Opinion

Here’s how Royals pitcher Danny Duffy is evolving

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy. jsleezer@kcstar.com

This is the continuation of a weekly stats column to examine how this year’s Royals compare to the 2015 World Series champions. All numbers through Tuesday’s game.

Danny Duffy has been one of the Royals’ success stories this season, emerging as the team’s best starter since being moved to the rotation from the bullpen.

And though many have talked about his fastball velocity spike as being a big reason, it appears a change in philosophy also has helped get him there.

In 2014, Duffy was known for his big, looping curveball. He talked about it with Fox Sports’ Daron Sutton then, saying one of the keys for it was “just not trying to throw it too hard.” Back then, Duffy was content to have that pitch sit in the mid- to high-70s.

He’s changed his approach this season, something that’s easy to see from the Pitchf/x chart from Fangraphs.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Something important to note: Pitchf/x has listed this pitch as a curveball the last three seasons, though oftentimes, these pitches can be misclassified. Duffy’s pitch is more often called a “slider” or “breaking ball,” but the point is that the lefty has decided to become a power pitcher with his secondary stuff.

Here’s a look at the difference.

In simple terms, Duffy has traded about 5 inches of vertical movement for 8 miles per hour. It seems to have worked, as Duffy appears to be able to command the pitch better (he’s almost cut his career walk rate in half this season), and writer Ian Post believes this pitch also might be harder to for batters to read out of the hand now, as it comes from a flatter plane like Duffy’s fastball.

Whether that’s the exact reason for his success or not, Duffy deserves credit for redefining himself. Though it can be difficult to go away from what’s comfortable, Duffy has shown it can bring a great reward as well, as he’s well on his way to the best season of his professional career.

Let’s take a look at this week’s team numbers.

Hitting

2015 — .269/.322/.412 (Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage)

2016 — .271/.320/.407

Last 7 days — .244/.324/.317

A week after talking about how the Royals were on pace for the worst walk rate in 50 years, I probably should have guessed this would happen: The team went walk-crazy, posting the eighth-best rate in the majors over the past week, which included a seven-walk game against the Tigers on Saturday. KC has moved its walk percentage from 6.0 percent last week to 6.2 percent, which is on pace to now be second-worst since 1969 in front of only the 2002 Detroit Tigers.

Hitting with runners in scoring position

2015 — .282/.347/.426

2016 — .273/.333/.399

The Royals were able to end one negative “clutch” streak this week, as Jarrod Dyson provided the team’s first grand slam of the season. Only three teams — Arizona, Cleveland and Philadelphia — remain without a grand slam, while Washington and Houston lead the majors with five each.

Starting pitching

2015 — 4.34 ERA, 16.8 K%, 7.6 BB%

2016 — 4.93, 21.0, 8.7

Last 7 days — 3.86, 19.8, 6.9

The Royals starting pitchers posted better results with help from better home-run suppression. The rotation allowed four home runs in 28 innings, or put another way, 1.29 homers per nine innings compared to its 1.64 mark for the season.

Relief pitching

2015 — 2.72, 22.9, 8.7

2016 — 3.06, 22.9, 7.9

Last 7 days — 6.00, 14.1, 4.7

It’s been a poor week for KC’s bullpen, which saw a significant drop in strikeouts after the All-Star break. Luke Hochevar was one of the guys that struggled most, allowing three runs in an inning against Detroit in the rare game where KC’s bullpen surrendered a late lead. Though Hochevar has been OK this year with a 3.75 ERA and 3.79 FIP, he hasn’t pitched the part of someone who should be relied upon in high-leverage situations, which is probably where KC envisioned him being with his $5.5 million contract this season.

Defense

2015 — 51 defensive runs saved (.315 per game, 2nd in MLB)

2016 — 21 defensive runs saved (.226 per game, T-6th in MLB)

Duffy appears to have helped his own pitching line with his defense, as he’s one of only two Royals pitchers to post a positive number (plus-2) in defensive runs saved. Joakim Soria has posted a plus-1 as well, while Edinson Volquez is at the bottom of the pitcher list with negative-3.

Top 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Cain 6.6, Moustakas 3.8, Hosmer 3.5, Gordon 2.8, Ventura 2.7

2016 — Perez 2.3, Cain 2.0, Duffy 1.7, Dyson 1.5, Herrera 1.5

No Royals player is on pace for more than 4 WAR, as both injuries and regression from a few key players have left the team without a true superstar. It also makes you appreciate what Cain accomplished last year, as the combination of elite defense, above-average offense and good health resulted in one of the top individual seasons in Royals history.

Bottom 5 in Fangraphs WAR

2015 — Infante -0.9, Guthrie -0.9, Almonte -0.4, Gomes -0.3, Coleman -0.2

2016 — Young -1.5, Escobar -0.6, Fuentes -0.1, Pounders -0.1, Soria -0.1

This is not a great spot for Soria to be in, especially considering the Royals owe him a minimum of $18 million combined for two years after this season. Soria is troubling the wrong way in two areas: His walk rate has gone from 3.3 percent to 7.0 to 10.1 the last three seasons, while his home-run rate also has spiked, moving from 0.41/9 innings in 2014 to 1.35 this season.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

  Comments