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What are Danny Duffy’s Cy Young chances?

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Are they gnar, braj?

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Duffy has been amazing since joining the rotation in mid-May. Over 17 starts, he has a 2.79 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 106 13 innings, with the Royals winning 14 of his 17 starts. Duffy now leads the American League in ERA (2.82), WHIP (1.005), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.52). With no clear cut favorite for the American League Cy Young this year, Duffy has pushed himself into the conversation. Just how does he stack up against the best pitchers in the league? Here are the best pitchers in the league, sorted by an average of Baseball-Reference WAR and Fangraphs WAR.

Player W L IP ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 rWAR fWAR AVG
Jose Quintana, CHW 9 8 151.2 2.85 3.42 7.89 2.08 4.5 3.7 4.1
Corey Kluber, CLE 12 8 157.0 3.21 2.97 8.94 2.06 4.0 4.2 4.1
Justin Verlander, DET 12 6 160.1 3.42 3.49 9.54 2.41 4.2 3.6 3.9
Chris Sale, CHW 14 5 154.0 3.16 3.54 8.77 1.99 4.0 3.5 3.8
Aaron Sanchez, TOR 11 2 145.1 2.85 3.31 7.49 2.60 3.5 3.4 3.5
Chris Tillman, BAL 15 4 151.0 3.46 4.06 7.51 3.16 4.2 2.4 3.3
Danny Duffy, KCR 9 1 124.1 2.82 3.15 9.99 1.81 3.7 2.9 3.3
Masahiro Tanaka, NYY 8 4 146.1 3.32 3.33 7.38 1.66 3.0 3.6 3.3
Cole Hamels, TEX 12 3 146.1 2.89 4.08 8.86 3.44 4.4 2.1 3.3
J.A. Happ, TOR 16 3 143.0 2.96 3.75 7.80 2.70 3.4 2.7 3.1
Rick Porcello, BOS 15 3 151.0 3.40 3.68 7.45 1.55 3.2 2.8 3.0
Steven Wright, BOS 13 5 146.2 3.01 3.37 7.55 3.13 2.5 3.2 2.9
Marco Estrada, TOR 7 5 128.1 2.95 3.91 8.49 3.23 3.0 2.6 2.8
Zach Britton, BAL 6 1 59.1 0.56 2.01 10.50 2.81 2.9 1.7 2.3

Britton has 35 saves, if that matters to you.

The biggest weakness for Duffy's case is in innings pitched. Because he did not join the rotation until May (remember when he couldn't beat out Chris Young for a rotation spot?) he has far fewer innings than most other contenders. With 48 games left the Royals, Duffy should get at least nine more starts, perhaps a tenth if they skip the fifth spot in the rotation a few more times. That would give him, at most, 27 starts for the season.

You don't have to go back too far to find a pitcher who won the Cy Young with just 27 starts, as it happened in 2014 when Clayton Kershaw won his third Cy Young (as well as National League MVP). Kershaw made just 27 starts, due to a back injury to begin the year, but he lapped the field with a 1.77 ERA and 7.7 fWAR (7.7 rWAR). In other words, you can win the Cy Young with less than a full season of starts, but you must be jaw-droppingly dominant.

Most likely, if Duffy continues his pace, he will be in the mix, but not the winner. Marco Estrada began last year in the bullpen for Toronto, but joined the rotation in May and pitched well enough to finish with a 3.13 ERA, receiving three Cy Young votes. Jake Arrieta missed the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder tightness, but finished with an excellent season with a 2.56 ERA in 25 starts, garnering three Cy Young votes. C.C. Sabathia impressed in half a season with the Brewers after being dealt by the Indians midway through the 2008 season, with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting.

Danny Duffy is having a fantastic season, the best by a Royals starting pitcher since Zack Greinke left town. His starts have become must-watch television and he gives the Royals the best chance to win each time out. Will he win the Cy Young Award? Almost certainly not. But that doesn't mean we can't marvel in a player putting it all together and reaching a new level of performance.