Lucas Duda lets his bat do the talking, and it's been loud this season

Lucas Duda of the Mets follows through on Lucas Duda of the Mets follows through on a fourth-inning home run against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

advertisement | advertise on newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. - If anybody kept track of such things, Lucas Duda would lead the National League in the fewest words spoken per nine innings.

After games in which he emerges as the star, he unfailingly shifts the focus toward teammates, treating questions like pitches to be fouled off and wasted. He downplays his success as the product of luck and often deflects attention by reaching for the nearest cliche.

"I'm just trying to help the team any way I can," Duda said recently, before stopping to poke fun at his own intentional blandness. "Vanilla, vanilla. You know it."

His words lack pop.

His bat does not.

At 6-4, 255 pounds -- and with an unruly beard covering his face -- the 28-year-old Duda always has looked the part of a hulking big-league slugger. This season, he has started to hit like one.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

He still has 34 games left to keep adding on, and Duda already has produced career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (69), making him the most valuable bat in the Mets' lineup.

Once handcuffed by his tendency toward passivity, and a perceived lack of confidence, Duda has blossomed into one of the most productive first basemen in baseball. He's also one of the game's best bargains, making only $1.6 million, while Fangraphs values his production at $12.9 million.

It almost wasn't this way.

Twice, the Mets tried converting the plodding Duda into a passable corner outfielder. The experiment failed. By playing out of position, where he was prone to many more defensive mistakes, Duda often felt compelled to make up for his shortcomings at the plate.

This, too, proved counterproductive.

When the Mets traded Ike Davis to the Pirates on April 18, it cleared the path for Duda to play regularly at first base.

"That just raises him a level right there, knowing he's going to be in there every day," hitting coach Lamar Johnson said. "That's the kind of thing that gives him extra confidence."

Gone are the days when Duda arrived at the park and could only guess whether he'd be in the starting lineup.

"You get a few hits here, get a few hits there, and you kind of build up and it snowballs," Duda said. "Your overall confidence grows. I think it's just playing every day, that's what I can equate it to, getting into that rhythm."

The Mets based part of their decision on Duda's elite ability to make solid contact, a useful gauge of power potential.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The numbers aren't publicly available. However, Duda's average batted-ball speed this season is 82.7 mph, according to Sportvision and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. That's well above the league average of 77 mph and ranks 14th among all players -- within the top 10 percent.

Among National League first basemen, Duda ranks third.

Not that he enjoys talking about it.

"That's my style," said Duda, whose quiet voice is often drowned out by teammates. "But that's the thing. It's a humbling sport, man. It's gonna bite you in the butt if you think you've figured out a swing or whatever. That's always in the back of my mind."

Although Duda isn't above cracking a few jokes -- one teammate said he even has been known to break out into song on bus rides -- his general silence fits his personality. It also doubles as a convenient defense mechanism.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"It's worked out well so far, but baseball is a very humbling sport," Duda said. "It might not work well two weeks from now or whatever. People could be saying 'You guys were idiotic to make that move, and he's hitting a buck twenty now. What's the deal?'

"So it's a humbling thing. You've got to stay even-keeled," Duda added. "That's kind of why I shut up and do my work."

Subscribe to Newsday’s sports newsletter for stories, photos and videos about your favorite New York teams plus national sports news and events.

You also may be interested in: