Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Duffy’s Cy Young obstacle, the promise of the Chiefs’ offense and more

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

Right now, Danny Duffy is the only man in the American League qualified for the ERA title and ranking in the top three in ERA*, strikeout rate**, and WHIP***.

* Second, at 2.66.

** Third, at 9.54 per nine innings.

*** Second, at 1.010.

He is also among the league leaders in OPS against (eighth, .636), adjusted ERA (first, 66 percent better than league average), and Wins Above Replacement (seventh at 4.2 on Baseball-Reference, ninth at 3.2 on FanGraphs).

There is a growing discussion among some Royals fans about Duffy’s chances at the Cy Young Award. I’m among the voters this year, and will be surprised if he doesn’t appear on some ballots, but will be shocked if he wins.

The reason is, basically, quantity of work. He should have about seven more starts this year, which would give him around 180 to 190 innings. At the moment, he is at least 20 innings behind Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.

The last 10 AL Cy Young winners have pitched 232, 235  2/3 , 214  1/3 , 211, 251, 249  2/3 , 229  1/3 , 223  1/3 , 241, and 233  2/3 innings.

That’s a big deal. If the numbers are close — Hamels, for instance, has a virtually identical adjusted ERA with 22 more innings — it’s an easy and logical tiebreaker to use.

Royals' Danny Duffy on latest win: 'Just battle' 

This week’s eating recommendation is the Cuban sandwich at The Lunch Box, and the reading recommendation is Pin Kings by Brett Forrest. Everything I link to here is great, but I want to make a special mention for this. An absolute tour de force of storytelling, on multiple platforms, done through terrific reporting and with a smart touch. So good.

As always, please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.

Sure!

I mean, they can. And that’s what you want to read anyway, and it’s Tuesday morning, and we’re all feeling good, so, yeah, let’s start there. They can make the playoffs. It’s possible!

But the more relevant question is, “will they do it?” Or, using the phrasing of the original question here, WILL THEY DO IT???

And, well, no. They will not.

Sorry.

ducks

It’s just an enormously big ask. I don’t want to go through the whole column here — please read it, I’ve got kids to feed! — but the math is working against them. They’d have to finish 26-12 to get to 90 wins. They did not win 26 times in any 38-game stretch last season, when they won more games than anyone else in the American League.

And it wouldn’t just be a 26-12 stretch. Combined with what they’ve done recently, it would be a 34-12 stretch, or 37-13. That’s just incredibly rare. Done by just two teams in the last five years. That’s 150 teams, done just twice, and now you’re asking this specific team to essentially do it on call.

You can talk yourself into reasons for optimism, that the rotation is fixed, that Alex Gordon is fixed, that this team always plays better when it’s pushed to the edge of the cliff, but please allow me to ask you this question:

Is it more likely that the Royals do something that’s only been done twice by any team at any point of any of the last five seasons right now ... or ... that they are a good team playing their best stretch of the year, a fun time that will help them get back to the 85-wins-or-so prediction of the handsome local sports columnist, and close enough to a playoff spot that everyone will be curing that rotten July?

Sorry for the downer, but I do mean this with all my heart: happy Tuesday! Go eat some tacos!

(I also hope that if you read the column, you make it to the last line.)

You are right about that prediction, and I know exactly how serious anyone took it anyway, but I do want to point out it always came with the disclaimer that I wanted to see training camp and the preseason before wrapping my arms around a real prediction that I am nonetheless just as certain will turn to crap.

And, well, at the moment I’m back and forth between 9-7 and 10-6.

The offense has been better than people have realized, but should be good enough now that people will start to realize it. The receivers aren’t great, and I hope we don’t get sidetracked into a big thing here if I say Alex Smith is a fine quarterback but not Aaron Rodgers, but there’s enough there to believe they can win even if the defense gives up some points.

I also think they have some more subtle things going their way. The schedule isn’t too bad — 16th, actually, based on opponents’ 2015 win percentage — and laid out in a way that should benefit them:

▪ They start out with the Chargers at home, at the Texans, and the Jets at home. That could be a 3-0 start, and the more I cover the NFL the more convinced I am that the early games take on a disproportionate importance because of how belief and effort can tip the scales in a league that’s so driven by parity.

▪ The AFC West is wide open. Ten wins could do it, and even if I’m right about the growing uncertainty of Justin Houston’s return, the Chiefs don’t play the Broncos until Nov. 27.

I’m still a little concerned about the cornerbacks behind Marcus Peters, and I’m curious about both how good Eric Berry will be when he returns, and how that situation will play in the locker room. But I also think it’s important to remember that all teams have problems, and the Chiefs have a lot going for them, too.

Enough that — and 300 words into it, I’m finally answering your question — I’d be very surprised if they went 5-11. Andy Reid is too good of a coach, and the roster has too many good players.

