When the Kansas City Royals opted to move on from pitching coach Dave Eiland this past offseason, the Royals made it clear they were going to make a change in organizational philosophy. The Royals were getting ready to enter a rebuilding season and they opted for Cal Eldred to be the pitching coach for the new wave of young pitchers.
Here’s the problem with that: the Royals didn’t bring in very many young pitchers. They haven’t yet, anyways. The starting rotation consists of four starters that were in the rotation at the end of last season and Eric Skoglund, who has been in the organization for a while. While you could make the argument that Jake Junis and Eric Skoglund are the “young guys,” Danny Duffy, the Royals most valuable trade asset before his abysmal start to 2018, Ian Kennedy, the most expensive pitcher on the roster, and Jason Hammel still make up the bulk of this Royals rotation.
I should mention that I don’t necessarily mind the decision to move on from Dave Eiland. I’m not here to question the Royals decision. Simply pointing out that the pitching coach that helped Danny Duffy become a viable front-of-the-rotation starter departed this offseason and I don’t think many people thought much of it.
I wonder how much of Dave Eiland’s departure has to do with Danny Duffy’s struggles specifically. Ian Kennedy hasn’t been much different than he was in 2017, and Jason Hammel just...hasn’t been great in general. Danny Duffy though had a lot of success over the last couple of seasons and is now struggling immensely in 2018.
Here is a list of the number of earned runs that Duffy has given up in his starts in 2018:
5, 3, 1, 0, 6, 4, 5, 1, 9, 5.
Duffy has already given up five or more earned runs in five starts this season and more than three earned runs in six starts. He’s only made ten starts, so that’s 60% of his starts that he’s given up more than three earned runs. Here’s another list, this time with the percentage of his starts since 2014 that wound up in three earned runs or more:
- 2014: 20%
- 2015: 37.5%
- 2016: 23.1%
- 2017: 33.3%
- 2018: 60%
It’s still early. Danny Duffy has plenty of time to rebound and salvage a respectable season in 2018. I am not that concerned with Duffy, to be real honest with you. But even if he does rebound and make his normal 25ish starts this season, he’d have to give up less than four earned runs in all but one or two of his starts to maintain his average over the last four seasons of 28.475%.
That’s an incredibly arbitrary measuring stick for Duffy. My point is not based around Duffy, per say, though. My point is that, going back and looking through Danny Duffy’s game logs over the last few seasons, he never made more than three or four bad starts in a row without a long stretch of success immediately following. So far in 2018 he’s made lots of bad starts and has had no run of success to speak of. I wonder if part of that doesn’t have to do with the change in pitching coach.
A pitching coach’s job is not an easy one. Managing an entire pitching staff requires hours and hours of preparation and studying. With that being said, no one should take more precedent than Danny Duffy right now. The Royals desperately need Duffy to be good, not only because of the contract they gave him, but because of his trade value as well. Good Danny Duffy commands enough in trade value to shorten this rebuild by a full season. That doesn’t mean KC will have a top 10 farm system all of a sudden, but it would certainly look much better if the Royals traded a good Danny Duffy.
One thing that Dave Eiland did very well in his time in Kansas City was get good Danny Duffy to appear more often than not. Rarely did Duffy have prolonged streaks of poor performances like the one he’s had to begin the 2018 season. I don’t know what Dave Eiland did, but Danny Duffy had the best years of his career with Dave Eiland at the helm. Obviously, a pitcher’s success is not 100% tied to a pitching coach, but good pitching coaches can turn average careers into good ones, and make streaks of poor performances shorter for pitchers.
I’m going to be watching Danny Duffy very closely over the next month or so. I’ll be watching the rotation as a whole, but specifically Duffy, to see what kind of adjustments they make. Are they going to continue to do the same thing over and over again, or will they make real adjustments to help them get out of this funk? Jason Hammel looked pretty good against St. Louis his last time out, will that continue? Duffy is by far the most talented pitcher in this Royals rotation, and his success is massively important for the Royals future. Hopefully he will find more success as this season goes along and continues to build a relationship with new pitching coach Cal Eldred.
Let me reiterate that my goal here was not to criticize Cal Eldred. Being a new pitching coach on a team with MLB veterans is difficult and everyone should acknowledge that. The point of this article is more to point out how much the Royals are missing Dave Eiland right now than to make accusations of a poor job by Cal Eldred.