Baseball is a numbers game. Players and fans obsess about traditional stats like ERA and batting average. While sabermetricians pay more attention to advanced metrics like OPS and WAR.
For a handful of baseball players, like former MLB All-Star Adam Duvall, there is a different number that they obsess about – and that number is legitimately about life or death. This number is his blood sugar level.
Duvall was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes while playing Minor League Baseball with the Giants organization in 2012.
While it is estimated that 40,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year, and there are over 1.25 million people in America dealing with the disease, a career of being a professional baseball player while battling the disease comes with some special struggles.
“In baseball, you run across a lot of different variations,” Duvall said. “Such as, flying East Coast to West Coast, the time differences, different eating times, late nights, early mornings. There are just different things that the average diabetic might not have to deal with. There was a lot to grasp there for the first couple of years. It is still a learning process.”
In the history of baseball, there is a pretty impressive list of players who have been diagnosed with the disease. According to Integrated Diabetes Services, Ty Cobb, Catfish Hunter, Ted Kluszewski, Jackie Robinson, and Ron Santo were all battled diabetes as well.
While it has been widely reported in the past that Duvall battles diabetes, he is now in a new and more challenging stage as he is a Minor League player again.
“There are long bus rides,” Duvall said. “You have to be prepared as far as to have stuff to raise your blood sugar, in case you go low, insulin. There are different needs with the Minor League lifestyle. It does make it a little tougher, but I feel like I have had some years to adjust and be prepared for anything. It is just about preparation.”
While he has had years of learning about managing his blood sugar, while trying to hit a baseball as hard as he can, Duvall said that he had some help from the Giants training staff and coaches in the beginning. He said that the process also included a lot of research and classes to learn as much as he could. At the same time, he did not have the benefit of working with an actual diabetic in the clubhouse to relate to.
While playing with the Reds in 2017, this changed for Duvall. The Reds took Stuart Turner in the first round of the Rule Five Draft. Turner not only shared the clubhouse for that season with Duvall, he also shared the same disease.
“There are not a lot of (diabetics) floating around,” Duvall said. “I talked to (Turner) and we talked about different scenarios, as far as when the blood sugar would spike and when it would go low. We would kind of laugh when we were going low because you would start to feel it, like ‘man, I’ve got to get some sugar.’ We would compare our numbers and stuff. He was a catcher too, so that adds a whole different perspective there.”
Not only did Duvall get to act as a mentor in a way to Turner at the big league level, he also takes pride in working with youth who share the same battle that he does. He knows that as a former All-Star and Home Run Derby participant, he has a platform and spotlight that not a great deal of other people are able to enjoy. With this, Duvall called it a “cool” opportunity to get to meet kids and explain how he was able to overcome and show them that anything is possible and the diagnosis is not the end of their dreams.
One of the biggest challenges for Duvall throughout his career is keeping on weight with the long grind of a Major League season. He said that the biggest thing that he tries to do is to keep his levels normal, as a combination of sweating during the hot summer months and a blood sugar level that is out of whack can contribute to weight loss.
Unfortunately, with Duvall losing weight, this may contribute to his power numbers going down each month as the season goes along in the past. Statistically, his career OPS drops from .799 in the first half of the season to .674 in the second half. Additionally, Duvall’s highest career OPS month is May with .868. This steadily drops each month to .648 in September/October.
This said, Duvall was still one of the more feared power hitters in the game from 2016-18, as he popped 79 home runs over that span. This is just 40 away from the 119 that Nelson Cruz hit for the most over the same period of time and 31 short of J.D. Martinez. Either way, this is impressive, seeing as Duvall only hit 15 last season. He also already has 28 home runs for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2019 in just 324 at bats. This includes an .890 OPS in July through the 17th.
Duvall was optioned to the Minor Leagues by the Braves after a disastrous Spring Training in 2019. However, he has started the season hot with Gwinnett and has not shown any drop off as the temperatures have warmed up this season. He mashed eight home runs in April and seven more in May. With this success, Duvall is making a case to either be called up to Atlanta or traded to another big league team where he has a track record of power success. Either way, Duvall should soon likely be a big leaguer again.