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What to make of Chris Duncan?

How many of us saw the emergence of Chris Duncan this season? With the constant rotation of #2 hitters in the lineup which included the likes of Juan Encarnacion, So Taguchi and John Rodriguez, Chris Duncan was a stabilizing force hitting in front of Pujols upon his call up in July, and played well enough to be considered a viable NL ROY candidate. If this year didn't yield such a bumper crop of great young talent, Duncan may have been able to win the ROY without a contest. Some have gone so far as to make comparisons with last season's ROY and current MVP candidate Ryan Howard. Sounds absurd, but when you consider the numbers they are not that far off from one another.

  • Duncan '06: 90 games, 280 AB, 22 HR, 43 RBI, .293/.363/.589 Age 25
  • Howard '05: 88 games, 312 AB, 22 HR, 63 RBI, .288/.356/.567 Age 25.

Dunc was arguably every bit as good at the plate as the previous Rookie of the Year. But while scouts and statheads alike are not completely suprised at Ryan Howard, they are suprised with Chris Duncan. Howard has long been regarded as a B+/A- prospect, while Dunc hovered around C/C- grade his entire minor league career. Should Duncan be considered for real? Here's a quick comparison of Howard and Duncan peripherals-

Career Minor league:

  • Duncan: ISO: .148, K%: 25%, BB%: 10%, BB/K: .45 1 HR in every 34 AB.
  • Howard ISO .248, K% 31.5% , BB% 12%, BB/K .42, 1 HR in every 17 AB.

Career MLB:

  • Duncan ISO .300, K% 25%, BB% 9.3%, BB/K .40, 1 HR in every 12.6 AB.
  • Howard ISO .320, K% 31%, BB% 13%, BB/K .48, 1 HR in every 11.3 AB.

Ok, so I'm sure most of us know Dunc ain't turning into Ryan Howard anytime soon, but it's interesting that both players have carried over the same peripherals as far as plate discipline is concerned, and both saw boosts in their power since getting called up. That's not unusual to see that sort increase in power production in players their age and size, but Duncan's power took an alarming and unusual jump forward. Howard had hit 46 HR's between AA and AAA in '04, Dunc hit more homeruns in half a season in the Show then he ever did in a full minor league season.

Okay, so for the few crazies that hoped Dunc would start smashing 50+ HR's next season towards an MVP bid, keep dreaming. So who does Dunc more closely compare with? John Sickels recently did a prospect retro on Dunc and pointed out the more accurate comparison is possibly Brian Daubach. You know, the Brian Daubach who had a few decent years in Boston and is more recently known by Cardinal fans as a 34 year old Memphis Redbird.

Daubach's career minor league peripherals:

  • ISO .183, K% 24%, BB% 12.8%, BB/K .60, 1 HR every 27 AB.

That's pretty close to Dunc. And their "break-through" major league debuts?

  • Chris Duncan, 2006: 280 at-bats, 22 homers, .293/.363/.589, 30 walks, 69 strikeouts
  • Brian Daubach, 1999: 381 at-bats, 21 homers, .294/.360/.562, 36 walks, 92 strikeouts

The difference is Daubach was 27 then, Dunc was 25, so there's more room for growth. I sure hope he continues to mature, as Daubach posted just 3 seasons of above league average OPS and has been toiling in the minors ever since. But nothing I've seen suggests that Dunc is a .296 hitter. His peripherals suggest he'll hit around league average or worse. His plate discipline is a bit above average, and while his power has always been one of his better tools, it's hard to imagine he's gonna hit 35-40 HRs a year considering his minor league track record.

With youth still on his side, who knows what he can become? It's entirely possible he can be a solid everyday regular or a little better then that. But with all this in mind, I don't see a huge problem with the Cards' joining in the Alfonso Soriano sweepstakes, or kicking tires on the Carlos Lees of the world. Both those players have their red flags attached to them, and I'm not saying the Cards should sign either of them. But I'm just not sold yet that Chris Duncan is the everyday answer in left field. It's more of a "we'll see, I hope so" proposition for now. So I don't see any problems with the Cardinals continuing to seek that "big bat" we read Jocketty talking about. It'll have to be a left fielder or a 2nd baseman. And unless you consider Ray Durham a big bat, it will be an outfielder, and I hope they don't consider that to be the currently rumored Luis Gonzalez. I have no problem with the team giving Gonzo an inexpensive 1 year deal, LaRussa is great at spotting role players. But Gonzo's big bat days are over.