Who is he?
Adam Duvall came to the Braves at the 2018 trade deadline from the Reds in exchange for Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler and Preston Tucker. Most of us gave the trade a big thumbs up at the time as we were unlikely to ever need any of the guys we gave up (they put up a combined -0.1 WAR this season, although Sims has a shot as a bullpen guy who gives up too many walks and homers) and Duvall had had a decent, if unexciting year in Cincinnati (he was a 2016 All-Star). Duvall promised to bring excellent corner outfield defense combined with good power even if his on-base skills were sub-optimal. The plan was to effectively platoon him with Ender with Acuna moving back and forth between left and center.
It didn’t work out, of course. Ender got into one of his second half tears while Duvall endured the worst 57 plate appearances of his career while putting up -0.5 WAR in the equivalent of 12 games. Given that he was arbitration eligible for the first time coming into 2019 most observers expected his release.
What about 2019?
Somewhat surprisingly, the team did offer arbitration and then settled on a $2.875M contract for 2019. The decision was made in Spring Training that Duvall was a player who would benefit from everyday at bats and so he began the year in Gwinnett with the expectation that when Matt Joyce had worn out his welcome, Adam would get the call. We all know what happened: a rejuvenated Joyce had a great year off the bench while Duvall toiled in obscurity 40 miles away. He put up a pretty good line — .266/.364/.602 with 32 homers — but EVERYBODY was hitting gobs of homers at AAA early in the season and without them Adam just doesn’t stand out — that’s a .184 batting average without the taters.
The big team suffered injuries and still Duvall stayed down as first Riley and then Rafael #!?#%^ Ortega got the nod. When he finally did get the call, Adam put in an incredible 1st week with 6 homers before cooling off and finishing the year with an 882 OPS. He managed a couple big knocks in the playoff series as well.
What about the future?
Adam is now 30 and controlled by the Braves in arbitration for 3 more years. This year’s bill will likely come in around $4M which is reasonable for a part timer/platoon guy. ZIPS projects a slow decay of ability going forward and does not expect him to be a viable major league player after 2021. Personally, I think 2020 is likely his final season in the ATL… but…
But WHAT, Karl?
Duvall is one of the few MLB players to be type 1 diabetics. One of the trickier considerations for sufferers of this disease (and I should know!) is that it can make extreme physical effort problematical: too high sugar and your muscles are already full of lactic acid while too low and they won’t get enough energy to function properly. Apparently exposure to strong sunlight can also play a role with this (and Adam has very fair skin). Duvall’s career has always been a pattern of production while getting regular playing time — and an utterly predictable schedule — and spotty performance when he does not. This pattern may well be related to his condition. If so it suggests that some extra value might still be waiting to be unlocked in Adam’s game with better control of his sugars. I certainly hope so.