Is Danny Duffy Cy Young Material?

duffy

Danny Duffy.

That name was a swear word in my house in 2015.

When I would talk about him, I was sure to talk about walks, hit batsmen, and blown leads.

Something changed in 2016. Pitching coach Dave Eiland was quoted in the Kansas City Star on June 16 last season:

“I took away his curveball and slider and we just got him a harder breaking ball,” Eiland said. “For me, his curveball wasn’t a competitive pitch. I told him, ‘Let’s just put that in your back pocket for now. Why do you want to throw another (breaking ball) that’s not nearly as good and you may get hurt with? Just so you can tell people you’ve got two breaking balls?’”

This made a dramatic impact. The other big change was going exclusively from the stretch. Eiland’s rationale was by going from the stretch, there were fewer problems that could develop in his pitching motion; few mechanical difficulties.

It worked, and with big results. Duffy’s new confidence was a big piece of the reason KC was even in the argument at the end of the season.

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Duffy’s career stats. baseballreference.com

In 2016, Duffy went on an uncharacteristic eleven-game tear, highlighted by a sixteen strikeout performance on August 1st in Tampa Bay. His stuff, over those eleven games, was not always perfect.

It was effective.

Here’s a look at his lines from those eleven games:

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Duffy’s eleven game hotness. baseballreference.com

He had a couple rough starts where he still got the job done. Even against Detroit and Los Angeles, where he gave up the most runs over the stretch, he still managed to work deep into the game, going 6.1 and 6.0 respectively.

Prior to his eight inning outing against St. Louis on the 27th of June, his longest start of the season was 6.1.  During the eleven game stretch, he averaged seven innings per start, including a complete game, an eight and two-thirds inning game, and an eight inning outing.  The part not shown above was his pitch count. In the start leading up to the eleven game run, he threw 103 pitches in four innings. The very next start he threw 101 in eight. Much more efficient. Over the eleven games, he averaged 102 pitches. Not a very worrisome pitch count for someone going 7-8 innings, especially considering he averaged almost seven strikeouts over that stretch.

It’s only eleven games.

For three years, I listened to everyone talk and write about how Danny Duffy was this incredible talent. He’s the next thing, they said. He has amazing stuff. He can win 20 games. I’ve heard it all. But I didn’t see it. I’d sooner believe he would hit 20 batsmen in an outing than win 20 games.

Sure, there were flashes of brilliance. And maybe the most brilliant part was Eiland moving him strictly to the stretch.

This begs multiple questions. Is Duffy a long term starter? Is he an ace? Can he live up to his hype? Could Danny Duffy win a Cy Young?

I say yes, there is a decent chance Duffy could win a Cy Young.

  1. His stuff is stupid. Duffy has some disgusting stuff. I’ve listened to Denny Matthews talk about his disgusting stuff, I’ve watched on TV as his fastball and slider make fools of lefties, and I’ve been there in person to watch him break someone off with a nasty bender. Truly wretched stuff.
  2. He appears to be healthier. Duffy had Tommy John surgery in 2012. By all accounts, he is back to full strength. While some bicep tightness and rib issues have slowed him down, he was able to turn in 179.2 innings in 2016, in no small part influenced by his pitching efficiency.
  3. His mechanics have less parts. By moving entirely to the stretch, he can more consistently deliver the ball in the right slot. When the delivery is consistent, it takes a lot of the guessing game out of equation. (I still hope he hits a few batsmen for good measure.)
  4. His head seems to be in the right place. When he went on his tear, there was a pronounced difference – he came right after hitters. No more dancing around the plate. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t paint the black occasionally, but when you challenge hitters you make them play your game. He did this with great success in 2016. And his stuff more than made up for some lingering wildness.
  5. His head seems to be in the right place, part two. Listening to his interviews, and listening to his teammates, he’s out there to win. That’s an underrated skill.
  6.  He can get to the numbers. His ERA in 2016 was 3.51. His ERA was hampered by an early explosion of runs and a tapering off in September and October. And really, it boiled down in the later split to two really bad outings against Detroit, a team that can send nine righties to the plate. He had 188 strikeouts, which was one less than Rick Porcello this year and 18 more than Cliff Lee in 2008. He went 12-3 in 2016, and his team overall went 17-9 in his starts.  That’s more wins than Greinke in 2009 or Hernandez in 2010. At the 12-3 clip, with a full season of starts, it’s reasonable to assume he would have picked up five more wins and three more losses, bringing his record to 17-6, plus or minus two either way, which is better than Hernandez and Greinke. It’s also on par with CC Sabathia in 2007 and Johan Santana in 2006, and Pedro Martinez in 2000. Back to his ERA, it’s just a little higher than Pat Hentgen in 1996, right on par with Roger Clemens in 2001, and similar to Roy Halladay in 2003, Bartolo Colon in 2005, Sabathia, and Porcello. All of them were over 3.o0.
  7. He has a top defense. Depending on who does the ranking, the Royals are definitely in the top half of all teams in overall defense, and in some cases cracked the top ten. No small feat considering the loss of Ben Zobrist leading to a platoon at second base, the loss of their starting centerfielder and third baseman for big chunks of the season, and the loss a gold glove catcher for a portion of the campaign. When the defense is in place the way it should be, it makes it a lot easier to win.
  8. He’s the right age. Most of the recent winners were in their late twenties, early thirties. Let’s call it the right amount of skill and wisdom. Late twenties seems to be when the skills and wisdom intersect at their peaks.
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Look at this fucking chart I made.
duffy-2016-splits
Duffy’s splits for 2016. baseballreference.com

That’s it. That’s what he has. Based on all the facts and stats, if Danny Duffy stays healthy, his defense stays relatively consistent, and more importantly, the eight things above hold true for 2017 and 2018, it is plausible he could win a Cy Young.

Regardless, I have become a Danny Duffy fan.  I went from sending the following text to my buddy:

“Fuck Danny Duffy that batsman hitting mother fucker. How about some more walks, god dammit I hate this season and I hate Danny “Twohitbatsmanfourwalksperouting” Duffy.”

– a text I sent

 

To sending the following text:

“Our lord and savior Daniel Duffy throws tomorrow. We got this.”

– another text I sent later in the season

Have I been a fickle fan? Also plausible. But I am a for real fan now. Danny, if you read this, get yours. You’re a hell of a player and a stand up guy, and we love watching you pitch.

I can’t wait for 2017!

Stat Notes: I use Baseball Reference pretty much exclusively when looking for baseball stats, and I suggest you do the same. I linked to them several times above. Go check it out, you can get lost on that site for hours, but it isn’t time wasted. 

 

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