I don’t know how much I’d bet on the Chiefs making the playoffs, but I would bet a lot of money on them winning at least eight games.

See what I mean about the offense being better than some might think?

We talked about this on the Border Patrol, but they were fourth in the AFC — behind the Patriots, Steelers and Bengals. They were 27th in yards, but that’s more a function of great field position (best in the NFL, actually) and a ball-control operation that had them running fewer plays than everyone but the Rams.

There’s also a small technicality to note here. We often confuse “scoring offense” with “points,” but in the Chiefs’ case, their team point totals are usually boosted by the defense. Last year, only the Panthers scored more touchdowns on defense. If Tyreek Hill is effective in the return game, the Chiefs will get some points there, too.

But, anyway, that’s all confusing the point. I will be the over here, if that means their ranking will be sixth or worse. To be fifth, they’d have to beat out at least four of the following: the Panthers, Cardinals, Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks, Giants, Bengals, and Saints. We have not mentioned the Packers, Cowboys or Colts, each of whom, for various reasons, should score many more points than they did a year ago.

I would expect the Chiefs to again be somewhere between seventh and 10th, but to move the ball more efficiently and consistently.

Maybe a little? But only a little. And only if you like to worry.

Berry has made the Pro Bowl in each of his four full seasons, and been named All Pro in each of the last two. He will be playing in the same system for the same defensive coordinator he’s had since 2013. You can argue that the personnel in the secondary will be slightly different, but I would argue that Berry needs training camp more than I needed that 23rd Starburst this morning, but not by much.

More than that, I fully support Berry sitting out as much preseason as he wants. In the NFL, the power is shifted far more toward the owners than in baseball or basketball. Players don’t have many rights, or privileges, but skipping some preseason while playing on a one-year franchise tag is one of them. If I were Berry I’d be doing the exact same thing, and I’d bet you would, too.

Technically, he doesn’t have to report until some point after the season starts to accrue the year of service time he’d need to either get a big raise on another franchise tag or, more likely, become a free agent. But guys don’t often take this into the season, and I’d be surprised if Berry let this go much longer.

There are 19 days until the season opener. My answer would be a little different next week, a little more different the week after that, and a lot different the week after that.

Meh.

Guess it depends on your definition of suspect. They’ve ranked fifth, second, and third in points given up the last three years. Seventh in yards, two years in a row. So I don’t know what suspect is.

If it’s bottom half of the league in either, maybe. If it’s bottom half of the league in both, I don’t think so.

And if you can tell me when Houston will return, I’d be more confident in my answer.

I’ve written about this a lotreally, a lot — but the potential fatal flaw on this team is the pass rush. Much of this revolves around Houston, but not all of it. Tamba Hali’s knees are important, as is Dee Ford’s development, as is Bob Sutton’s ability to milk pressure out of a talented defensive line and some aggressive packaging.

I do think there will be more ways to attack the Chiefs this year than in the past. If I was game-planning against them, I’d run toward Dee Ford and throw at whoever Marcus Peters isn’t covering, for starters.

There are still good players on the defense, though. If Derrick Johnson can come close to duplicating what he did last year, it would go a long way toward stopping the run. The defensive line is good enough to bother the pass and the run.

But, really, so much of it depends upon Houston’s return — both in date and effectiveness — and Sutton’s ability to coax a pass rush out of everyone else. I’m expecting the defense to step back a bit, but still be average or better.

I do think it’ll be the first time since Dick Vermeil worked here that the offense will be better than the defense.

Brisket, followed closely by ribs, but I feel like anything on the smoker is cheating so the answer should be chili and, holy moses, typing this sentence makes me realize I am a complete cliche.

I should mention, too, that nearly everything I do on the smoker should be credited with a great reader named Evan. Four or five years ago, I mentioned that I wanted to give it a try, and he sent me pages and pages of recipes and tips I still use today. Evan is a hero.

I do like to cook, too. There isn’t as much time to do it now, with the kids, but once a week or so I like to push out a few hours to make something good. Lasagna was the last one. Weird for the summer, but please don’t judge.

Eating is so much better than not eating.

Sorry if I’m taking your wording too literally, but it’s David Glass who writes the check, and this is no small technicality.

Since about 2006, Glass has operated like a good small-market owner. Since about 2013, readers have stopped yelling at me when I’ve written that. He supported the baseball-operations plan of spending big on amateur talent when that was still allowed by MLB, and this past offseason OK’d the two biggest contracts in franchise history.

But there’s a limit, somewhere. The limit will almost certainly be less than Eric Hosmer’s next contract, and could be less than what it would take to sign Duffy long term.

