The Royals find themselves in the enviable position of having several young starters on the cusp of making an impact upon the major league roster. Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura have already reached the majors, with Kyle Zimmer expected to join them by the middle of 2015 at the latest. However, despite Duffy’s youth, there may be more concerns about his being able to develop into a top of the rotation starter then there are with Ventura or Zimmer.
The potential issues with Duffy come down to more than his injury concerns. He has not displayed an ability to pitch deep into games, which may partially be due to the Royals protecting his arm last season. The other potential issue, which could tie into his inability to pitch deep into games, has been his lack of control at the major league level. As detailed over at Royals Review, Duffy has the second highest walk rate of any pitcher under the age of 25 with between 100 and 200 innings at the major league level since 1990. His 11.6% walk rate, which accounts for intentional walks being removed, is quite simply too high for Duffy to be an effective major league starter.
Perhaps Danny Duffy would be better suited for the bullpen. The only player listed above Duffy on the list, Eric Gagne, completely reinvented himself as a closer, saving 84 consecutive games at one point and winning a Cy Young award. Of course, his PED use may have helped to contribute to his sudden competence in the majors, but Gagne’s turnaround began once he went to the bullpen. During the height of his dominance from 2002 until he injured his knee and arm in 2006, Gagne had lowered his walk rate from 12.7% to 5.3%.
It is possible that a similar turnaround could happen for Duffy if he was to transition into a role as a reliever. The Royals have already had other starters that have failed in Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis succeed in relief roles. Unfortunately, if that is the route that the Royals eventually take with Duffy, there may not be much room for him there either, unless further trades are made. Or, perhaps another team looks at Duffy as a potential reliever, and he ends up being included in a trade package.
The 2014 season may be an important year for Danny Duffy’s future. With Ventura and Zimmer seemingly ready to claim their places in the starting rotation, Duffy will need to prove that he is capable to pitching deeper into games and that he can limit his walks. If he is unable to do so, then Duffy may find himself attempting to resurrect his career as a reliever. While that has worked for Hochevar, it would still be disappointing if Duffy is unable to become the starter that the Royals need, regardless of how well he performs in the bullpen.