Duda and Walker: Tale of Two Returns From Back Injury
Last year, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker suffered significant back injuries that caused them to miss significant time. Duda missed a total of 107 games due to a fracture in his lower back. With the Mets in a postseason push, and with James Loney being James Loney, he came back in September and wasn’t the same hitter.
For his part, Walker was having a good year and a hot August when he was shut down. That happens when you complain of not being able to feel your lower extremities during games. With Walker needing season ending back surgery, his last game of the season was August 27th.
Despite both players having back injuries, the Mets not only brought both players back, but they also planned on him being significant contributors to the 2017 Mets. This meant the Mets brought back Duda despite his being an arbitration eligible player, and the Mets gave Walker the $17.2 qualifying offer, which he accepted. While their respective paths back to the Mets this season are similar, their play this season has been disparate.
In 11 games this season, Duda is hitting .256/.356/.615 with four homers and seven RBI. This is not too far off his career averages of .246/.343/.452. Since becoming the everyday first baseman in 2014, Duda is a .246/.345/.478 hitter. The long story short is Duda is getting on base like he has in his career. While he’s slugging at a much higher clip that we can reasonably expect, Duda has inspired confidence that his 30 home run power is back. Overall, Duda has done just that. He has given everyone confidence that he is the same player he was before the back surgery.
Walker has had a different return from his back injury. In 12 games so far, Walker is hitting .239/.333/.304 with three doubles and three RBI. The problem is Walker has done his damage almost exclusively from the right-hand side of the plate. As a right-handed batter, Walker is hitting .389/.450/.556 with all three of his extra base hits. From the left-hand side of the plate, he is hitting just .143/.265/.143. Essentially, Walker is playing like Wilmer Flores right now except with much better defense. The question is whether this is the back or the continuation of something we saw happen with Walker last year.
Now, it is was too soon to say Walker is shot or is the new Flores. Walker’s play in the field should give every indication he is not limited by the back surgery. Hopefully, this means Walker should return to his career norms sooner rather than later. If that is the case, the Mets lineup will get a major boost.
Still, the question needs to be asked whether Walker will return to form. His inability to hit left-handed is alarming, especially when you consider he hits left-handed much more than he hits right-handed. To be fair, there are still questions about Duda. Will his back will permit him to continue to put up these numbers? We don’t know, nor can we be confident until we see a much larger sample size from both, and perhaps not even then.
Ultimately, the hope is Duda is back and Walker will improve. If that is the case, the Mets lineup will be even more dangerous, and the Mets will be in position to win the National League East once again. If it isn’t, the Mets will be stuck in limbo deciding when to move on from these players and to call up Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario, or even Gavin Cecchini. These situations rarely pan out well. That is why it is so imperative the Mets gamble on both Duda and Walker pays off.