Last season was a series of ups and downs for the Kansas City Royals, eventually culminating in their second World Series title. Players like Mike Moustakas exceeded expectations, while others disappointed. One of those players who did not live up to expectations was Danny Duffy.
Duffy was expected to, along with Vordano Ventura, take that step forward and help lead the rotation last year. It was certainly understandable as to why that would be the case, as Duffy posted a 2.53 ERA and a 1.112 WHiP last season, striking out 133 batters in 149.1 innings. This season, Duffy regressed, posting a 4.08 ERA and a 1.390 WHiP, losing his spot in the rotation at the end of the season.
Duffy’s performance in 2015, while disappointing, was not outside the norm for his performance as a starter. Overall, as a starting pitcher, Duffy has posted a 3.90 ERA and a 1.380 WHiP, walking 184 batters against 329 strikeouts in 426.2 innings of work. As a reliever, however, Duffy has had greater success, posting a 1.08 ERA and a 0.840 WHiP, with 23 strikeouts and five walks in 16.2 innings.
Obviously, when looking at Danny Duffy as a reliever, it is a small sample size. However, this increase in command, as well as his strikeout rate almost doubling from 6.9 K/9 to 12.4 K/9 is certainly remarkable. But is this enough for the Kansas City Royals to look at moving Duffy to the bullpen on a permanent basis?
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Given the numerous holes the Royals are looking to plug, that change may be worth it. Duffy, while he has had his moments as a starter, appears more comfortable in that relief role. His ability to attack opposing batters, the key to his success in 2014, comes through as a reliever. Perhaps it is a matter of comfort, or not having to conserve pitches, but Duffy just looks better coming out of the bullpen.
It may be that the Kansas City Royals think so as well. While Danny Duffy is currently listed as the third starter, he is also listed as the fourth reliever on the Royals depth chart. Considering the contracts that are expected to be handed out to relievers this offseason, and the openings that the Royals have in the bullpen, Duffy may find himself replicating the move made by Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis.
Duffy still deserves a chance to prove that he can remain in the starting rotation. His 2014 season, where he was one of the better starters in the American League despite his record, showed the promise that Duffy has. It is not difficult to imagine that he could get back to that level if he went back to attacking the zone and trusting his stuff.
That has been the main issue with Duffy throughout his time in the majors. He has had a tendency to get inside his own head, doubting his ability to get batters out. There have been times where he will give up a couple of hits, and then the floodgates open as he becomes tentative on the mound. These issues, however, have not been as prevalent on those occasions where Duffy has come in as a reliever.
The Kansas City Royals have had a great deal of success with bringing in lower cost free agents to fill out the rotation. Both Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte are getting close to major league ready. At some point, the Royals will need to find a spot for both young hurlers. Should Danny Duffy continue his inconsistent performance in the starting rotation, it will be time to see how he performs as a full time reliever.