Danny Duffy Delivered
After giving reason after reason in 2020 that the bullpen might be best, Duffy started 2021 with a fantastic and much-needed start.
The Royals wouldn’t have won that game last year. It’s not that the bullpen couldn’t have handled the final three innings or the offense couldn’t have scratched across three runs on a cold day against the Indians pitching staff. It’s 100 percent that Danny Duffy wouldn’t have been able to keep the game scoreless as he navigated the middle innings. Before I get into it, though, I want to bring up something the Royals noted that is really incredibly cool.
Some things just feel meant to be and after seeing that, this one definitely felt that way.
Anyway, the broadcast noted this multiple times, but Duffy only completed six innings twice out of 11 starts. And in one of those starts he allowed six runs while walking five and striking out just three. So that in itself was an accomplishment for Duffy in this one. His issues were a big reason why I felt that Duffy might be best served as an expensive lefty out of the bullpen. Take a look at his numbers by inning and really peep the innings 4-6 part:
One of the problems with Duffy is that he would come out of the gates strong, as you can see from his innings 1-3 numbers. Those are the numbers of a legitimate ace with more than a strikeout per inning, few hits and even fewer walks and only two home runs allowed. Then as the game wore on, he just couldn’t maintain his velocity and he just couldn’t do it without fastball velocity. Last year, he averaged 92.6 MPH on his fastball in the first three innings and allowed a .221 average and .309 slugging percentage. In innings four through six, the velocity dropped to 91.4 and the average and slugging percentage jumped to .324 and .838 respectively. That’s excessive.
I noted this early in the game.
So let’s take a look at how things progressed for Duffy throughout this one.
While he struggled with Jordan Luplow as the first batter of the game, he did start him off 0-2 and every fastball was at least 93.9 MPH. He maintained the velocity to Cesar Hernandez and you could see that his changeup was going to be a plus pitch for him in this game, including inducing the double play from Jose Ramirez to get him out of the inning facing only three batters. The changeup looks like a mistake here, but with 19 inches of horizontal break, there wasn’t much Ramirez could do but hit it on the ground.
This was a pretty boring inning for Duffy, but the fastball remained strong, even hitting 95 MPH in the at bat against Franmil Reyes. It was the perfect setup for a curve with some excellent spin. Reyes hit the ball hard, but he was kept just enough off balance that he couldn’t really get into it enough to do damage.
We’re still in the part of the game where Duffy doesn’t have trouble, and the fastball was still humming along for the first two batters before dropping a bit in the second plate appearance against Luplow. But he reached back for another gear against Hernandez in the next at bat and set up another outstanding curve that got him the third out on a swing and miss with a fastball at 93.6 MPH. So far, so good.
I was concerned about the fourth inning, and Duffy almost made that concern look like it was well placed. He got Ramirez looking on a really good slider, but the velocity was sitting at 92. He went heavy on sliders with Eddie Rosario as you can see below. It’s not super easy to see it from this image, but he was essentially toying with Rosario.
He probably should have gone back to the fastball against Reyes because his changeup was elevated and Reyes smoked the ball to the left field wall for a double. It was the first runner he’d allowed past first base and it really felt like that was the beginning of the typical Duffy dive. And that feeling intensified when he walked Amed Rosario on four pitches. But this is where things were different. He reached back against Josh Naylor and three of the four fastballs he threw were 93+ with the final one at 94.2. Naylor hit the ball hard, but it was the third out. That was close.
I was pretty sure that even though the fourth ended without incident that things were going to fall apart for Duffy in the fifth. I won’t get too deep into this inning because it was a 1-2-3 frame that actually saw him retire Luplow, but in spite of his velocity dropping early, he set up a wonderful changeup to get Luplow with a 94.3 MPH fastball. Okay...so this isn’t going as expected.
The good news is that when things inevitably went south, Scott Barlow would be ready to go to face Reyes. So that meant there were only three hitters left for Duffy in what was likely going to be a rough go for him. He got Hernandez for the first out on three pitches. The dangerous Ramirez was next and he got him on four pitches, but here’s what’s interesting. Look at the third pitch here:
Yep, you see 93.1 still in the sixth inning on his 89th pitch. That’s different, but it gets even better against Rosario, the guy who was obviously his last hitter no matter what happened.
He started him off with another slider after that went so well in the last plate appearance against him. But then he started to reach back for as much as he could give. Rosario fouled off a 92.6 MPH fastball. The next pitch was a ball at 93.6 MPH. After a curve missed, he threw another at 93.6 and then another slider before ending his outing with a 93.2 MPH fastball pretty much perfectly placed just below the bottom of the zone that Rosario swung through.
So in the end, he threw six shutout innings. It was his best start since he threw 5.2 shutout innings last year...in Cleveland. So maybe this is just him taking advantage of a bad Indians offense, but it felt like he had figured a little something out in reaching back for more velocity when he needed it. The Royals don’t need him to be the 2016 version, but if he can give what he gave in 2019 and post an ERA around 4.30 or so, the Royals will be very happy with what they get from him.
A couple more notes:
After throwing 51 pitches in a brutal Opening Day start, the Royals have decided Brad Keller needs another day before he pitches again. That’s concerning. I mentioned this on The Program on Friday afternoon, but I was concerned a bit with two signs from Keller’s Opening Day outing. He threw fewer sliders than he did last season and his velocity was up a bit. Neither is slam dunk proof that he’s injured, but those can be signs. It could very well be that if he had been able to get deeper into the game, he would have busted the slider out. And if he had pitched longer, maybe he’d have tired and the average velocity would have decreased to his normal levels. Still, this is a situation worth monitoring as he’s now scheduled to go on Thursday against a much better lineup in Chicago.
I wrote a couple weeks ago that Whit Merrifield is really interesting in that he finds success without really hitting the ball especially hard. Well, uh, he’s averaging an exit velocity of 92.1 MPH and of his 17 batted balls, 52.9 percent have been hard hit. It’s just four games and he’s done this before for a few games, but he is absolutely on another level right now. It’s fun to watch guys like him when they’re going good because the bat to ball skills make for really enjoyable at bats to watch. I don’t know if he’s coming into more power with his three home runs in four games, but if he took what I wrote personally, you’re welcome, Royals fans.