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What’s going on with Matt Duffy?

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Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Much has been acknowledged of the slump rookie Rays third baseman Jake Bauers has suffered at the plate since the All-Star break. Continuously hitting third for the Rays, Bauers has a paltry .591 OPS in the second half. This is not totally unexpected for a 22-year old to have some lumps as he tried to get back in the swing of things.

Matt Duffy is another story.

Duffy has been cemented as the number two hitter on the Tampa Bay Rays, but the near 28-year old has an even more ghastly .485 OPS in the second half. His performance has, quite literally, fallen off a cliff:

Since Duffy returned to form at the plate in mid season, he has begun swinging less often and as such has seen both his walk and (more dramatically) his strikeout rates increase accordingly.

Fundamentally, I don’t see a significant change in his process in the chart above, nor do I see one in his spray chart (28.8% pull rate in the first half, 28.2% in the second half) or hard hit rates (31.1% in the first half, 23.1% in the second half), and yet the results haven’t been there.

Part of Duffy’s struggles can be sourced to a .011 ISO in the second half and a stiff drop in BABIP from a .375 to .244; league average is a .162 ISO and .296 BABIP. For opposing teams Duffy’s become nothing more than an annoying ad: A bunch of singles, near you.

But they’re not even hot singles. Utilizing the metrics available from Statcast, we see Matt Duffy ranks in the bottom 8% for Hard Hits (26.9% on the season) and bottom 4% in their statistic Barrels (1.5% on the season — exactly 5).

That last stat isn’t everything; Dee Gordon has zero barrels and he’s a fine major league player (particularly at second base), but Gordon is better valued for his speed and defense and bats ninth. Duffy in 2018 has graded somewhere between poorly and neutral on defense and is batting where teams put their best hitter, but his zone is cold as ice.

But a comparison to Dee Gordon begs an interesting question: What is Matt Duffy?

Pre-injury Duffy was one of the baseball’s elite infield defenders, one whose defense could carry an average-to-below bat (not much unlike Gordon), and Duffy was likewise acquired to man a premium position (in this case short stop, in Gordon’s center field) for a team that puts defense first.

Since the multiple heel surgeries, though, it’s an open question as to what Matt Duffy will be on both sides of the ball. For a while the new Matt Duffy was hitting exceptionally well, with the team’s social media accounts lobbying an All-Star vote on the strength of his offense in the first half, but that’s no longer the case.

Yes, at the plate, Matt Duffy’s career has a history of peaks and valleys — particularly when it comes to ISO — but never before have his slumps been as extended as this:

Perhaps the Rays continue to bat Duffy second to remind him what he’s capable of and to keep his daily routine structured, but eventually a player whose best contribution is offense will need that offense to return.

With one extended hot streak in 2018, one extended cold streak, and very little to separate the process between them, the question then becomes: which one is the outlier? Matt Duffy’s line drive profile should help him run a high BABIP, but can we expect an average ISO from below-average exit velocity?

If and how Duffy recovers from this extended slump will be an important story line through the final six weeks of the season, particularly with all the depth the Rays have at second and third base within their system.