I remember being excited when Danny Duffy made it to the Major Leagues. A young lefty with an above-average fastball and multiple secondary offerings, it just seemed like once he harnessed his arsenal he could not help but be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Not that he has had a bad big league career, but a consistent front-line starter just never materialized. Now Daniel Lynch is here, another tall lefty with good velocity on the fastball who also throws a slider, changeup, and curve. The starter kit just seems so good, but he has the same tendency that plagued Duffy.
For those of you who don’t remember young Duffy, he had a tendency to nibble. A one-two-three inning didn’t always look easy for him. You would look up and despite having allowed no base runners it seemed like he always managed to throw 20 pitches. It was baffling to behold at times. Other days, he would be cruising along with two, three, or four innings of easy work and then all of a sudden a 30+ pitch slog of an inning would show up and ruin the outing. Is this starting to sound familiar? You can see it in the numbers too.
In 2011, Duffy’s first as a major league starter, he made 20 starts and posted a 5.64 ERA. The secondary stats showed a little better with a 4.82 FIP and 4.53 xFIP, but he definitely did not set the world on fire. In that season he averaged 18.56 pitches per inning, the league average that year was 16.26 pitches per inning. In general, I want to see a starter stay in the 15-pitch per inning or lower range to consider them pitch efficient, so that they can get through six to seven innings. Bullpen pitchers tend to average more per inning. Duffy had less than 15 pitches per inning in only three of those 20 starts, and they were the only three starts he got through more than 6 1⁄3 innings too.
Daniel Lynch looks almost identical to that this season. He has thrown 20 starts so far with a bit better ERA at 4.58, and a FIP/xFIP of 4.26/4.57 so far. That’s slightly better than Duffy’s rookie year, though Lynch did get 15 starts last year so maybe not a fair comparison. The pitch counts are very similar with Lynch sitting at 18.32 per inning, only 0.24 less than Duffy. Relatively, it is slightly better with the league this year averaging 16.47 pitches per inning, 1.25% higher than back in 2011. So far, Lynch has only been at 15 pitches per inning once, on August 6 he got through six innings in 90 pitches for an average of exactly 15. This inability to be efficient has kept him from recording a single out beyond the 6th inning this year.
I do not have a crystal ball, so I cannot tell you that Lynch will just end up being another Danny Duffy. What I can tell you is that if he is another Duffy, it will be a little disappointing. Duffy is not a terrible player, he has stayed in the majors for over a decade and amassed 16.3 fWAR, which is not a bad career. He even had a couple of seasons where he was quite good having 2 and 3 WAR seasons in 2014, 16, and 17. That 2016 season was his max on innings pitched though, at only 179.2 innings, and he only cracked 150 one other season. Not being able to get deep into games, along with some injuries and stints in the bullpen, kept him from ever being an established and dependable starter. If we look up in ten years and Daniel Lynch is Danny Duffy the second I will say that he was a pretty good player, but this team needs more than that. They need him to solidify one of the top three rotation spots.
We have talked a lot this year about the problems in pitching development for the Royals, but my number one argument for change would be Daniel Lynch. He has stuff, and at times has looked like it was coming together. Someone needs to find a way to get him to take the next step and become another solid option along with Brady Singer from this crop of prospects. I have no faith that the current pitching development program can do it. With the young hitters getting everyone excited it is time to start pushing the right buttons to get back into contention, and I think this might be one of the biggest difference makers available.