The Royals have every reason to sign Duffy. He is homegrown, wildly talented, with a strong work ethic, deep connection to the cause, and he occupies both a premium position in baseball and a position of need for the Royals.

But I do wonder how willing Glass will be to do another big money, long-term contract. I don’t know what Duffy and his agent will be looking for, either in years or dollars. I do think Glass will resist anything more than a four-year extension for a player they control through the end of next season.

Glass does not like to waste money, and if we can agree that the Sal Perez contract situation should be in a different category, I believe the last two five-year contracts the Royals gave were for Gil Meche and now Ian Kennedy. The team got incredibly fortunate when Meche walked away from that last year of the deal.

Kennedy has been good — when he avoids home runs, anyway — but there have been enough rocky points that I imagine Glass isn’t thrilled that he’ll be paying Kennedy $16.5 million at the age of 35.

Anyway, if you’ve read this space regularly, you know I’m a Duffy guy, and always have been. I think he is exactly the kind of man you bet on, particularly with the potential reward, but I also understand the arguments against it.

Duffy is on pace to finish this season with 26 starts, and somewhere around 180 to 190 innings. His previous career highs are 25 and 149  1/3 . He would be 29 years old in the first year of the extension, and just last year had a 4.08 ERA.

Baseball is wildly unpredictable. The Royals will almost certainly blast their way into the playoffs, making me look like a doofus*.

* Fine, making me look even MORE like a doofus.

They already signed Alex Gordon, when nobody thought that was possible, and they made the World Series after everyone left them for dead in 2014 and won the World Series after everyone thought they’d fall back in 2015. So, whatever. This just feels like a negotiation that will have a lot of space between the two sides.

But, to answer your question, I’d be good with a five-year extension that begins in 2018 and guarantees $90 million.

Kennedy’s opt-out means this isn’t an apples-apples comparison, but I believe Duffy would be two years younger than Kennedy at the beginning of the deal, with a much higher ceiling. Actually, I’m not sure 5-90 would get it done.

The best is clam chowder and crab cakes at Fenway Park in the playoffs. My goodness, that was delicious. Had to have been eight years ago or so, and I still remember it.

The worst? The answer is nothing, because it’s free, and if you complain about free food you are obnoxious and should be punched in the neck. I mean, worst-case scenario, there’s always a concession stand outside.

Two spots? Maybe three?

They are behind, in order: Oklahoma (3rd in the AP poll), TCU (13th), Oklahoma State (21st), Baylor (23rd), Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. They are ahead of Iowa State and Kansas, in case you were worried about someone catching K-State from behind.

The well-worn predictor around K-State is whether Bill Snyder has a returning quarterback. The last six times he has, the Cats have won at least nine games. Otherwise, it’s been a struggle. Jesse Ertz has not attempted a pass at K-State, but there seems to be some genuine optimism around him.

I have no idea if he’ll be any good. But I do think eighth is ridiculous. The defense should be very good, if nothing else, and someone from that group above is going to fall. I’ll be legitimately shocked if Baylor finishes in the top 25. Texas is always a candidate to play below its preseason ranking. Tech and West Virginia were only a game better than K-State in conference last year.

The schedule is interesting. K-State opened as a 16  1/2 -point underdog against Stanford in the season opener next week. I know the non-con isn’t relevant to your question, but that’s the kind of game it seems that Snyder does better than expected. At worst, they should be 2-1 entering the conference season, and then immediately play at West Virginia and against Tech at home the first two Saturdays in October. The answer to your question could be decided early, in other words.

I don’t know. There isn’t a home game they can’t win. They’ll be favored at Iowa State, and could win at West Virginia and at Baylor, at least.

I can see 6-3 in the conference — losing at Oklahoma, at TCU, and one more. Even if you’re not as optimistic, it’s hard to imagine them finishing third-to-last in a league that includes Kansas and Iowa State.

I like Conley. I believe he and Albert Wilson have both improved, but I like Conley’s upside more, and remember too many plays from a year ago that Wilson should’ve made or at least should’ve made closer.

This is a weird thing to say about a man who is paid to catch footballs, but at least early, it seems to me that Conley is catching the ball with much more confidence than a year ago. He made several nice plays against the Rams, including a long catch on third-and-short.

He is far more gifted than Wilson, and his aptitude has never been questioned. It’s just been about learning the position, for a three-star high school recruit who went to college at a place where they rarely passed. That touchdown he caught in the playoff game, on a play he never repped in practice, is telling.

I’m expecting him to be the Chiefs’ most improved player, actually.

I like this game!

The playoff teams from last year: Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Broncos and Chiefs in the AFC. Washington, Vikings, Packers, Panthers, Cardinals and Seahawks in the NFC.

