There haven't been a ton of things to look forward to at 7:10pm every night for the Royals this year. Normally the countdown to game start is the countdown until the first home run allowed by a Royals pitcher. However seeing Danny Duffy start every five games has been a bright spot.
We aren't quite in the territory where we can call Duffy a legitimately good starting pitcher...yet. I know, I know...you wanna hit me but remember that it's only been 54.1 innings since he's been starting. It's a decent chunk, and around 1/4th of a full season. So it's something. The results of him as a starter (since May 21st):
So by ERA he's been a bonafide #2 to #2.5 starter. By FIP he's been more #3-4 but there is a gap between his ERA, FIP, and xFIP given the number of home runs he's allowed (10 in those 54.1 innings). Now the FIP might come down but we can probably expect his ERA and FIP to be disjointed given the number of fly balls he allows.
Duffy is 10th overall in flyball percentage (min. 75 innings pitched) and while he isn't a leader in hard contact% he is right at league average for hard hit balls. He's also 38th out of 85 in exit velocity for fly balls (min. 50).
However by soft contact, Duffy is among the leaders there:
So maybe he won't give up quite as many home runs as he has. There are a lot of fly balls but there is also a lot of weak contact. Meanwhile he strikes out a lot of hitters too (which means fewer fly balls and fewer balls in play).
This article though isn't about what Duffy will do. It's about another name that pops up similar to Duffy when I was digging through numbers. A pitcher that appears on both those leaderboards above: Max Scherzer.
Now let's get something straight...I'm talking about this year's Max Scherzer. Not the Cy Young Max Scherzer who was an annual 5-6 win pitcher. Danny does have the strikeout rates of that Scherzer and is walking less batters but that old Scherzer didn't give up home runs at the rate he has.
Duffy as a starter: 10.10 K/9, 1.49 BB/9, 1.66 HR/9 15.2 HR/FB%
Peak Scherzer: 10.42 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 0.85 HR/9, 8.6 HR/FB%
However current Scherzer though looks similar to current Danny Duffy:
So the big discrepancy of course comes because of those home runs. Duffy should probably have allowed a little fewer, Scherzer a lot fewer.
What's more similar is the way batters swing against the two pitchers.
Scherzer gets a few more swings outside the zone, while Duffy gets more in the zone. That's a testament to Duffy pounding the zone a bit more and comparing zone pounding to Max Scherzer is something.
Over the past two years only two pitchers have thrown more balls in the strike zone than Scherzer and if current Duffy qualified, he'd be number one.
Both guys have near equal Swing%, O-Contact% (contact% on strikes out of the zone), Z-Contact% (contact% on strikes in the zone), overall contact%, first strike%, and swinging strike%.
I admit it's not a perfect comparison but there are a lot of similarities and we are also still feeling out this new Duffy. Maybe we can look at a more visual approach to see how he looks compared to other pitchers.
* Apologies for the images being a bit small. The images are actually really big but get compressed here.
Duffy generates a ton of swings, more swings than any other pitcher gets this year.
Number two on that list? You guessed it.
Here is K% over Swinging Strike%
You see Duffy in that top right hand corner, which is good. You want to see both swinging strikes and strikeouts. Now I'm gonna add tags to a few specific pitchers from here on out. Those pitchers in that cluster up there with Duffy.
It's hard to find a better group of pitchers than that. When Max Scherzer is maybe the worst guy in that cluster (excluding Duffy) then it's good company.
Duffy is also above all of those guys when it comes to Z-Swing% (swings inside the zone) and he's turning those zone swings into strikes at a rate near the other guys.
Here though is what separates Duffy and Scherzer from the group (in the bad way)
The other three guys how low FIP's and ERA's and the reason why...
They don't allow home runs at a high rate. That's no surprise. Really good pitchers don't give up home runs.
And they usually don't allow a lot of fly balls. At least not a lot of fly balls at the rate Duffy and Scherzer do. What Duffy does do though is generate very little medium contact (as mentioned earlier).
Okay so maybe it's an exaggeration that Duffy is Max Scherzer. Scherzer is a really good pitcher and has been for several years. Danny is just getting going and the current Max Scherzer, while good, isn't quite the Max Scherzer of old. But right now the main thing separating Duffy from Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Noah Syndergaard are these pesky home runs. Well that and several hundred dominant innings, but Danny is working on it.