After throwing 48 pitches in his first start of 2016, Danny Duffy followed up with a fantastic 63-pitch performance on Saturday. He made it 4.1 innings with those 63 pitches, a mere 14.5 pitches per inning.
This will be my third article in a row concerning Duffy. My first one suggested a new strategy for him, and my second one analyzed his first start. I think it's justified; Duffy has immense talent but has struggled to catch on in the rotation. His is an interesting story, and the twists and turns he encounters as he tries to stick as a starter make for good analysis. In this particular season, the Royals desperately need him to step in and provide quality innings.
Pitching in Chicago in the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular, Duffy mixed in a lot of sinkers, a stark departure from his first start. In fact, the sinker was the most prevalent pitch.
Compared to his four-seam fastball, the sinker gets a fair bit more run but not a lot of sink. On Saturday, Duffy threw it kind of everywhere. It looks like he really just wanted to throw it for a strike -- he threw it only once with two strikes. It worked, at least; Duffy's strike rate of ~74 percent was pretty dang high and quite a bit better than his career rate. He even got four whiffs.
Duffy relied on his four-seam fastball next. It looks like he either went up and away with the pitch or tried to bust righties inside. His two-strike approach with the pitch was no different. He could really use some more high four seamers with two strikes, but Duffy did not need that pitch to get whiffs or weak contact. He had the changeup for that.
Oh, his changeup. Brooks Baseball logged 13 changeups thrown, a 19 percent rate and much higher than his career 11 percent rate. Of those 13, White Sox hitters offered at 12 (a ~92 percent rate) and whiffed on three (a ~23 percent rate). Seven of those 13 pitches were thrown with two strikes, and 28 percent of his two-strike pitches overall were changeups, about double his career rate.
Duffy is relying on his changeup, and if he keeps his changeup away and his four seamer mostly away (gotta throw some inside to remain at least a little unpredictable), they will play off each other splendidly. When hitters were not whiffing, they were weakly grounding the ball out somewhere on the infield. Mostly.
In the past, Duffy's changeup and sinker have not been very good pitches. His career home-run-per-fly-ball rate on the changeup is the highest of all his pitches, and it does not get many grounders or whiffs. Duffy has thrown it only 42 times this year according to Brooks Baseball, but so far he's throwing it for strikes, getting whiffs, and getting grounders. He's not afraid to use it as an out pitch. He's really showing a lot of confidence in it.
Prior to 2016, there were only two games in Duffy's entire career in which he used his sinker as much as or more than his four-seam fastball. Coincidentally, both those games were on April 30th -- one in 2014 and one in 2015. He threw only six pitches in the 2014 game, but the 2015 game against Detroit saw him deploy 30 four-seam fastballs and 30 sinkers.
As best I can tell, this is Duffy's first start in his whole MLB career in which he threw more sinkers than fastballs (again, according to Brooks Baseball).
Duffy threw his slider only seven times; he faced mostly right-handed hitters, and his slider is less important against righties.
Duffman is clearly showing some different stuff with his changeup and sinker usage. He actually had a relief outing against Houston earlier this year in which he threw more sinkers than four seamers (April 14th -- he gave up three hits and a run in 1.1 innings). It could just be the park, and he wanted to limit the chance for dingers. Of the two fastballs, the sinker is slightly harder to take yard.
It is still early, but Duffy's two starts have been nothing short of excellent. Hitters seem listless against his four seamer, and his changeup is fooling hitters into swinging out of their shoes. If he keeps this up and gets stretched out, he'll give the Royals exactly what they need.