When Spring Training started last month, Danny Duffy looked to have a good shot of making the Kansas City Royals rotation. Early on it seemed as if Duffy had an inside shot at being the team’s fifth starter. Then Yordano Ventura came in and embarassed batters as if they had bullied him as a kid(except for Eric Sogard). So with Ventura locking up a rotation spot, that now leaves Duffy on the outside looking in. Originally it looked as if Duffy would go to AAA Omaha to start the year, but word trickled out this week that the team was seriously thinking of putting Duffy in the bullpen. Now it appears as if Duffy will in fact be in the pen, as the Royals feel nothing will get accomplished for him in Omaha. With that said, is this the best thing for Danny Duffy, the pitcher?
When the idea was first floated around, I will admit to being highly intrigued. Duffy has electric stuff, including a mid-90’s fastball with a change, sinker and curveball. Duffy’s biggest challenge since he made it to the “bigs” is pitch efficiency. For every batter he would strike out, there is a batter who either walked or was at least able to work the count full. In most starts, Duffy would reach his pitch limit by the 5th inning, with even a few coming earlier than that. So the idea of a guy with his stuff being able to just go out there and blow people away seems like an interesting idea. The only problem is the Royals bullpen already has more arms than roster spots. There’s also that pesky issue of the lack of young starters developed by the Royals over the years…
The Royals are currently in a situation where they can’t just discard good arms to the pen. Kansas City has done an awful job developing young starters during Dayton Moore’s tenure(hell, you could go back even farther if you want. Jim Pittsley anyone?). Ventura making the rotation this spring makes him the only starter who came up through the Royals farm system. The last young pitcher to give Royals’ fans hope? Danny Duffy. Before that? Zack Greinke. There are a couple more arms heading to Kansas City soon(Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte chief among them), but they could still be a year or more away. The Royals need someone to step up this year, especially since they can’t let Bruce Chen start all year if they want to contend. With James Shields probably gone after this season, it puts even more pressure on the Royals to develop starting pitching. So one hopes this isn’t a long-term thing and is more of a ‘for now’ thing. In fact, many feel as if the Royals should keep him starting, even if it is down in AAA. Craig Brown of Royals Review among them:
It makes sense. If the Royals use Duffy out of the pen in the first half of the season and then want him to shift to the rotation, it will take awhile before his arm is stretched out to handle the extra workload. Pitching in Omaha would solve that.
But go back to some of the comments Ned Yost and Dave Eiland made:
“You can have success in Class AAA doing exactly what you’re doing now,” Yost said. “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.”
Added pitching coach Dave Eiland, “He needs to learn how to get big-league hitters out. And the only way he can do that is in the big leagues.”
I really feel this is the real argument here. Duffy has developed as much as he can in the minors. There is very little left for him there to accomplish or learn in AAA. AAA hitters are different than major league hitters, by a wide margin. Duffy’s biggest issue has been a lack of efficiency and being able to finish off batters. Half a season in the bullpen can get him to work on it, on top of not having the pressure of being a starter. There is a lot more thinking when it comes to being a starter. In the bullpen, you only need two above average pitches(or one filthy pitch) and a lot less pacing. Sure, Duffy would have to go back to that at some point, but half a season of not thinking might be the best thing for him. One rival executive even agrees with that line of thinking:
“Some of these guys that are high octane, they’re better off not knowing when they’re going to pitch,” the executive said. “Because they sit around the four days in between just dwelling on it.”
To a degree, even Duffy agrees with this line of thinking:
“I think that my game would play very well out of the bullpen, but that’s just my opinion that I’ve had for my whole career,” said Duffy. “I’ve stated my case for that a few times.”
It sounds like Duffy has been open to a move to the bullpen for awhile now. That might be the best thing for him, at least for now. It sounds like he would be more comfortable coming out of the pen.
So what is the best thing for Danny Duffy and his future? I think at this point, both arguments make sense, but the case being made for him to get actual major league hitters out seems like the best course of action. If Duffy excels in the role, they can just insert him in the rotation mid-season, even stretching out his relief appearances building up to his return to the rotation. If he fails out of the pen there are bigger issues at hand than just pitch efficiency and over-thinking. For the long term, the Royals need Duffy to be in the rotation. But for now, a major league role(any major league spot) might be just the thing to tap into his true potential. That is the true endgame.