Sometime Saturday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals realized what everyone else with the ability to see, already knew for weeks. If the Royals are serious about winning this year, Danny Duffy could not be seriously considered for a bullpen spot.
It was something that the Royals only considered about for a week or so, announcing Sunday that Duffy was optioned to Omaha to be in the rotation.
When Yordano Ventura took the completion for the fifth spot in the rotation by the throat, there was really only one option that made sense for Duffy. Go back to Omaha and find a way to throw strikes.
That was even more obvious on Saturday when he allowed three runs and a walk in one inning of work. But Duffy wanted to help the team in any way possible by staying with the big club and moving to the bullpen. Admirable, but not the best choice for the team.
At this point in his career, which is quite disappointing, he can’t do that consistently enough to warrant a spot on a team that has postseason hopes. Duffy, when he witnessed what Ventura was doing this spring, had apparently made it clear to the Royals that he’d like to move to the bullpen.
Of course he would. Who wouldn’t want first class seat on a plane over a seat in a bus, or sleep in a four-star hotel rather than a motel somewhere along the road in the Pacific Coast League.
Maybe Dayton Moore and Ned Yost knew all along that he would never make the team as a bullpen piece, and just wanted to handle the dicey mentality of Duffy carefully. In the end, he made the decision easy for them. He flat out stunk this spring, posting a 11.45 ERA in 11 spring innings across six appearances.
The argument made last week for putting him in the bullpen, was that he had nothing left to prove in triple-A and that minor league hitters can’t lay off of the pitches that he misses the zone with. Which in part is true. But he wasn’t particularly great in triple-A last year.
His WHIP was 1.415, walking 25 batters while striking out 59 in 53 innings and posting a 4.08 ERA. This is a guy that has had an odd ascension to the big leagues, only throwing 150 ⅔ minor league innings above High-A, yet throwing 157 innings in the big leagues with only marginal success.
The more important factor in all of this is that in all likelihood, at some point this season the Royals are going to need someone to replace an injured pitcher in the rotation, or replace Bruce Chen when his tank is on empty. That was supposed to be the plan all along. The loser of the Ventura/Duffy battle, would be insurance for a staff that threw a lot of innings last year and has four starters over the age of 31.
If someone in the rotation were to go down, if Duffy was in the bullpen, he wouldn’t be an option to replace an injured or ineffective rotation member.
In that scenario, the best option to move into the rotation would be who? Chris Dwyer? No thanks. Kyle Zimmer? Sure, if it were to happen in July, because the Royals have him on a delayed throwing program this spring.
After that it gets really dicey. The point is that the Royals should be applauded for actually doing the thing that makes the most sense, and that’s not something we’re used to saying around here.
The fact that Yost and Moore entertained this idea is evidence that the bullpen is becoming a concern. In 2013 it was an incredible asset. Suddenly though, it’s looking more and more like the loss of Luke Hochevar is going to sting.
In Sunday’s 13-9 loss to the San Francisco Giants, four pitchers that will pitch many of the meaningful late innings this year, were bad. Louis Coleman allowed six earned runs in ⅓ of an inning and has an ERA of 13.50 this spring.
The latter three all have ERA’s under 3.80 this spring, which is respectable, but the loss of Hochevar leaves a large hole to fill at the back of the bullpen.
Someone out of the group of Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno have to be more consistent than they have been at any other time in their careers. Duffy might be a guy that could fill that void, but the time is not right to pull the plug on him as a starter.
This is not to say Duffy can’t be a good bullpen piece. He can be. But with an arm like that, especially left-handed, the Royals need to be 100% sure he’s not cut out to be a major league starting pitcher before moving to that plan.