As the subtitle suggests, Danny Duffy’s 2020 season was a lot like what Royals fans can reasonably expect from Danny Duffy year in and year out: average to below average numbers over an average to below average innings count.
That absolutely pains me to type out because Danny Duffy is my favorite Royal ever. The guy bleeds Royal blue and there hasn’t been a lot of players in my lifetime we could honestly say that about. Every player we’ve seen come up through the organization has moved on to greener pastures outside of Duffy, Gordo, and (so far) Salvy. And I’m not at all knocking those guys that moved on; good for them. That’s more to speak to the connection that those three players have with the team, city, and fanbase.
Duffy’s 2020 numbers
But we’re here to talk about the 2020 season and it was not a great season for Duffy. He went 4-4 in 11 starts while carrying a 4.95 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He had the second highest K/9 of his career (9.11) while sticking around his career average of BB/9 (3.51). Unfortunately he also had his highest HR/9 of his career at 1.60. This is all pretty Duff-like, which is kind of an issue. His xFIP was 10th worst among starters that pitched at least 50 innings.
It wasn’t all that bad though. In the first half of the season, Duffy was rolling.
Through 6 Starts
Through Final 5 Starts
At this moment it seems like a good time to remind everyone that 2020 was indeed a smaller sample size. The whole season was less than what a player would see in half of a regular season, so I don’t think Duffy’s loss of momentum was an issue of fatigue or anything. I think if the whole season played out per usual, Duffy would have a very similar season to what we’re used to seeing from the Duff-man.
But wait, look at the teams he faced. There are some potent offenses in there. He got the Twins (thrice), Cleveland (twice), the Cubs, White Sox (twice), Brewers, and Cardinals. That looks like one of the worst gauntlets that a starter could face on the surface. I refuse to look beyond that and since my point is pr...oh I should look deeper? Fine.
Team Offenses vs. LHP
|OPS vs LHP
|wRC+ vs LHP
|OPS vs LHP
|wRC+ vs LHP
Dammit! That’s a pretty valid sample relative to the average competition a pitcher should expect in the majors. So we can’t really say that his numbers were weighted because of the offenses he was facing. (Side note: good for you Detroit)
Duffy seems to always try to mix up his pitches from year to year and 2020 was no different there either.
He has a pretty traditional repertoire (FB, CUR, SL, CH) with a sinker thrown in. This year he worked his curve in more than he had the previous three seasons but overall appears to have been pretty balanced between his secondary offerings. Classic Duffy.
That balance is going to be key for him moving forward as his fastball velocity decreases. It happens to all of us and Danny Duffy is no exception. His average 4 seam velocity dropped to a career low 92.6 mph. So that repertoire balance/reinvention will become more and more important moving forward, as that velocity continues to decline. That is unless...
The future of Danny Duffy for the Royals
They could move Danny Duffy to the bullpen. Don’t get me wrong, I think Duffy still has plenty of value in the rotation and with the money he’s going to make in 2021 ($15.5M) you’d, in theory, maximize the value of that money in the rotation.
But if we’re looking at the typical Danny Duffy year again next year, how is that acceptable in this time of transition that the front office continues to talk about, where they are expecting to win now?
This is not the Jorge Lopez situation where you don’t know what to do with him because his “stuff” is a thing of lore but it doesn’t translate to the field for whatever reason. Duffy has an established track record. This is the Ian Kennedy situation. He’s going to get paid either way, so shifting him to the bullpen not only maximizes every dollar you’re paying him, but also (probably) gives you another weapon in that already potent bullpen.
When Kennedy made that transition to the pen in 2019, his fastball value/100 pitches went from -0.41 to 2.20 by adding 2 mph to his average. There’s no reason that Duffy couldn’t get that same increase as Kennedy, if not more, as he hit 95+ mph a few times last year.
And Kennedy didn’t really have the same quality of secondary pitches that Duffy currently has. Moving Duffy to the pen could allow him to focus on his best pitches. I’m looking at eliminating one particular pitch that the Royals organization loves to use but sticks out like a sore thumb in some graphs. See if you can spot it here.
Get that s(t)inker outta there and Danny still has four solid pitches to run with. A left handed reliever with an above average 4-seamer and three more pitches that hover around average is still an asset to a pen, especially considering the best left handed options currently are Lovelady and Speier.
Maximizing his value and moving him to the back of the bullpen only works if you’re able to fill the void in the rotation effectively. That’s probably an article for another day, but there are potential options both within the org and outside of it (Lynch, Kowar, Kluber, Paxton, etc).
The theme throughout this recap of Duffy’s 2020 season is that he’s a known commodity, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because you know what he can do when he’s stretched out and he’s a solid guy to bridge the gap from the dark ages we’ve seen since 2016 to the coming wave of pitching that is knocking on the door and could use some grooming from a seasoned veteran. It’s bad because, if we’re to believe that the talk of contention now is a mentality of the org and not just lip service, then the usual Danny Duffy year is no longer acceptable. We’ve seen how quickly this fanbase can turn on a veteran that makes too much money and is not carrying the weight of the contract he has. In 2019, it was Gordo. In 2020, it was Kennedy. They’re both gone and the crosshairs are being pointed at my favorite Royal of all time.
Please don’t make me die on a “Danny Duffy is a goddam saint!” hill that can be somewhat avoided, Dayton/Mike. Send him to the bullpen where we can celebrate his inevitable phoenix-like rise from the ashes of starter mediocrity and treat him like the hero he is.
How would you grade Danny Duffy’s 2020 season?
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