On Monday night, Danny Duffy went out and pitched the game of his life against Tampa Bay, an 8 inning, 1 hit(7 innings of no-hit ball), 16 strike out affair that gave Duffy the new team strikeout record for a single game. It gave many a national baseball analyst to finally discuss the great season that Duffy has had this year, a year that has seen a massive amount of growth. While his superb performance made the baseball world take notice, most in Royal Nation have been discussing a bigger issue when it comes to Duffy-should the Royals lock him up long-term, keeping him a Royal for the immediate future?
Back in April this seemed not quite comical but definitely would give you some funny looks if the idea was thrown out there. Duffy had been relegated to the bullpen to start the year and didn’t become a part of the Royals rotation until almost the middle of May. Since that time he has easily been Kansas City’s best starter; 96 innings, 105 strike outs, 2.98 ERA, 67% strikes thrown and a WPA(Win Probability Added by pitcher) of 1.336. Duffy has been averaging 6 innings a start, but you have to remember that he was on a limited pitch count during those first few starts, as he was transitioning to the rotation. He didn’t actually go 6 innings in a start until his fourth start and has now thrown quality starts in 10 of his 16 starts. One of the knocks on Duffy for years was that he wasn’t an efficient pitcher; it was a big deal if he was still in the game come the 7th inning. Danny has been working deeper into games and has also put up career high numbers; he has the highest K/9 of his career, lowest BB/9 and lowest FIP of his major league career. A man who once pitched purely on emotion has not only changed his approach, he has also changed the mentality he goes into each and every game:
It’s been pretty gratifying to not be a guy who’s gone five-and-dive, like I did for so long in my career,” Duffy said. “I’m not saying that’s not something that will ever happen again. But I have confidence when I take the ball that I’m going to do everything I can to hand the ball off to the bullpen late in the game.
The change in his mental approach is a big part of his success this year, but that is also a key to why the Royals should extend his contract for the long-term.
2016 isn’t the first time we have believed that Duffy had things figured out. Back in 2014, it seemed that he was able to unlock his potential, as he had put together what was a career year at that point. It really appeared as if Duffy had turned a corner, although there is a very noticeable difference between his success two years ago and today. What was very apparent back then was that Duffy wasn’t striking people out, as he was averaging 6.81 K’s per 9, the lowest average of his career. Thankfully the Royals superb defense was able to handle Duffy pitching to contact, as hitters were making the most contact against him(84.4%) in his career. That contact rate stayed fairly close in 2015(82.3%) but hitters were also getting a bit luckier off him last year on balls in play(.298 batting average on balls in play against Danny in 2015). Both stats have taken a decline so far this year, as the contact rate against Duffy sits at 72.3%(the lowest of his career) and hitters have a .286 BAbip. Throw in all the other career highs he is racking up this year and you can see why he is having a turnaround year in 2016.
So the numbers play the largest part in why the Royals should sign Duffy to a long-term deal, but there are a few more reasons an extension makes sense. For one, Duffy is still only 27 years old, as he won’t turn 28 until December. He hasn’t even reached 30 years old and these late 20’s are when a lot of pitchers learn to really pitch, not just throw. Maybe the biggest reason to lock him up now is the state of the Kansas City Rotation. The starting staff has struggled so far this year and there isn’t much help in the minors. If the Royals want to still be contenders, they are going to need more reliable starting pitching and keeping Duffy is a must. At some point the Royals are going to have to get younger in their rotation and with no arms on the immediate horizon, Duffy could be in that caliber of a Chris Archer or Sonny Gray, younger arms who lead their respective team’s staffs. Unless Kansas City goes out and swings a deal for a young talented starter, they will have to look older with either the lackluster free agent market or a trade. Locking up Duffy might be a cheaper way to go for the Royals rebuilding of the rotation.
So what kind of deal could the Royals off Duffy? Good question and in some ways it is hard to guess with the way the market is constantly being elevated. Let’s start first with years; I would go with either a 3-4 year deal with at least one option year(come on, you know Dayton can’t sign someone without a mutual option!). If the Royals go 3 years, give Duffy two option years. If you go 4 years, give him a mutual option for the 5th year. So what about money? Once again, I’m just throwing numbers out here, but let’s start with what he is making this year, $4.2 million. As a comparison, Chris Sale of Chicago is the same age as Duffy, although Sale has a better track record. Sale is making $9.2 million this year, which is higher than what Duffy will get, for sure. Let’s say Duffy gets $6 million in 2017, $9.5 in 2018, 12.5 in 2019 and $16.75 in 2020. That would be a 4 year, $44.75 million contract, which I might even be lowballing a bit, considering how the market has seen such a big increase these last few years. Still, the Royals are going to have to keep the contract manageable, and after Ian Kennedy’s contract I wouldn’t be surprised if they are gun-shy to dole out a contract of that magnitude again for a pitcher. Still, that is not a bad contract for a guy who hasn’t really been a top starter before this year.
Kansas City has a plethora of decisions to make this upcoming offseason, everything from figuring out what they want to do with free agents Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales, to rebuilding the starting rotation, there will be some shuffling going on throughout the winter months. While those decisions won’t be easy, procuring Duffy’s services for the immediate future should be a slam dunk. The last thing the Royals want to do is not have Duffy taken care of before he can become a free agent after 2017, especially with all the decisions that have to be made after next year. One of the top priorities for General Manager Dayton Moore this winter should be to make Duffy a Royal for the long-term. It’s going to cost Kansas City some dollars, but I would rather pay now than have him knock off another fantastic season in 2017 and raise his value even more. Signing Danny Duffy should be a must this offseason; it’s time to keep things ‘gnar’ in Kansas City moving forward.