We’ve talked plenty about the rising offensive environment this year, especially in the context of our pitchers. Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Co. have been pummeled with dingers like whoa. The offense can’t keep up.
Luckily, one guy has, at least to some extent, avoided this problem - Danny Duffy. His HR/FB is up a little bit, sure, just like everyone else, and he’s allowed more fly balls than grounders compared to last year, but overall we’re not sitting here talking about a homer problem with Duffy.
This is rather interesting. When Duffy was switched into the rotation, I wrote about changes in his strategy that could result in success. Basically, I believed that Duffy should use his rising fastball in a manner befitting the pitch by throwing it up in the zone. I compared him to Drew Pomeranz and Drew Smyly, two pitchers with similar rising fastballs.
Though Smyly’s HR/FB has not risen compared to last year, he’s been hit hard by the general increase in offense. His HR/9 has gone from 1.49 to 1.70, and his 3.11 ERA last year has given way to a 5.42 ERA this year, declining peripherals included.
Pomeranz is more of a ground-ball guy due to his curveball, so the fly balls becoming homers more often thing doesn’t affect him so much.
So what I’ve noticed as Duffy has thrown more innings in the rotation is that he does indeed locate his fastball up, but he has continued to put it down and inside in the zone as well. Compare the four-seam fastball zone profile against RHH of Smyly and Duffy.
Despite these zone profiles being of left-handed pitchers throwing the same pitch to the same handedness of batter, they’re almost mirror images. Duffy and Smyly will both throw high, but Smyly favors outside more while Duffy favors inside more.
I think the difference in usage is a sequencing/predictability thing. That low and inside corner to righties is where Duffy puts his slider as well, so it’s possible that there is a fastball/slider interplay low and inside that is keeping the fastball effective in that area. Smyly throws a curveball low, but he doesn’t specifically throw it low and inside.
By locating his fastball high and outside some, but not as much, Duffy gets better interplay with his changeup (which he has located better as well). That means Duffy is a three-pitch pitcher against righties (four if you count his sinker and four seamer separately). Having an effective changeup goes a long way toward breaking platoon splits; having a third pitch helps even more. Duffy has both. He still has some platoon split, but righties are hitting worse against him this year than last year and worse this year than compared to his overall career.
I’d like to say that Duffy’s continued location of his four-seam fastball low and inside to righties has helped him avoid the general increased offense across baseball. Smyly’s fastball gets pummeled when it is low and inside, so maybe there’s something intrinsic to Duffy’s fastball that helps. It’s still a bit small sample size right now.
Or it could just be the almost two-mph increase in velocity.