clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 Season Review: Danny Duffy

Leo finally got an award for wearing a bear suit, when will it be Danny’s turn?

Kansas City Royals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images

It may or may not surprise you to remember this, but at the start of 2016 Danny Duffy had basically no chance of winning a rotation spot. Ned Yost and the rest of the Royals’ front office made noises like he might possibly be considered but Kris Medlen had a history of being very effective when not injured and actually pitched quite well down the stretch in 2015. Chris Young had had back-to-back years of being very effective for the Mariners and Royals, and was actually kind of a post-season hero in 2015 himself with a 2.87 ERA and an 18 strike outs in only 15.2 innings including a pair of relief appearances and a pair of starts.

Duffy, in the interim, looked like he might be finished as a starter. He had maintained that he had no clear preference for starting or relieving. He had shown flashes of being a dominant starter but could never seem to find consistency either in finding the strike zone or in making bats miss. However, as a reliever, he seemed to be better at just about everything: Higher velocity, more groundballs, more swings and misses.

For the first month of the season, Duffy was an effective reliever behind Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Luke Hochevar. He wasn’t really used in a lot of high leverage situations only appearing in games where the difference in score was less than three a total of five times in sixteen appearances. He did throw considerably more strikes than at any other point in his career - 68% compared to his career 63% strikes entering the season. He also struck out 21 while walking only 5 in 18 innings.

Then disaster struck the Royals rotation. Sort of. "Dos K(Ch)ris" who, despite their previous success, were pitching horribly, both suffered "injuries" at roughly the same time and forced Duffy back into the rotation. And while his velocity took an expected slight dip, it was not as much as was predicted and he pitched superbly for nearly three months.

Duffy 2016 Splits

4/5/16-5/11/16 0 18.0 17 6 1 5 21 10.50 2.50 4.20 0.50 0.340 37.5% 5.6% 3.00 2.37
5/15/16-8/21/16 19 120.2 94 35 14 24 126 9.40 1.79 5.25 1.04 0.265 33.8% 9.9% 2.61 3.34
8/27/16-9/29/16 7 41.0 52 29 12 13 41 9.00 2.85 3.15 2.63 0.339 42.2% 25.5% 6.37 5.90
Starter Totals 26 161.2 146 64 26 37 167 9.30 2.06 4.51 1.45 0.286 36.2% 13.8% 3.56 3.99
Season 26 179.2 163 70 27 42 188 9.42 2.10 4.48 1.35 0.291 36.4% 13.0% 3.51 3.83

His groundball percentage went back down a tick as did his strike out rates, but his walk rate unexpectedly took such a nose dive that his strike out/walk ratio actually improved a great deal.

Duffy started getting calls for Cy Young consideration by the Kansas City Royals’ fanbase as baseball entered the home stretch of the year, though many quite reasonably pointed out that it would be very difficult for him to win the award while having pitched an entire month out of the bullpen. Unfortunately, Duffy’s final month would ensure that he was not even remotely considered for the award as he had a 6.37 ERA and despite a massive 10% uptick in ground ball rate he saw an equally huge uptick in home runs. It didn’t help that his strike outs ticked down a little bit more and his walks jumped back up, again.

In Duffy’s first five starts in August he had allowed only five runs across five starts, including the mesmerizing 16-strike-out, 1-hit game in Tampa Bay and a complete game victory over the White Sox. He struck out 37 while walking only 7 and allowing a measly 2 home runs in 38 innings. But from August 27th on the Royals’ new-found ace never allowed fewer than three runs in a game and allowed four or more in half of his remaining starts.

There was a bit of flukiness to his slump; his BABIP went way up over both his season and career averages and a 25.5% HR/FB rate just really isn’t sustainable - even Chris Young only had a 21.4% HR/FB rate last season. Many attributed his sudden slump to exhaustion and an accompanying decline in velocity; he had pitched 138.2 innings before that stretch - more than any season except his excellent 2014 campaign - and went on to set a career mark by more than 30 innings. However, the huge decline in his starting velocity actually happened in July:

A graph showing Duffy’s declining velocity as the season progressed, including a jump down of an entire MPH in July

Looking at that graph it looks like if there was a velocity issue it may have simply been that all his pitches started looking too similar by September, note the complete lack of separation in his fourseam and sinker, as well as an uptick in velocity for all his off-speed offerings. That may be something Danny can fix next season, even when he gets tired.

Everyone is counting on Duffy to be an ace to lead the rotation next season, acting as though the three months in the middle are all that count for his future production. Danny pitched very well in 2016, there is no doubt about it. Good enough, especially given the mixed results of the rest of the team, to earn an A. But how will he hold up, next season?