Rethinking My Ranking of Danny Duffy

On Wednesday, I released my Way Too Early Rankings for starting pitchers. It’s by far the hardest position to rank this early in the offseason because there’s just soooo much information to incorporate. Part of this exercise was designed to have you call me out when I made a glaring mistake. I may have done so with Danny Duffy.

I don’t often do this – let’s play a little Player A and Player B. Both are left-handed pitchers of almost exactly the same age. One is 28 years and 33 days old. The other is 27 years and 353 days old.

2015 Stats
Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
Player A 67 7.52 3.90 3.90 4.31
Player B 136.2 6.72 3.49 4.08 4.43

At least for fantasy purposes, they weren’t useful in 2015. One of them was mediocre for twice as many innings as the other. Big deal.

2016 Stats
Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
Player A 121 8.70 1.79 3.79 2.80
Player B 179.2 9.42 2.10 3.51 3.83

Same players, YUGE steps forward in 2016. The innings increased. Strikeout rates were buffed. Walk rates withered. ERA and FIP improved along the way. Player B, of course, is Duffy. Player A is James Paxton.

And here’s why this is a thing. I ranked Paxton 38th. There are plenty of reasons to be bullish about Paxton. He’s still youngish – Jake Arrieta became an ace at age 28. Paxton’s fastball zipped to 97 mph and his command surged with it. There are some red flags in the discrepancy between ERA and FIP. Let’s sweep that under the rug for now. The number one reason to worry about Paxton is durability. Even in a breakout season, he only worked 121 innings.

Duffy shares many of the same traits. His velocity and command also took a step forward, albeit at a smaller scale. He has the same youngishness. I ranked Duffy 73rd. That’s…well…I’m going to call it an “inconsistent application of process.” (Yeah, that’s a euphemism for “dumb”)

Here’s one more chart.

2017 Steamer Projection
Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
Paxton 180 8.50 2.69 3.45 3.49
Duffy 197 8.54 2.79 3.69 3.89

Duffy’s expected to throw a few more innings. Paxton is expected to be slightly better at run prevention. They’re projected to be damn near identical.

This raises many questions with respect to my divergent rankings. They mostly boil down to this: was I too bullish with Paxton, too bearish with Duffy, or both? And once we answer that, where do they actually belong on the big board?

Where these two pitchers differ is in batted ball profile. Duffy is a fly ball pitcher who typically posts high infield fly rates to offset an elevated home run rate. Last season, he allowed a career worst 36.6 percent hard hit rate. He’s usually around 30 percent hard hits. We can probably expect some modest regression/improvement in 2017. His .291 BABIP may also decline by a few hits. Duffy was particularly good with runners on base last year. That may not be repeatable.

Steamer believes the command improvements and strikeouts are mostly real. I happen to agree with Steamer, although I initially saw a lot of what I call downside volatility. We usually think of volatility as a two-sided thing. We may agree that 3.51 ERA Duffy is a volatile player moving forward. If it’s two-sided, he can be expected to post anything from a 2.75 ERA to a 4.75 ERA. If we think of the 3.51 ERA as closer to the best case scenario, then he’s much less attractive as a fantasy asset.

For what it’s worth, I considered Paxton to have two-sided volatility. He also had trouble with hard contact (33 percent hard hit rate), but his 48 percent ground ball rate puts a cap on the home run damage. That’s why FIP loved him so much – he only allowed 0.67 HR/9.

Upon further reflection, I’ve determined I was too pessimistic about Duffy’s upside. Massage the batted ball data in just the right way, sequence with a little luck, and a sub-3.00 ERA smells plausible. I still (barely) prefer Paxton because of the ground ball profile. I also worry Duffy will be traded to a less pitcher friendly home park.

I’m going to leave Paxton right where his is at 38th – sandwiched between Julio Teheran and Aaron Nola. I’m bumping Duffy up to 40th, wedged between Nola’s maybe-injured arm and Matt Shoemaker’s inconsistent split-finger.





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Anonymous
5 years ago

Thanks, Brad! Can we do Jameson Taillon next? The Auction Calculator’s choices for SP2 are very bold right now.

(Joining Taillon in the Top 30 are Michael Pineda, Robbie Ray and Lance McCullers)

Jeff Zimmermanmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Used the values for each in an industry auction last night. I think all 3 have too high of IP projections for my taste.

Also, I just looked at Ray and Pineda yesterday and feel their inability to throw a breaking ball for strikes will allow them to get hit around.