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Mariano Duncan: Was he actually good?

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Mother’s Day heroics aside, just how valuable was the second baseman?

Mariano Duncan...
Mariano Duncan was not as good as you probably thought he was

Last time, I evaluated the career of Ricky Jordan to see if he was better (or worse) than most fans remember. This time, I’ll take a look at one of Jordan’s teammates from the 1993 team: Mariano Duncan.

I think most Phillies fans have positive memories of Mariano Duncan. He provided one of the defining moments from the 1993 pennant season when he delivered a go-ahead grand slam on Mothers’ Day.

Duncan is also remembered for being heavily featured on the team’s marketing materials for the 1994 season. When touting the NL Champs, you’d usually get a picture of the team’s most prominent stars: Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk, Darren Daulton; and inevitably, right beside them was Duncan.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Phillies organization had a bit of an image problem, in that people thought the team was too white. So they needed someone to break up the monotone, and likely thanks to his popularity due to the Mothers’ Day heroics, Duncan beat out Jordan, Ben Rivera, and Wes Chamberlain for the honor.

Duncan wasn’t just popular in Philadelphia, as he was voted to the starting lineup of the 1994 All-Star team. But looking at his statistics, it’s difficult to say that the honor was deserved. His overall offensive numbers were nothing special, and his on-base percentage was surprisingly low.

In the early 90’s, people didn’t worry much about on-base percentage as long as a player hit for a decent batting average. And to be sure, Duncan’s average over his four years with the Phillies was a respectable .272. But living in an age where such importance is placed on walks and on-base percentage, it seems strange to see a player as walk-adverse as Duncan was.

Hailing from the Dominican Republic, it isn’t surprising that Duncan seemed allergic to taking a walk. There’s a reason the saying “You don’t walk off the island” exists. But even among Latin players, Duncan’s lack of walks stands out. He holds a team record for lowest walk percentage among players with 1000+ at bats. (h/t to Schmenkman)

In 2020, there’s no way a player with a .304 OBP would have batted second in a lineup otherwise filled with high on-base percentage hitters. However, back in those days, there was an unwritten rule that if a middle infielder had a respectable batting average, he had to bat second.

Considering his low on-base percentage combined with only modest power (.403 slugging percentage in his four seasons with the team), you might have thought he was good defender. But even at the time he was considered a below average fielder, and stats show he might have been even worse than people thought. As a result, he was only worth 0.8 fWAR total in his four seasons in Philadelphia.

In hindsight, the team would have been better served using Mickey Morandini as the full-time second baseman, with Duncan being used as a sub. Over his career, he was actually a solid pinch hitter with a career .806 OPS in the role.

So despite what the yearbook covers and All-Star ballots would have you believe, Mariano Duncan was not actually a good player for the Phillies. But hey, we’ll always have Mother’s Day!