In many ways, as a Royals fan, I feel like I have been hard on starting pitcher Danny Duffy this season. Maybe it was the shellacking he received on Opening Day against the White Sox that has stuck with me for these first few months of baseball. Or maybe it’s the fact that Duffy hasn’t turned into the “savior” ace that we hoped he would be ever since he was drafted in the third round by the Royals in 2007. (Tall, big, hard-throwing lefties can generate that kind of fervor; remember, the Natural?) For whatever reason, Duffy’s reputation as a Royals starting pitcher seems to be more synonymous with words such as “inconsistent” and “frustrating” rather than “successful” or “star”.
But we need to give Duffy some credit: he has been the Royals’ best pitcher this year in the first half. Period. No doubt about it.
Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy seem to be on their way out of Kansas City, as Hammel has been regulated to the bullpen, and Kennedy can’t seem to stay off the disabled list. (It will be interesting to see what the Royals do with Kennedy; while Hammel will be a free agent after this year, Kennedy still has two years and nearly $33 million owed to him left on his deal). Jake Junis, who looked like the Royals’ lone bright spot in the rotation at the start, has fallen off a cliff, as he has developed a propensity for giving up the long ball the last couple of months before he too found himself on the DL. And youngsters Erik Skoglund and Trevor Oaks didn’t offer too impressive outings either before they eventually made their way off the Royals’ active rosters (Skoglund to the 60-day DL and Oaks being optioned back to Omaha). For the most part in 2018, the Royals’ rotation has been a revolving door of mediocrity and lacklusterness.
(I could go into more starting pitchers, like Brad Keller and Nathan Karns, but what’s the point? A whole lot of “cups of coffee” and spot starts that won’t have much impact on the rotation going forward, so I figured not to waste the word count.)
Duffy, on the other hand, has been the closest to “dependable” of the Royals’ starting pitchers this year, even though the stats may not look like it at first.
For the year, Duffy’s peripheral numbers don’t look great. In 20 starts and a 113.2 IP thus far, he’s 5-8 with a 4.59 ERA, 4.98 FIP, a K-BB ratio of 1.94, a HR/FB rate of 12.7 percent, and a GB/FB rate of 0.77. For those who don’t know what those numbers mean, I can break it down into bullet points:
- His FIP is higher than his ERA, meaning that he’s been worse or luckier than his ERA suggests, though not overwhelmingly so. His BABIP (.290) and strand rate (76.5 percent), are pretty league average, hence demonstrating not much of a difference between ERA and FIP.
- The K-BB ratio is below league average, as typically average is 2. It usually means that he struggled with command, as Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ typically quantifies K-BB ratio as a sign of command.
- He’s giving up the long ball a decent amount, though batter typically hit more fly balls off of him than groundballs (as evidenced by the GB/FB ratio being under 1). Granted, Duffy is the kind of pitcher who will induce more fly balls than ground balls due to his repertoire (fastball-heavy pitchers will do so; while sinker, less fastball-reliant pitchers will induce more groundballs, but have fewer strikeouts). But he is giving up the long ball more in comparison to last year, where his HR/FB rate was only 7.6 percent in 2017.
So, Duffy has been okay, serviceable, which is probably good enough considering the Royals’ starting pitching woes this year. But there has been an interesting pattern and trend to Duffy’s starts this year:
Duffy has been pretty good on the road, and horrendous at Kauffman Stadium.
On the road, Duffy has shown reasons why the Royals’ gave him a five-year $65-million extension in 2017. In 13 starts and 76.1 IP, Duffy has a 5-4 record, a 3.54 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and hitters only hitting .238 against him. His advanced numbers are even more impressive, as his K/9 is over 1 better on the road than at home (8.49 to 7.47 at home), his K-BB ratio is better (2.06 to 1.72), he is posting a better FIP (4.58 to 5.79) and he is inducing more groundballs (37.1 to 28.3 percent) and less hard hit balls as well (36.5 to 41.3 percent).
In Kauffman, Duffy has looked like a pitcher at a home run derby. In other stadiums, however, Duffy has been a lot more effective and consistent, worthy of a top spot in the rotation in a Major League rotation (though he isn’t a lockdown ace by any means; even his road numbers, such as the WHIP, could use some improvement).
