I’ve become pretty fond of Adam Duvall. He seems like a decent fella, you know? He grew up in Louisville and went to U of L. Midwestern folks always have a soft spot for local kids, especially in Cincinnati. Scooter Gennett gives y’all high fives, by the way.
I think what I like best about him is how unique a type of ballplayer he is. He is a two-tool guy, but with the unlikely combination of defense and power. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of anyone else in the league that fits that profile as dramatically as he does. But I’ve also only taken about four seconds to think about that. Maybe there are a few catchers or third basemen, but it sure seems really unique for a left fielder. He is leading the league in outfield assists (15) and is currently tenth in home runs (31). He is also one handsome son of a bitch, which ain’t nothin’.
However, as unlikely a profile as he has as a player, it looks more and more likely that he isn’t going to dramatically improve at any of the other areas. Make no mistake, though. He is still a solid and valuable player worthy of playing time. Hell, he’s not just worthy of playing time, but I think he could be a good role player on a contending team (if the Reds start doing that any time soon). He’s not just good for a losing team, he is actual pretty good.
His consistent pretty-goodness is kinda striking. He is wrapping up his second full season as the starting left fielder for the Reds. He has over 1200 PAs in those two years. In those PAs, he has posted a .297 OBP. That was his season OBP in 2016 and it is the same in 2017. That’s remarkably consistent. And it isn’t just his OBP that is consistent - his SLG has hovered between .475 and .500 and his batting average between .240 and .250. I think it is pretty safe to say that at age 29 (his birthday was earlier this month), we know who he is and we should be pretty cool with him.
But he poses a difficult question for the Reds. As the rebuild progresses and they look to start solidifying their core to compete in 2018-19, they have to decide if he is going to be a part of that core. And there are a number of unfolding truths that are making that more and more complicated.
Firstly, there is the presence of younger outfielders in Phil Ervin and Jesse Winker. You can add 26-year-olds Billy Hamilton and Scott Schebler to that list, as well. I am of a mind that the Reds have enough playing time to go around for four outfielders, especially given the positional flexibility of all of them (every one of them can at least handle center field in a pinch, aside from probably Winker). But that’s going to leave an odd man out. And there is plenty of reason to think that Duvall could be the odd man.
I don’t think they need to take action on this just yet - Ervin would probably benefit from starting next season in AAA and roster depth is never a bad thing. But sometime fairly soon the Reds will have to shit or get off the pot, as the proverb goes. And the obvious move to make is a trade. Duvall would be an attractive target for a number of teams if the Reds were to make him available this winter or next July.
But I think the best solution to this roster crunch is the less obvious one. Let’s take a closer look at Duvall’s numbers. While he has been remarkably consistent over the last two years, there are some interesting conclusions to draw from his splits. His first-half numbers are All-Star caliber: .262/.302/.550 with 44 home runs. For the seasons’ second halves, he has hit a paltry .216/.286/.405 with 28 homers. When the Calendar flips to July, he regresses to a mere one-tool player.
I don’t know what’s causing the stark power outage, but this is a bloghole and I am happy to speculate. See, Duvall suffers from Type 1 diabetes. I hate to draw such a reductive conclusion given one mildly remarkable fact, but it isn’t unreasonable to think that his condition would really wear him down over a long, hot summer. I’m sure the Reds know this though, so I really don’t think I’m breaking any shocking news. It has happened two years in a row now at the major league level and if I could get a handle on his minor-league season splits I would guess you would see a similar pattern (does anyone know where one could find minor-league season splits like that?)
Anyway, given this, I think it might be a good idea to reduce his workload a bit to see if he could maintain that sexy .550 slugging percentage into September. And I think a good way of doing that would be to move him into a utility role, like a super-plus Patrick Kivlehan.
Listen: Duvall played third base almost his entire minor-league career with the Giants. The Reds stuck him in LF when he came over from San Francisco mostly because they had Todd Frazier strapped in there. And by the time Frazier was traded, Duvall had proved his worth in the outfield. At this point, I don’t think there is any reason to believe that he couldn’t spot-start or sub in at the hot corner on a regular basis and not embarrass himself. He is also a competent first baseman, but Joey Votto plays every damn day and is an even more handsome son of a bitch than Duvall is. So between left field, right field, and third base, I’m confident the Reds could get him 450 plate appearances over a full season. And if he isn’t playing every day, maybe he wouldn’t fade so badly as the season wears on. And his power could play up off the bench as well.
I think when such a roster crunch crops up like this, the initial inclination is to make a trade to try to help address weakness and thinness elsewhere on the team. But given the unique circumstances and Duvall’s unique strengths and weakness, I think it could be smart to try to more selectively deploy his talents. I think after he proved himself to be such a high-quality left fielder, the Reds didn’t see much use in his positional versatility. But given everything else, maybe they should take a look at it again.