Kansas City Royals Danny Duffy Still Role Searching

Aug 30, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (41) looks on from the dugout during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 30, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy (41) looks on from the dugout during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Danny Duffy is a rare left-hander with elite velocity who hasn’t found consistent success. Could a role change help him?

As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, starting with the rotation.

So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, and Chris Young.

Today, we will be looking at Danny Duffy.

All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball

"2015 stats – 7-8, 4.08 ERA, 102 SO, 53 BB, 1.39 WHIP, 4.43 FIP2016 Steamer – 7-7, 3.90 ERA, 90 SO, 44 BB, 1.33 WHIP, 4.46 FIP"

Projected Role – Bottom of the rotation starter/long reliever/high leverage reliever (upside)

2015 Results 

The biggest disappointment from the 2015 regular season was the regression of the rotation, specifically the regressions of both Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy, after the departure of James Shields.

For Ventura, it was more of a speed bump. He dealt with injuries, drama, as well as struggling to consistently find his arm slot. However, Ventura eventually leveled out his arm slot and after his demotion, went on to dominate the last third of his season.

Duffy’s story was a little different. He was also coming off a career year, in which only three AL pitchers had a better ERA than Duffy, in spite of the fact that his strikeout numbers continued their progressive decline.

Much of his success can be linked back to a dominate fastball, which he threw over 65% of the time, and an improved curveball. Up until this point, Duffy had been virtually a one-pitch pitcher, and although it was just a fringe average pitch, it was enough to keep hitters off-balance.

However, the story for 2015 was much different. Even with a semi-reputable second pitch, Duffy wasn’t missing bats.

Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece on Kelvin Herrera last year, about his elite velocity not translating into strikeouts. Duffy could be categorized in that same boat.

Although his 94 MPH average fastball doesn’t jump off the radar gun, it should still get more swing and misses coming from a left-hander.

In 2015, Duffy’s 94 MPH fastball ranked as the 23 highest among pitchers with at least 130 IP.

Of the 22 above him, only David Price and Chris Sale were left-handers, and both of them also sat at 94 MPH.

I’ll compare Duffy’s fastball to Price’s, for the sake of similarity. Price’s fastball is, for the most part, straight, but explicitly fast for a left-hander.

Duffy’s could be categorized as the same, with a max velocity of 98 MPH.

However, Price got swings and misses on 28% of his fastballs, while Duffy only registered just over 15% as a starter in 2915.

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Obviously, there is a key distinction to be made. Danny Duffy is not David Price. There is a reason beyond velocity that Price draws so many whiffs. However, the point still remains.

Duffy should at least be seeing some sort of bump in swings and misses with that type of velocity.

I will also point out that this is largely a corporate thing. Sabermetrics (and sabermetric lovers like myself) love the strikeout.

The Royals have proven that they don’t really care about the strikeout, because when hitters hit the ball, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, or Alcides Escobar catch it.

In 2015, the Royals were 25th in K/9, despite having elite arm talents like Yordano Ventura, Duffy, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and even Edinson Volquez.

So part of the lack of strikeouts is the lack of emphasis on the strikeout. Rather, that the Royals aren’t in dire need of the strikeout.

However, when Duffy shifted to the bullpen, we began to see those strikeouts.

In just 8.1 innings out of the bullpen in 2015, we saw a drastic shift in Duffy’s strikeout numbers, striking out 13 batters per nine innings compared to just six batters in his starts.

He also saw his already elite left-handed average velocity jump even more out of the bullpen, from 94 MPH to 96 MPH.

2016 Outlook

Duffy’s value as a starting pitcher is much lower than it was at this time last year.

With Shields out the door, Volquez still being a question mark, and Ventura being just a 23-year-old sophomore, the Kansas City Royals went into 2015 needing Duffy to be a productive starting pitcher.

Going into 2016, Ventura is coming off a hot final third of the season, with all indications of being a true number one. Volquez has been consistent for two straight seasons, and has the stuff of legends at times.

Behind the clear 1-2 punch is a log-jam of Chris Young, the Royals best starter from 2015, Ian Kennedy, and Kris Medlen.

I don’t doubt that Duffy will get a look at the rotation, but the Royals lack of an effective left-handed reliever paired with Duffy’s burst of strong history out of the bullpen, his value may be higher when he’s in relief. However, that value will depend strongly on his ability to strike out hitters.

The Royals have proven much more interested in getting innings from their starters than strikeouts. However, the bullpen has been a place where the strikeout has been more prevalent, despite some drop offs by Herrera and Davis in 2015.

He may be, however, behind the eight-ball in the bullpen if he can’t strike hitters out. The Royals already have Luke Hochevar, Joakim Soria, Herrera, and Davis ready in the bullpen.

If Duffy wants to see high leverage innings, and not garbage time innings, he’ll have to prove that value over a larger sample size.

Again, Duffy may just be behind the eight-ball because the Royals don’t really have a pressing need to give Duffy those innings. There is also still the chance that he will be looked at as a starter.

However, the bullpen is in the market for an effective left-hander and in his 18 innings as a reliever over the past two seasons, postseason included, Duffy is striking out just over 12 batters per nine innings.

This obviously lacks sample size, but a bump in strikeouts could continue over a large sample size, given that his fastball velocity jumps significantly out of the pen.

Next: Chris Young Is Still Unhittable

The Royals have a lot of roles to settle and Duffy could wind up in any number of those roles.

I do think that the Royals will get the most value out of him if he is allowed to come out of the bullpen, and if they have the opportunity to use him in that function, they should jump all over it.

Best case scenario, he becomes just another mediocre Royals starter to find his niche in the bullpen.

It wouldn’t be the first time.