Royal Danny Duffy, the King of K’s
It has been a tough year for the defending world champion Kansas City Royals, but one guy has stepped up and made 2016 a year to remember. Danny Duffy has “turned the corner”, to use manager Ned Yost‘s words, and is quickly establishing himself as the Royals number one starter.
In no particular start had Duffy asserted himself as a star as much as he did Monday night. Royals fans will look back at August 1, 2016 as the day a new king was crowned. Duffy took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. He surrendered only one base runner on a lead-off walk in the fourth inning, then Desmond Jennings hit a line drive double into left field on pitch number 101 from the Royals southpaw. Salvador Perez, Duffy’s long-time catcher and friend, who debuted with Duffy in 2011, immediately went out to the mound to congratulate him and encourage him to keep his focus. Duffy did just that, calmly stranding Jennings at second base as he made history
Kevin Kiermaier jumped on Duffy’s next pitch, lining it into right-center, but Paulo Orlando chased it down, recording the first out. Duffy then struck out back-to-back hitters, whiffing Nick Franklin for his 16th strikeout of the night. With that fateful pitch, Duffy surpassed Zack Greinke‘s 15-strikeout game in his Cy Young 2009 season as the single-game franchise strikeout king.
This game may have been Duffy’s best, but it was hardly an outlier. In 2014, in his second season removed from Tommy John surgery, Duffy moved into the Royals rotation in late May and pitched brilliantly. He had a 2.53 ERA in 149 innings, which would have ranked him fifth for the ERA title had he reached the required innings threshold of 162. He almost certainly would have, but he suffered a shoulder strain on his first pitch in a September start at Yankee Stadium and missed the majority of that month. He also developed a stress fracture in his rib while trying to rehab his shoulder, and pitched only sparingly out of the bullpen in the Royals World Series run.
Last season was not an encouraging follow up campaign. In 136.2 innings, he put up an unsightly 4.08 ERA and struck out just 6.7 batters per nine innings. He was moved to the bullpen in September, and remained there as a power lefty reliever as the Royals captured their first title in thirty years.
This year, Duffy started in the bullpen again, as veteran free agent starters Chris Young and Kris Medlen were expected to pick up the majority of the workload at the back of the rotation. However, Young and Medlen both suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness, so Duffy was moved into the rotation in May for one more crack at starting. He has not looked back since.
In fifteen starts, Duffy is 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA and has recorded eight quality starts (six innings with three earned runs or less) in his last ten outings.
Duffy in 2016
In no area of his performance has Duffy improved so much as with his strikeout rate. In his great 2014 season and his poor one last year, Duffy was only average in that regard, striking out 6.8 and 6.7 batters per nine innings, respectively. This year, he has thrown 108.2 innings and struck out a staggering 126 batters, already setting a career high. This gives him an elite strikeout rate of 10.4/9, which ranks him third in the American league. This may be his most meaningful statistic this year, but it is just one of many categories in which he is excelling.
Duffy ranks in the top five in the AL in ERA (2.98), and WHIP (1.02), and, as ever, he ranks near the top against left-handed batters, allowing just a .222 batting average against fellow southpaws. Until he allowed a solo shot to Rougned Odor against the Texas Rangers in his last start, Duffy had not allowed a homer against a lefty since probable Hall of Famer Jim Thome took him deep in his rookie season in 2011. Overall, Duffy has become the Royals clear No. 1 starter, and would clearly be the favorite to start in an elimination game if the Royals were to make it back into the wildcard hunt.
There has been much talk among Royals fans on social media about a potential contract extension for Duffy, who is eligible for free agency after 2017, his final year of arbitration. Dayton Moore, though, has a strict policy of not negotiating contracts in-season unless the player approaches him first, so those talks will likely have to wait. For now, Royals fans can enjoy a new strikeout king, and be proud to watch one of the best left-handed starters in the majors pitch for their team every four days.