Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Thus far in our series on the Royals’ contract extension candidates, I’ve covered Kelvin Herrera (here), Lorenzo Cain (here), and Yordano Ventura (here). The next man on deck is a hard-throwing lefty from California who’s coming off a terrific season. If that description isn’t enough of a clue, you’ve already seen the title of the article. It’s Danny Duffy.
Among all pitchers with at least 140 innings pitched in 2014, only 5 guys had a better ERA- than Duffy’s 66. Those pitchers were Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Johnny Cueto, and Jon Lester. You’ve probably heard of those guys. Duffy’s run prevention was incredible last year, as we finally saw the results many were expecting when he was a top prospect before the 2011 season.
Of course, things didn’t always look so promising. Duffy’s rookie year resulted in a 5.64 ERA over 105.1 innings, and 15 dingers allowed in 20 starts. He followed that up with a solid start to 2012, with a 3.90 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in his first 6 starts. Granted, he had also walked 18 batters in those 27.2 innings, but those baserunners weren’t scoring as frequently.
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Unfortunately, Duffy’s elbow didn’t want to cooperate, and he had to undergo Tommy John surgery. When he returned at the end of the 2013 season, the results were great, even if he still walked too many batters. That of course led to 2014, when he began the season in the minors, joined the big league bullpen early on, then moved to the rotation to take Bruce Chen‘s place, and never looked back.
Duffy’s strikeouts took a hit last year, all the way down to 6.8 per 9 innings, but he also significantly cut down on his walks, so his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved. Allowing more balls in play can be a dangerous strategy, but Duffy’s fastball-heavy, fly ball-inducing arsenal generated plenty of weak contact, and pitching in front of the Royals defense in Kauffman Stadium took care of the rest.
There are some indications Duffy could regress next season, partly because his peripherals suggest it, and partly because a 66 ERA- is extremely difficult to duplicate. Like, it’s really, ridiculously hard to do.
Even accounting for that regression, Duffy still has a strong case to receive a contract extension. He just turned 26 years old, is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, and is obviously talented. Lefties with mid-90s fastballs don’t grow on trees. After his breakout season, he is expected to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.6 million for 2015.
Using all that information, let’s build an offer for Duffy.
In July of 2011, the Cardinals gave Jaime Garcia a four-year, $27 million extension that also featured a pair of team options valued at $11.5 million and $12 million, respectively. Garcia has never possessed the kind of heat Duffy has, but there are plenty of other similarities.
Like Duffy, Garcia went under the knife for Tommy John, and looked very impressive in his return. Garcia was 25 – a year younger than Duffy – at the time he signed his extension, although the 2012 season would have been his first year of arbitration eligibility. Statistically, the two pitchers were quite similar to this point in their careers.
Garcia: 296.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Duffy: 306.2 IP, 3.67 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 4 BB/9
Garcia’s numbers are a bit better, but it’s not a massive gap, particularly once you account for the league differences. I think Duffy has a higher ceiling than Garcia had, but objectively, they are close enough to draw this comparison. Here are the payouts for Garcia’s deal:
The Cardinals bought out all three years of arbitration, and the first year of free agency. I wouldn’t be opposed to a five-year pact for Duffy, but with his injury history, it might be best to stick to four years guaranteed. Duffy won’t be starting at as high of a point as Garcia, but on his current path, he should be able to make up that difference through arbitration and free agency, so let’s give him a slight bump there.
That’s $27 million over four years, but of course you’d like to see a couple of options at the end, maybe valued at $12.5 million and $13 million, with $1 million buyouts on each one, which brings the total guarantee to $28 million.
There are some other comparisons the Royals could use in extending this offer, but those comps don’t work quite as well as Garcia.
Jon Niese signed a five-year, $25.27 million deal before 2012, and his peripherals weren’t far off from Duffy’s, but his ERA was worse, and he was still pre-arbitration. Jose Quintana was also pre-arbitration when he signed a five-year, $21 million deal last winter, and he’s been better than Duffy. Derek Holland got five years and $28.5 million from the Rangers before 2012, and while his production was worse than Duffy’s, Holland didn’t have the injury history.
Duffy’s kind of an interesting case, and Garcia’s contract seems to be the best fit.
The Royals would certainly be assuming some risk by giving Duffy this kind of deal, because he does have an injury history, and if he allows a bit more hard contact, his effectiveness can be drastically impacted. However, there are also tons of benefits, not the least of which is having a potential frontline-caliber starter at a $7 million average annual value.
I’m speculating here, but I think Duffy would be extremely open to an extension with the Royals. During his recovery, he famously tweeted “#BuryMeARoyal,” which is something that would probably be brushed aside if it were someone other than Duffy saying it. Everything I’ve heard suggests he legitimately loves the organization and the fans, and that he genuinely enjoys being in Kansas City.
Getting $28 million dollars probably wouldn’t hurt, either.
Duffy would be leaving some money on the table by signing an extension, but I’m guessing having the security and stability would be very important to him. Plus, if the options are picked up, he would still enter free agency as a 32-year old, with an opportunity to sign a deal when there will be even more money in the sport.
The Royals received a tremendous year of production from Duffy in 2014, and now that he’s entering arbitration, his salaries could be getting expensive soon. There is a risk of injury and/or regression, but considering his talent level, the benefits of a contract extension should easily outweigh the risk. A deal like the one above would provide plenty of value, without limiting the team’s financial flexibility in the next several years.