The Kansas City Royals informed the press that Danny Duffy will start the season in the big league squad’s bullpen. Duffy has been inconsistent this spring, allowing eleven earned runs in just nine innings, five on home runs.
Andy McCullough, beat reporter for the Kansas City Star, reports that the Royals believe Duffy will be best served by focusing on getting big league hitters out and the only way to learn is to face them. Ned Yost says,
You can have success in Class AAA doing exactly what you’re doing now. They’re going to swing at pitches out of the zone. If you’re going to have success, he’s going to have to do it up here.
Many are already saying that this move is a mistake. It might be. It might not.
Several scouts and baseball analysts have voiced their concern about Duffy’s future if he doesn’t keep his arm stretched out. Among the concerns about pitching in a limited role are:
1. He will not be able to perfect the rhythms of starting pitching. The Royals plan to contend for the playoffs this season; they cannot afford for him to work through his struggles while they are in the hunt. The only place for him to work on facing a lineup multiple times in a single outing is at the AAA level.
2. He will not maintain his stamina. If the Royals work him in short bursts, he may not be ready to step into a starting role next season. Wade Davis had something like this problem in 2013. He spent a year in Tampa Bay’s bullpen and once he came back to a rotation, he had sporadically short appearances and lost all feel for pitching within three innings.
3. He will not be available to step into the rotation if an injury occurs. This is related to the first two problems, but adds pressing immediacy. If he doesn’t have the feel for pitching, if he doesn’t keep his arm stretched out, if he starts wearing out after a couple of innings, the Royals will not be able to use him as a starter at any point this season. They might have to rely on Chris Dwyer.
These are all valid concerns, but the Royals have good points too.
Danny Duffy has not been able to finish off batters. By his own admission, he doesn’t seem to know how to get batters out. In a recent interview with Pine Tar Press’s David Lesky, Duffy lamented the times when he had batters down 0-2 and ended up walking them.
Previously, Duffy has also shunned criticism that he’s going for the strikeout and missing the strike zone.
I’ve had people foul off five or six pitches whether I throw 95 or 98 or 92. It doesn’t seem to matter. So sometimes even when I’m not trying to throw it by guys, my pitch count gets up…I’ll take 27 groundouts. It’s way more fun. It is fun striking people out, but I’ll take eight or nine innings of groundouts over strikeouts, really…The thing is, with our defense, it really makes sense to get guys to put it in play.
It’s not that he is having trouble striking guys out. His K/9 is 8.0 in Spring Training this year. However, he’s allowed 19 baserunners in nine innings. His problems don’t really come from walking too many batters, either. It’s that he doesn’t know why he’s not getting batters out. He allows hits and walks and can’t figure out how to put them away, even in pitcher counts. The Royals organization is correct that he only way to fix it is to face the best of the best and work through those problems.
In McCullough’s article, he quotes a scout who believes that Duffy should go to AAA to build his confidence. Duffy has repeatedly expressed a desperate desire to join the Royals bullpen. If we’re just talking about confidence, sending him to AAA when he’s desperate to join a big league roster could shatter his confidence. Triple-A affiliates are riddled with bitter and angry ballplayers who feel passed over.
Circumstance conspired against Danny Duffy this spring, so, perhaps, this is not the best time to heap on the tough breaks.
Duffy’s breaking ball is so big that some inexperienced umpires often cannot tell if it falls through the strike zone or misses at the bottom. With 1/3 of Spring umpires being called up from the minors, there is more opportunity for missed calls.
Knowing that he wasn’t getting strike calls, pitching coach Dave Eiland had Duffy open up his cutter and turn it into a slider this spring. The results haven’t been encouraging. The thin Arizona air limits rotation on many breaking pitches, especially those that a pitcher hasn’t gotten used to throwing. Duffy served up a few slow, flat pitches that probably would not have been knocked out of most Major League parks, but in Surprise, AZ, hard hit balls carry a long way.
The psychology of baseball is a sideshow anyway. What really matters is talent and training. While it is tempting to make Danny Duffy throw in long outings, to make sure he remains a somewhat viable starter for this year, he needs to get better at the major league level if he will help the team in 2015.
If he can maintain a solid level of performance that we’ve seen on occasion, he could be a murderous, rampaging, Godzilla monster, rippin’ through fools at the major league level, crushing the strike zone, leaving K’s littered all over the scoreboard. As long as they stay focused on making him a big league starting pitcher, however the Royals make it happen, we want to see this guy: