Danny Duffy Keeps the Ball Down?

In his Minor League career, Danny Duffy had a 10.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, and generally blew the doors off the hinges when he was in the game. A short stint away from the game dinged him in some scouting reports, but when he returned, it was all systems go for the young lefty with mid-90s gas and multiple secondary pitches with bite and break.

Then Duffy spent 2011 putting up 105.1 innings of 7.43 K/9, 4.38 BB/9, 1.28 HR/9, and generally blew goats when he was in the game. Even a short offseason away from the game couldn’t undo that ding, and he came into the season mostly un-noticed in fantasy circles. He went into Tuesday night’s game against the Athletics owned in 3% of Yahoo leagues.

Should his six innings of eight-strikeout, four-walk, one-hit ball in a pitcher-friendly park against a pitcher-friendly lineup erase the memory of a half-season like Duffy had in 2011? Probably not. But unpacking why Duffy did well might help us decide if he is capable of doing so more often this season.

Even if last season had more than one problem, the home runs might have been the most disconcerting to the Royals. They pleaded with their starter to keep the ball down, but this heat map seems to tell the story of an inability to do so, at least against right-handers, who hit 1.3 home runs per nine inning off of Duffy last year.

But Duffy was listening. In the spring, he admitted that he was working on it to Dick Kaegel of MLB.com:

Duffy came into camp charged with throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. He certainly did that Friday.

“The main goal is getting that pitch efficiency up and I need to get the ball down and repeat my delivery a lot more. It’s the whole cliche thing, but it’s true. And I feel like I worked enough in the offseason to find a delivery that was comfortable for me,” he said.

Did he manage the feat Tuesday night? Duffy allowed five fly balls against three ground balls, but none of those left the park at least. Take a look at his pitch locations for the game. Though it seems as if he kept the ball down more successfully, it’s not completely clear if that was the case.

Over half of the dots are below the line, but that’s hardly conclusive. Perhaps the stadium, and its’ 80 park factor for right-handed home runs, helped stop a home run, perhaps not.

More likely, Duffy was successful because he managed to elicit 14 swinging strikes in 103 pitches. Last year, he had a below-average 7.7% swinging strike rate, despite owning swing-and-miss stuff according to most scouts. According to Brooks Baseball, 71 of his 103 pitches were fastballs Tuesday, so he didn’t succeed by focusing on his off-speed stuff.

Then again, by linear weights, the fastball was his best pitch yesterday. Brooks had the pitch showing 10.8 inches of horizontal run, and our PITCH f/x leaderboards had Duffy in the top 20 in that sort of movement on the fastball. So maybe the fastball is his best pitch. In starting rotations around the league, only David Price, Derek Holland and CC Sabathia use their left hand to throw faster fastballs than Danny Duffy. Maybe his optimal usage of the pitch is closer to 70% than last year’s 60%.

Then again, Duffy’s changeup and curveball combined for nine swinging strikes on 30 pitches yesterday, so he’s not without secondary pitches. If all he has to do is keep the ball down, consider yesterday a possible step forward, but the key to his future may be simple: strike more batters out, and walk fewer. His Minor League career suggests that he can do both, but his rookie year suggests that you be cautious in picking him up — consider him a lock in anything deeper than 12-team mixed. Those that are desperate for upside on their staff could pick him up in shallower leagues, but perhaps sit him for his next start just to be safe.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

12 Responses to “Danny Duffy Keeps the Ball Down?”

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  1. Watched most of his start last night, first time I watched him pitch. Daaamn I had no idea his stuff was that good. One of my bold predictions was that he posts a sub-4.00 ERA and strikes out 180 and I’m even more confident now. Control will be the key though, but as you mentioned, his minor league track record tells us he’s displayed good control before.

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  2. Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

    Think he’ll surpass rotation-mate Jonathan Sanchez this year?

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  3. Pops says:

    I also watched his start last night, enduring a forty five minute rain delay. His fastball is explosive, at times touching 96 mph. The first time through the lineup he relied exclusively on this fastball, locating it well. As the game wore on, he began to show his breaking ball, which really seemed to handcuff the A’s hitters. As Eno eluded to, it has considerable bite and break. He mixed in his changeup occasionally, although I don’t see it as an out pitch just yet. Because of his swing and miss stuff and his tendency to be a little wild at times, he’s not going to go deep into games. When he learns that he doesn’t have to blow everyone away to be successful, Duffy has the potential to be an elite starting pitcher.

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  4. j-bones says:

    Dick Kaegel? Rough name

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  5. Zach says:

    Think the park definitely helped as did a great catch by Cain early in the game. Even if the results were different, his stuff looked very good – glad I picked him up in my league’s first waiver wire period.

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  6. Krisko91 says:

    Next two starts (vs Det, vs Tor) should be very interesting. Stuff last night was great. I think he did throw a couple of cutters, Rex Hudler might have jizzed himself after one.

    So what happens when Paulino comes back? he and mendoza are both out of options i think.

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    • Paul says:

      Mendoza’s not going anywhere. He went 5 2/3 on a night where his fingertips were white and he could never get a good feel for the ball. Suddenly they need bodies in the ‘pen, which is where Paulino will go and Herrera will go down to work on his command, which is where he should have started.

      I only watched a couple innings on playback this morning, but the thing that jumped out to me was the changeup. It was a mediocre pitch for him last year. If he can command that pitch and throw it in any count, he only needs to throw it 10% of the time with his velo. The change last night was good enough that the FB command didn’t need to be good against a team with pretty mediocre bat speed. The true test will be against a team like Texas, full of great FB hitters. He’ll need to show that change a lot more, and be masterful with the sequences. It’s encouraging for sure. I wanted him to develop in the pen this year, and from what I saw last night that would have been a mistake.

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