Danny Duffy has long been a fan favorite in Kansas City, and it’s easy to see why. From his “bury me a Royal” comments to his now-infamous bear suit, Duffy’s loyalty, positivity, and love for the game make him a magnet on a struggling team.
However, the last few seasons have also been tumultuous. Since Duffy’s breakout 2016 season led to a five-year, $65 million extension, he has struggled on the mound while also struggling with some things off the field, including his 2017 arrest for driving under the influence.
Despite the off the field issues in 2017, he posted a career-high 3.6 fWAR, which he followed by starting a career-high 28 games in 2018. Unfortunately, he also posted a 4.88 ERA, his highest since 2011.
After two seasons of adversity, 2019 was no different. He opened the season on the injured list with left shoulder impingement syndrome and didn’t make his first start until April 26. He found himself back on the injured list on August 6, thanks to a left hamstring strain.
As a result, he started just 23 games, his fewest since 2013. The news of his first IL stint wasn’t well-received by some fans on Twitter, which led Duffy to delete his Twitter account
With @Duffman going off Twitter for now, I do give him props and #respect for being so open and sharing about life in general. You don't always get to see that from professional athletes.— Mark Van-Boole (@markvanbaale) March 19, 2019
He noted that his two best seasons came when he was not active on social media.
I can't get the whole message since he deleted his account. But here is a snippet of it. pic.twitter.com/CBnAiQf5Xn— Mark Van-Boole (@markvanbaale) March 19, 2019
On the field, Duffy got off to a decent start, posting a 4.05 ERA across his first seven starts, including 3.86 ERA in May, striking out 8.23 batters per nine innings during that stretch. His first five starts of May were some of his best of the season, allowing two earned runs or fewer and pitching at least six innings in four those five starts.
Things went downhill, however, in the middle months of the season. In a 12-start stretch beginning on May 31, Duffy struggled to a 5.89 ERA that included a whopping 2.19 HR/9. That stretch ended with a miserable August 3rd outing against the Twins in which Duffy gave up eight earned runs across just 4 2⁄3 innings on the back of four Twins’ home runs.
It would be the last start Duffy made in August, as his second stint on the Injured List began just three days later. Despite the gaudy numbers, there were some positives to take from this stretch. For starters, Duffy struck out 63 batters in 65 2⁄3 innings, including a season-high 11 in a gem against Atlanta. He just couldn’t escape the home run ball.
This tough stretch wouldn’t be the end for Duffy, though. He returned on September 1 and finished the season by delivering his best single month since July of 2014. In five starts, Duffy allowed just eight earned runs across 30.1 innings, good for a 2.37 ERA.
This stretch gives the Royals legitimate hope as they look toward 2020. Only the Angels, Giants, and Orioles’ starting rotations were less valuable in 2019 than the Royals. Brad Keller didn’t drastically regress from a breakout 2018, but Jakob Junis continued off his 2018 struggles. A healthy and effective Duffy would be a significant upgrade to the rotation, but the question now is whether or not he will be in a Royals uniform for this upcoming season.
According to Jeff Passan, the “pricey free-agent market” could boost Duffy’s trade value with two years and $30.75 million left on his existing deal. Passan reported that the Royals “want to take advantage” of that market and get something for Duffy. We don’t know where Duffy will be playing in 2020 but we do know that he is still a valuable asset. With the Royals seeming unwilling to trade Whit Merrifield, dealing Duffy might be a nice compromise that allows Kansas City to retain a fan favorite in Merrifield while also bringing in new blood.
If a trade doesn’t happen, Duffy’s dream to be buried a Royal lives on, and Kansas City will get to continue rooting for someone who is increasingly easy to root for. I would be remiss to not speak about Sam McDowell’s 3000+ word piece on Duffy’s lifelong battle with anxiety and depression in a review of his season.
In fact, in a season filled with losses and bad baseball, his willingness to go on the record about his struggles might just be the highlight of his season and should challenge fans to treat professional athletes better.
There are few players that better embody Dayton Moore’s franchise culture better than Danny Duffy. The franchise stood by Duffy through the good and the bad, to which the southpaw responded with fierce loyalty. Despite an up and down 2019, he is still one of the Royals’ most important players going into 2020. And with just two years left on his current deal, 2020 is just as significant for Duffy’s future in Kansas City.