barry Bonds 68.59%
2016 David Ortiz 65.15%
2010 Jose Bautista 62.16%
2016 Adam Duvall 62.00%
2009 Carlos Pena 61.68%
1999 Mark McGwire 60.00%
2016 Chris Carter 60.00%
1998 Mark McGwire 59.87%
1995 Albert Belle 59.54%
2016 Corey Dickerson 59.38%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Duvall’s current rate is among the highest of all-time and it’s not even the best rate this season — that honor belongs to the age-defying David Ortiz. However, judging by that table, we’re either currently in the middle of four of the top ten seasons by this (admittedly arbitrary) metric or Ortiz, Duvall, Chris Carter, and Corey Dickerson are going to start hitting some singles this summer, sooner or later.

This stretch of 10 homers in 15 days has quickly moved Duvall to the top of the more traditional power leaderboards, as well. He now has 17 homers on the season, which is fourth in the majors. His .351 ISO, meanwhile, is second only to David Ortiz’s positively obscene mark of .392. We’re more than a third of the way through the season and Adam Duvall has performed unequivocally like one of the best power hitters in the game. Adam Duvall! Given his age and resume that’s absolutely outstanding; Duvall and Reds fans alike should enjoy the heck out of it. But we stated up front that we’re here to get to know Duvall and that means getting to know his flaws in addition to the strengths and, as you may have guessed by the relative anonymity Duvall enjoys, his flaws are very real.

For starters, he has the 14th-lowest walk rate in the majors at 3.6%. Power and walk rate often go hand in hand due to the fear a power hitter can strike into a pitcher, but Duvall is a free-swinger. His 40.2% O-Swing rate is the sixth highest among 176 qualified hitters this season, and when a batter regularly turns balls into strikes by swinging at them, it becomes that much harder to work a walk. His free-swinging ways have also contributed to difficulties with another key plate-discipline metric: his 29.6% strikeout-rate is 11th worst in the majors.

Despite his underwhelming plate discipline, Duvall still boasts an impressive 140 wRC+ on the strength of his gaudy power numbers. I was curious how many other players in the majors have been able to pair an extremely low walk rate with an above average wRC+, so I pulled a list of players with a walk rate below 5% and a wRC+ above 130:

Low-Walk, High-wRC+ Players
Name Team PA BB% AVG OBP wRC+
Daniel Murphy Nationals 231 4.8% .379 .416 176
Eduardo Nunez Twins 200 3.0% .337 .364 146
Adam Duvall Reds 196 3.6% .270 .303 140
Aledmys Diaz Cardinals 211 4.7% .321 .351 134
Starling Marte Pirates 233 3.0% .321 .365 132
Qualified hitters with BB% < 5% and wRC+ > 130

As it turns out, Duvall is one of just five members of this bizarre 5%/130 club. In true Sesame Street fashion, one of these things is not like the others and it’s Adam Duvall that doesn’t belong. His batting average is 51 points lower than his closest club member and his on-base percentage is 48 points lower. He’s not taking free passes; he’s not posting a high average or on-base percentage; consequently, virtually the entirety of his value at the plate is being derived from his ability to hit for power.

If I relaxed the criteria on our low-walk, high-wRC+ group slightly, it would result in the addition of a player who might serve as the best active model for the type of major leaguer Duvall is becoming, and that’s the 2016 major-league home-run leader, Mark Trumbo. Trumbo currently sports a 6.6% walk rate, which is beautifully in line with his 6.5% career rate. His .295 batting average is a bit higher than Duvall’s, but over his career, Trumbo is a more comparable .253 hitter. But the skill which has made Trumbo a major leaguer for more than a half-decade now is his undeniable power. He’s recorded 151 career home runs and a .293 career ISO.

Like Trumbo, Adam Duvall is a power hitter and little else. (On the baseball field, that is; I’m sure he has plenty to offer the world as a human being.) He doesn’t add value on the basepaths. Advanced defensive metrics do rate his defense well, but as a left fielder playing next to the fastest man in a major-league uniform, there’s only so much value to add there. But he also just hit 10 home runs in 15days. Until Jesse Winker is ready to make his major-league debut, the Reds have outfield innings that need filling and as long as Duvall keeps producing extra-base hits at a prolific rate, he’s going to get playing time. Now we’ll just have to keep paying attention.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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7 years ago

His defense is more important than you suggest. He has 8 DRS, that’s tied for 6th among ALL outfielders.

The Giants don’t make too many stupid short-sighted trades in the middle of the season for the stretch run. Duvall was one of them.

Barney Coolio
7 years ago

Yeah, he also ranks first in LF putouts in the NL despite ranking 6th in innings played.
I am paying attention because I want Melvin Upton Jr. to be named a finalist for the GG award in LF.

I don’t believe that the gold gloves should be separated by outfield position since so few players play LF full time, but it leads to some interesting situations where guys become finalists despite partial seasons due to trade or injury (2015 Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon). Or transplants from other positions (2016 Melvin Upton Jr. and Adam Duvall).

7 years ago

I was going to say, I remember watching him early in the season before the offensive break-out (this was against my Cubs) and he seemed to make great play after great play. That’s the one thing that stuck out to me was Cincinnati had this nameless dude who played some awesome defense. I mean he no-doubt robbed hits multiple times that series.