In spring training in 2010, Danny Duffy left baseball.
Just over a year later, he was making his major league debut against the Rangers.
In 2011, Duffy had control issues that made his rookie season look lackluster. In 105.1 innings, he walked 51 batters. He gave up more than 10 H/9 and 1.4 HR/9. With a WHIP of 1.614 and those other rates, it’s no wonder his ERA was a disturbing 5.64.
Duffy has been a highly ranked prospect in the Royals system since he was drafted – but how does his 2011 performance affect his standing going forward?
Here’s the good news: Duffy’s FIP and xFIP figured out to 4.82 and 4.53 respectively. That’s more palatable for a then-22-year-old rookie (Duffy turned 23 earlier in the week). Batters hit .329 when putting the ball in play and he gave up less ground balls than he typically did in the minors.
Duffy throws a fastball that can hit 96 or 97 mph at times but usually sits around 94 and he also has a sharp curveball and a changeup to supplement the fastball. That arsenal allowed him to strike out 10.5 batters per nine innings in the minors.
The bad news is that Duffy fell behind batters often last year, throwing a first pitch strikes only 51.9% of the time (league average was 59.4%) and he nibbled. Thus, his walks increased as did his pitch counts. He averaged just over five innings per start. That’s an area for improvement. He’s only going to become a front-line starter by getting deep into games and keeping batters off base.
At times, he would pitch around batters at the bottom of the order. As a whole, he performed better against the 6th through 9th spots in the order, as one would hope, but still walked the ninth batter almost once every fifth time through the order (8 walks in 43 plate appearances). The top of the order did damage against Duffy, with every spot from 1-5 producing a .863 OPS or higher. Interestingly, those spots in the lineup hit .341 or better on balls in play.
I’m not sure what that means. Maybe Duffy gets behind to the better hitters and has to come back with something hittable and they do just that. The bottom of the order, composed of weaker hitters, don’t hit as hard or take advantage of a hittable pitch in the same way. The better hitters are more likely to hit line drives, which are much more likely to drop as hits.
Duffy still has the stuff to be a big-time starter. He showed frustration at times on the mound, both with himself and with umpires. Locking down his composure should be a goal for 2012. As it is, he’s saying the right things, and he isn’t lacking for confidence in his stuff. In an interview with Adam Holt of MLB.com, Duffy said “It’s definitely nice to just out-stuff people, but once I learn how to place a ball where I want to, it’s going to be scary.”
At times in 2012, Duffy would make adjustments in games, using his changeup more often when he didn’t have the feel for the curveball. If he continues to develop that feel for the game and improves his command, he could be a surprise starter for the Royals. Right now, the Royals seem set with their rotation. Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez are locks, while Duffy and Felipe Paulino are nearly so. Everett Teaford, Aaron Crow and others may get a chance to win a rotation spot, but Duffy has the advantage to stick. There’s only an outside chance that he ends up back in Triple A, though the Royals may manipulate his service time by keeping him in Omaha for the first part of the year.