Danny Duffy has, between promotions, demotions and injuries, made 31 major league starts in his career: essentially one full season. The lefty has struck people out, walked too many, been tantalizingly dynamic and maddeningly inconsistent. If those 31 starts totaling 157 innings of work had all come in one season, all of that likely would have been chalked up to 'being a rookie' and have us looking for a big second year out of Danny.
As it is, that workload has been sprinkled over three seasons, with a Tommy John surgery in the midst of it all and, while most expect Duffy to take a spot in the rotation in 2014, the doubts about what he will be in that role are many and well warranted.
While it may may flawed logic (go ahead, call it a leap of faith), but if one wants to consider 2014 Duffy's 'second' season, I thought it might be of interest to see what some other starters accomplished in their second major league season.
For the comparison, I looked only at the last twenty seasons and only in the American League. I selected only pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (i.e. were full-time or nearly full-time starters) and had the search (thanks Baseball Reference) sorted by ERA+.
Not surprisingly, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma were in the top ten of this sort. Obviously, those pitchers' 'second' season is hardly apples to apples. Given that this may not be an 'apples to apples' comparison to begin with, we will leave those three out.
Top of the list of those remaining was Justin Thompson of Detroit back in 1997. Thompson missed all of 1994 with an injury, pitched in the minors in 1995 and then made 11 starts for the Tigers in 1996. During that season, Justin gave up 7 home runs in 59 innings and walked almost five batters per nine frames on his way to 4.58 ERA. In season number two, Thompson made 32 starts, threw 223 innings on his way to 152 ERA+ (3.02 ERA). He threw 222 innings (4.05 ERA) the next year and 143 the following (5.11 ERA) and that was basically his career.
With an ERA+ of 148 in his second season, Roberto Hernandez/Fausto Carmona was second on our list. In his rookie campaign, the pitcher made 31 relief appearances and 7 starts to the tune of an ERA+ of 86. He was not good (5.42 ERA, 10.6 H/9), but returned in season two to start 32 games on his way to finishing 4th in the Cy Young balloting. That was back in 2007, Hernandez has had one decent season since.
Mark Buehrle was next. Like Hernandez, his rookie campaign was predominately spent in the bullpen, where he was not particularly effective. Mark threw over 200 innings in his second season and has done so in every season since.
Trevor Cahill's rookie season is interesting in that he made 32 starts, threw 178 innings to an 85 ERA+ (4.63 ERA). Danny Duffy, by the way, has an 87 ERA+ and 4.75 ERA in his first 31 starts. Cahill came back his second season with sub-three ERA and 138 ERA+ over 196 innings. He threw 200+ innings the following two seasons, but has been more average than great in that time frame.
John Danks is another guy that you can see some of Duffy in (if you squint right and drink enough). His rookie season saw him manage just 139 innings despite making 26 starts. The southpaw had an ERA+ of 86 and an ERA of 5.50. Starting with his sophomore season, Danks would throw 195 or more innings the next three years with ERA+ of 138, 124 and 115.
Technically, Aaron Sele comes next, but his second season was during the stupid strike year, so let's skip that and go to the next guy on the list: Andy Pettitte. As a rookie, Pettitte had an ERA+ of 111 and was generally pretty good from day one and hence is not much help in hoping that Duffy's 'first year' struggles turn into 'second year' success.
The colorful and rotund Bartolo Colon comes next, having put up an ERA+ of 128 in year two after a dismal 5.65 ERA and 83 ERA+ in 94 innings his rookie season. He is followed by Jeremy Hellickson, who started off great and has gotten progressively worse.
Now, the next guy is Mark Mulder. As a rookie, Mulder started 27 games, threw 154 innings, walked almost five per every nine innings pitches, gave up a ton of hits and ended up with a 5.44 ERA and 86 ERA+. In season two, he turned into MARK MULDER, throwing 229 innings with an ERA+ of 126. Mulder would go on to have four very good seasons out of the next five years before health abandoned him.
The list totals 59 pitchers who had an ERA+ of 100 or better in their second season. Jose Rosado is number 59 and is joined by good names, bad names and a whole bunch of in between names. Brian Bannister has a second year ERA+ of 118, one better than James Shields in his second year. Ervin Santana is on the list as well, joined by Roger Pavlik, Chris Carpenter, Matt Moore, Scott Karl and pretty much any starting pitcher drafted by Oakland in the last twenty years.
As you might have imagined, the list does show a fair number of pitchers who were not very effective in year one, but became effective in year two. The list of those who were not effective in year one and remained ineffective in year two is no doubt much longer.
Could Danny Duffy make that leap to not only an effective starter but a well above average starter in 2014? If you are willing to lump three seasons worth of starts sandwiched around surgery and other injuries into one 'rookie' season, there is at least some comfort that it may be possible. I readily admit that the logic of making Duffy's 31 starts 'one season' is marginal if not outright flawed. That said, the logic used above might well be the same being used at 1 Royal Way.
The eyes tell us that Danny Duffy has the stuff to be very good and, in addition to finding a way to stay healthy, simply has to figure out how to finish batters off without taking five extra pitches to do so. Whatever the Royals do this winter, Duffy posting an ERA+ above 100 and doing so over 175 innings would certainly make things look a lot brighter.