Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
According to a report from Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals and Danny Duffy have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.425 million deal for the 2015 season. That figure is $50,000 above the mid-point between the two sides’ submitted numbers, though still less than the $2.6 million MLB Trade Rumors projected.
Duffy is coming off of a breakout season in which he had a 2.53 ERA in 149.1 innings, in his first full year after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2012. He started the year in Triple-A, joined the big league bullpen shortly after, then entered the rotation in May and never looked back. There were moments of uncertainty regarding his health, most notably in late May when his velocity briefly disappeared, and again in September when he left a game after throwing 1 pitch. Duffy also was sparingly used in the playoffs due to a rib injury.
Despite those issues, Duffy at times looked like the Royals’ best starter. He carried a perfect game into the 7th inning against the Orioles, struck out 9 in 7 shutout innings against the White Sox in June, and delivered 6 masterful innings against the Indians in mid-September, when the Royals needed to maintain their playoff position. While he did struggle with command at times, Duffy was much better at limiting walks (3.2 per 9), and that allowed him to get deeper into games for the first time in his career.
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His strikeouts were a bit lower last season, down to 6.8 per 9, although he was able to get a ton of nearly-automatic outs by way of the popup. Opponents had an infield fly ball rate of 14.1% against Duffy, which was the third-highest rate in baseball among pitchers with at least 140 innings. He made a habit of generating weak contact regularly, allowing plenty of fly balls to fall into the gloves of the spectacular Royals outfield.
Possessing one of the game’s best fastballs allowed Duffy to be even more aggressive against hitters, throwing first-pitch strikes more than 59% of the time, by far the best rate of his career. Not many left-handed starters throw as hard as Duffy, so he used that unique skill to confound everyone, particularly lefty hitters. Same-sided opponents had a .185 wOBA against Duffy, which was the lowest mark for any starter in baseball not named Chris Sale. Duffy dominated lefties even more than Clayton Kershaw.
Duffy has always been an emotional pitcher, and prior to 2014, that seemed to work against him, but he was able to channel that energy into his pitching, in part thanks to the mentorship of James Shields, who Duffy has credited on numerous occasions. With Shields now out of Kansas City, Duffy will need to take those lessons with him to carry his success into the future.
As I mentioned not long ago, the Royals could consider locking up Duffy to a long-term deal, and this agreement wouldn’t exclude that as a possibility. He loves the organization, and I’m sure the organization loves him right back, so a multi-year pact would make some sense. Even if they don’t get something like that done, Duffy is still signed to a very affordable salary, and he’ll be in Kansas City for another three years.
With this deal done, the Royals have just three arbitration cases remaining: Kelvin Herrera, Eric Hosmer, and Greg Holland. Herrera’s should be easy enough to settle, but Hosmer and Holland could threaten to break Dayton Moore’s arbitration-free record, considering how much money is at stake. We don’t yet know when hearings are scheduled, but all of them will be complete by no later than February 21.