The Texans are the easiest out pick. I actually think it’s more likely they finish last in the AFC South than make the playoffs. Washington is the second easiest out pick. The Giants’ defense can’t be that bad, the Cowboys tanked after Romo’s injury, and the Eagles, well, who the hell knows about the Eagles.

I’ll fill out the four with the Bengals (their run has to end at some point) and the Cardinals (I think their defense will take a big step back) but if I look at this long enough, I’ll pick the Broncos to miss the playoffs because are they serious with Trevor Siemian?

The four in: Colts, Jets, Giants, and Bucs.

I’d give you my reasons, but you don’t want to hear it.

David Glass, Dayton Moore, Dan Glass, Kevin Uhlich, we could go on and on, they all have their political leanings. I do think they are united in wishing everyone in the organization would keep their leanings private, particularly in the middle of such a heated and ugly campaign, because baseball is business and sports are a distraction and profits are above all.

But, the organization will react to Brett’s tweets exactly the way it should react to anything George Brett does: by acknowledging that George Brett does what George Brett wants, and if anyone is going to tell George Brett otherwise, it will be his wife and not anyone employed by the Royals.

Has he not been punished enough?

He’s become a public embarrassment, his endorsement career diminished, his credibility cratered, even as the USA Today did a very good investigation raising questions about the whole thing.

I just don’t know what more can, or should, be done. This was likely his last Olympics anyway. If you suspend him, I’m not sure what that really means.

I’m taking the answer to a place your question probably didn’t intend, but the more I think about these things, the more I wonder if it should be up to leagues or sports governing bodies to punish athletes outside of the law. This is a large part of what’s put Roger Goodell in such an unpopular place.

It’s a complicated issue, though, because leagues are businesses and they have both the right and responsibility to act in their own best interests. If perception exists that a particular league is condoning bad behavior, eventually advertisers are turned off.

Teams — and I guess I’m thinking specifically of the NFL here — exist in an awkward gray area, too, where off-the-field issues can impact on-the-field production in many ways. This is part of why I thought it was a mistake for the Chiefs to draft Tyreek Hill, and part of why watching how the gamble turns out is so fascinating.

But, I don’t know. To answer your question, if I was USA Swimming, I would probably suspend him but do so knowing it’s an empty punishment done solely for PR.

First, I want to credit Susan Slusser here, one of the best beat writers in baseball, for her reporting on all of this. Susan is so good at her job, and it’s from the work of great reporters like her that we learn so much about the teams and athletes we follow.

Anyway, this was the first thing we talked about on the Border Patrol the other day. I hope you listen to it.

Valencia has played for six teams since 2012. The Blue Jays DFA’d him when he was slugging .506. He has a reputation, at least in some circles, for being uncoachable, arrogant, and entitled beyond the normal standard for a ballplayer. The Royals, who value clubhouse chemistry more than most, traded him after just 36 games.

Butler — and I should say here that I really like Billy — has his own reputation. It is not hard to find baseball people who say he talks too much, and too often about himself. He is almost certainly the Royals’ all-time leader in being the butt of a joke, and most of it was good-natured, but with an underlying tinge of purpose.

I believe it was John Buck who once told me, “guys might roll their eyes or get annoyed with him, but we all know he’s harmless, and means well.”

The Royals had a way of managing Butler. It wasn’t always smooth, and it wasn’t always fair, but for the most part they were able to navigate. When he signed with Oakland, one baseball man who knows Butler well told me it was the worst place in baseball for Billy, because he was going from a place that knew him well and protected him to a place with a reputation for treating players as commodities.

I don’t know if that has anything to do with his struggles in Oakland*, but it is something I remember.

* He was bad his last year in Kansas City, too, and his numbers this year are better, though he’s been used primarily as a platoon DH against lefties, which really isn’t a thing in baseball unless your team owes you a ton of money and doesn’t have any other options.

Point is, there are many who work or have worked for the Royals who wouldn’t mind a Butler-Valencia fight to end with each man bruised.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for not dropping a “why are they in the clubs they should be focused on baseball!” take. I realize they were off yesterday, so anything like that would’ve been particularly insane, but I believe that one benefit of social media in sports is that the connection built with fans means less temptation to see athletes as robots*.

* There’s a Wade Davis joke in here somewhere, but I can’t find it.

They go to concerts, they go to bars, they even get drunk sometimes. It’s a sign of progress that this used to be the kind of behavior media covered up out of concern about what fans would think, and now athletes are comfortable enough to broadcast it on their own.

There are exceptions to this, obviously, and I am not advocating for athletes to go full-on, sophomore frat boy seven days a week. I just appreciate that many fans can see their favorite athletes letting loose at the club and not question their commitment or work ethic.

Good for all of us.

Now, let’s go back into the rest of the Internet and find something to be mad at.

 

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