I mean, Duffy has an ERA of 6.75, a WHIP of 1.63, a 0-4 record, and an HR/FB ratio of 1.93 in supposedly a “pitcher’s park” in Kauffman stadium. Should Duffy just not pitch anymore in Kansas City? Is he unable to handle the pressure of being the ace in front of the hometown fans?
While I think his starts at Kauffman are startling, it may be too early to make any conclusions. On the other hand, though, there are a couple of statistical trends that point to Duffy making an improvement, and that he can carry that development to not just his starts on the road for the rest of the year, but also in Kauffman Stadium as well.
Duffy hasn’t pitched a lot at home, and when he has, it’s been against REALLY GOOD competition
The sample size of Duffy’s starts at home is small. He’s only made 7 starts and pitched 37.1 IP in Kansas City. He has almost double of the number of starts (13) and innings (76.1) on the road, so his lackluster performance at Kauffman may just be a result of a small sample size. Also, if you take a look at who he’s pitched against, it hasn’t been the easiest of competition:
- White Sox (2 starts, 1 loss, 1 no-decision, 10 ER, 10 IP)
- Mariners (No-decision, 5.1 IP, 1 ER, 7 K’s)
- Yankees (Loss, 4.0 IP, 5 ER, 2 HR)
- Twins (No-decision, 6 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 1 ER)
- Astros (Loss, 7 H, 6 ER, 3 BB)
- Indians (Loss, 6 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB)
As you can see, that stretch of starts is brutal. The Astros are the defending champs and look to be in the running again. The Yankees have one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball. The Indians are atop of the AL Central, and the Mariners look to be a playoff favorite as well (though most likely in the Wild Card). The only bad teams he faced were the Twins (who are more mediocre than bad; and he actually didn’t pitch badly against them) and the White Sox, who have looked like a playoff team at Kauffman this year, and the worst team in baseball everywhere else.
So, in the second half, Duffy will not only get more starts at home but will also face some easier competition. And when that happens, it is likely that his splits at home will improve, and Royals fans will get to appreciate Duffy’s solid starts in person rather than just on television.
Duffy has been pitching well the past couple of months
In June and July, Duffy has started to find his groove, as he has begun to strike out more batters and walk less. In June, he increased his K/9 to 8.70 from 7.09 in May, and he decreased his walk rate slightly from 4.64 to 4.50. In July, those gains were even more pronounced, as his strikeout rate increased to 9.47 and his walk rate decreased to 3.32, which put his FIP at 2.98 for the month of July.
And not only are the K’s up and walks down, but he displayed better command overall, resulting in batters not making good contact against him in July. Hitters only made hard contact 27.3 percent of the time against him in July, down from 42.2 percent in June. His GB/FB was 0.77, down from 1.56 the previous month, and he had a K-BB ratio of 2.86, which was his best ratio overall in the first half.
Yes, a majority of Duffy’s July starts came on the road (2 out of 3), but it’s obvious that Duffy is turning it around as a starter, which should be encouraging for the Royals as they enter the second half of the season. It’s definitely plausible that if he can continue this strong approach, he’ll be successful in the second half, whether it’s home or away.
What should the Royals expect from Duffy?
Duffy is far from perfect, and though comparatively, he’s strong for a Royals pitcher, he’s still pretty average in comparison to other pitchers in the league. He still struggles with runners on and in scoring positions, as his FIP in those situations are 5.39 and 6.40, respectively, and his K-BB ratio is 1.48 and 1.29 in those situations, respectively as well. If Duffy wants to really experience any lasting success (whether this year or beyond), he really has to learn to pitch better in the stretch.
At the same time, the trend for Duffy is a positive one, which should provide some glimmering hope for Royals fans in a season that has been pretty devoid of hope overall (other than the draft and signing prospects). The Royals are pretty all-in on Duffy as their “ace” going forward and Duffy will get the opportunities going forward (and with so much left on his deal, it’s pretty safe to say he’s going to be on the Royals for a good while as well). It’s been nice to see Duffy rebound after a rough start to the year, and at the very least, stay healthy, which is something he has struggled with over the past few seasons.
It’s been a good July for Duffy, and on the road overall, Duffy has been serviceable to somewhat masterful on occasion. As you will see in the video below, his win against Chicago last night was maybe his best of the year, sweet redemption for his awful opening day start against the White Sox.
Duffy is on the right track. Now it’s time for him in the second half to impress the Kauffman faithful, and not just Royals fans visiting opposing stadiums.