Are You Ready to get Duffed?

Duffy ranked 36th on Zach Sanders’ rankings of starting pitchers.

Danny Duffy is one interesting case. His injury history is exclusively ailments of his left arm. Well that, and a lower leg cramp that cost him no time in June of 2012. Seriously, check out his injury history.

The Duff Man was a top prospect between the 2010 and 2011 seasons, finishing in the top-100 prospects for both Baseballs Prospectus and America. Duffy’s minor league numbers were legendary; he fanned 15.2 per 9 in a short Rookie ball stint and at least a guy an inning up the ladder save for a brief stint with Wilmington at High-A.

But like the lady in the postseason ads that burrowed into your brain says: then left arm dysfunction happens. In 2010 Duffy had a UCL sprain that cost him over 100 days. Inflammation in the same hinge cropped up in 2012, and just under two weeks after returning he was sidelined with what ended up requiring him Tommy John surgery.

Considering how much time that cost Duffy developmentally — virtually all of 2012 and a fair chunk of 2013 — that he was able to bounce back and make 31 appearances, let alone 25 starts, for the big club in 2014 is nothing short of sensational.

Duffy was solid on the surface for the Royals, with a 2.53 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. The 3.2 BB/9 is a bit high, but still well below his career rate. Among all pitchers who threw at least 140 innings in 2014 — Duffy threw 149.1 — Danny’s average four-seamer velocity of 93.2 mph tied him for 20th overall. Only David Price threw harder among lefties.

And obviously velocity isn’t everything, though for some pitchers it’s the only thing. Duffy has always thrown hard, but he also spins a pretty good curveball (.165/.241/.194 opponents’ line in 2014) and has a changeup that at times can be pretty good.

So it’s a little strange that Duffy only fanned 6.8 per 9 in 2014. With his stuff there seems to be some improvement potential there — which he may need.

One thing you might not know about Duffy was that among pitchers who threw 140 innings, he was No. 9 in batting average against at .206. That’s nine full points ahead of No. 10 — Francisco Liriano — and ahead of such stalwarts as Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and Adam Wainwright. Duffy was tough on righties (.230/.301/.369), but absolute death to lefties (.137/.225/.161). For some context, Duffy allowed a .185 wOBA to left-handed hitters. The only starter better? Chris Sale at .183.

Overall Duffy allowed an opponents’ line of .209/.284/.322, which on the surface is pretty sick. But it doesn’t really jive with his 6.8 K/9, at least until you consider that the left-hander was likely one of the biggest beneficiaries of a fantastic Royals defense.

Duffy’s BABIP was .239, and with a 35.8 percent groundball rate it’s no surprise that he took full advantage of one of the finest defensive outfields we have seen in recent memory.

Here’s some context as to how good the Royals outfield was in 2014:

On fly balls, Royals pitchers allowed a .549 OPS, and a .075 BABIP
On line drives, Royals pitchers allowed a 1.576 OPS, and a .633 BABIP

On fly balls, American League pitchers allowed a .595 OPS, and a .084 BABIP
On line drives, American League pitchers allowed a 1.660 OPS and a .645 BABIP

That kind of defense can clean up a lot of batted balls. That’s a defense that is mostly intact, though Alex Rios in right field is most certainly a step down from Nori Aoki. It’ll be interesting to monitor just how much time Jarrod Dyson siphons away from Rios, especially in the late innings. Oddly, that’s when the staff has more strikeout guys, considering the bulk of this rotation is Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas — not exactly a who’s who of strikeout pitchers.

But nevertheless, it would seem Duffy will need to find those hidden strikeouts with his solid stuff to see much improvement. Duffy can improve simply by throwing more innings in his second full season back from surgery. But a repeat on the 2.53 ERA? Don’t bet on it. A repeat on 36th overall value? I’ll take the under, by a little bit.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rational Fan
7 years ago

Sale threw harder than Price and Duffy last year – not sure if we’re not counting Sale because he technically doesn’t throw a 4 seem fastball, but his velocity was better than both Price and Duffy last year as a left hander.

I’m a big fan of Duffy – I always thought walks would be the thing to derail his career, if anything at all. Hopefully, the injuries are a thing of the past for Duffy, and he is building up his durability with each and every start.

His curveball, while effective last year, didn’t have the same bite it had on it prior to his injury. I would imagine that’s something to be expected though.