Okay, so the title may be a bit misleading for all of you that clicked hoping to get some sort of in-depth break down on the Pitch F/X of Danny Duffy’s curveball (for that, you’ll need to go here) but there will be none of that here. Sorry.
Since the Royals traded Zack Greinke there’s been a hole at the top of the rotation that is in sincere need to be filled. It’s much of the reason that the team and fans alike spent this offseason with their sights site on acquiring, in any way possible, a “front line” starter to both take the pressure of the rest of the rotation, and the bullpen.
But with the guy currently sitting at the top of the 5-man being so enigmatic and inconsistent, there’s an opening for that one pitcher that can give a dominating performance and beat an opposing team on his own. And, do so more than once every five or six starts.
This void isn’t unique throughout the game, however. Much of baseball is looking for that true “ace” starter, even though there are probably only 10 of them in the whole game. But, even though teams are able to slug their way to championships, having those few elite level starters with swing-and-miss stuff is the first real step to considering a team a true contender.
The Royals have had trouble finding those guys for much of the past decade or more. Greinke was one (9 fWAR pitchers, no matter what you think of the guy, don’t grow on trees) and Kevin Appier was another, but who have the other elite starters been?
In the first offseason of the Dayton Moore era Gil Meche was signed – possibly overpaid – because there was a need for the type of pitcher that could take over games. Free agency lends itself to overpaying for any player, especially pitchers, so the Royals took a chance on a guy that could do just that: take over games.
Whether you think the money given to Meche was a good decision or not, there is no arguing that, when healthly, the Greinke and Meche combo was a pretty darned good one; there was always a chance that they would deliver a performance that could silence the opposing offense.
Now, at this point, the Royals don’t really have that.
Felipe Paulino would seem to have the most potential to fill the role for the 2012 season, but a career spent underachieving despite quality peripheral numbers leaves (still) a lot more question marks about his future production. He may have the most potential to fill that role in the coming season, but he’s probably not the surest bet.
Hochevar is the guy at the top that threw an 80-pitch complete game, and had a 13-strikeout complete game at one time, but now he seems more the type to pencil in for a given 4 runs allowed or more each night, and less like the guy that accomplished either of those two feats.
That leaves Danny Duffy as the only other contender for the starting rotation with either the talent (sorry Bruce Chen fans) or the repertoire (sorry Aaron Crow fans) or the experience (sorry Mike Montgomery fans) to have the legitimate chance of being that guy.
Now, I love me some Danny Duffy. While writing for another website a couple of years ago, I was blasted for sticking up for him when he decided to leave baseball. There’s always been a part of him (and in some ways Zack Greinke) that I thought I could identify with. And let’s be honest, having those sorts of personal connections is what being a fan is all about.
So, I may be just a tad bias in my assessment of Duffy and his prospects for the coming season and beyond, but let’s not all forget what the new #23 has that sets him apart from the other pitchers in the Royals rotation for the coming year: his curveball.
Too much of the Royals rotation is made up of “pitch-to-contact” guys – a completely flawed strategy – with not a lot of swing-and-miss capability aside from Paulino and Jonathan Sanchez. But the problem with either one of those two is an incredibly high BABIP for Paulino (.340 for his career) and a lack of command for Sanchez that greatly diminishes his overall value.
With Duffy’s combination of peak mid-90s fastball and curveball from the left side, his ceiling for 2012 is greater than any other pitcher currently slated for the rotation. And even though he had trouble early in games last season because of some control issues, turning him loose and allowing him to find his way with his stuff is still a better method of development than putting the reigns on him and having him focus on getting contact to “use his defense”.
Royals fans should hope the same development steps that were taken to lessen the effectiveness of Hochevar’s stuff aren’t taken to do the same to Duffy’s. He may not ever be a true No.1 starter in the major leagues, but for the 2012 Royals, he does of the potential to be just that.