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September 3, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Danny Duffy

by Craig Goldstein

If someone had asked you back in April to guess the pitchers with the five best ERAs entering September, odds are you’d do pretty well. Clayton Kershaw is a given, as is Felix Hernandez. Chris Sale is as near a lock as there is, and Johnny Cueto wouldn’t have been too far down the list. You wouldn’t have been crazy to throw Yu Darvish or Adam Wainwright in there, but you would be wrong. No one would have foreseen Danny Duffy in the top five.

For good reason, too. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Duffy missed most of the following two seasons. He has totaled nearly double the innings in 2014 that he threw in 2012-13 combined, and he’s been far more effective in doing so. It’s not that Duffy was bad in that span, posting a 3.90 ERA (3.96 FIP) in 2012 and a 1.85 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 2013. Since returning though, he’s been a different pitcher. He’s striking out fewer batters and walking significantly fewer batters, and it’s set up a model of sustainable success for him, even if it’s robbed him of some of his fantasy ceiling.

R.J. Anderson already highlighted the impact that James Shields has had on Duffy (temperament section), and it’s something that’s been backed up by reports out of Kansas City all year. While we often work with numbers in the fantasy realm, it cannot be overstated how much a different mental approach (not falling apart with runners on base) has aided Duffy in 2014, and it’s borne out in said numbers, as his left-on-base percentage has dropped from 85.3 percent to 76.2 percent.

Part of the reason for the change in results, is a change in approach. While Duffy has seen parts of five seasons in the big leagues, with varying usage levels on his pitches, 2014 represents one of the larger samples to date. This year, he’s gone away from his fastball a bit (61-plus percent from 2010-12, 58.5 percent in 2014), and supplemented it with increased usage of his sinker, and breaking ball. While pitchf/x categorizes some of his breaking balls as sliders, Duffy’s grip is more in line with a curveball, though he clearly shows some feel for manipulation. If we total up what Brooks Baseball terms his curveball and slider, we can see he’s using his breaking ball more than ever before (slightly edging 2011).

There’s also the marked reduction in how often he’ll go to the changeup. It’s not a bad pitch, flashing depth and some slight drop, but it often arrives firm, without movement and lacking enough separation from the fastball. That Duffy has been willing to backfoot his breaking ball to right-handed hitters has allowed him to avoid throwing the worst pitch in his arsenal, and he’s seeing better results because of it. Duffy has been much more consistent in his ability to get strikes with his “slider” to right-handed batters, while also throwing the pitch significantly more often (illustrated below the quote). Overall, we’ve seen a two percent increase in breaking ball usage from 2014 compared to 2011-13:


Breaking Ball (count)

Total (count)







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Related Content:  Fantasy,  Danny Duffy

2 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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If Duffy was stranding 85.3% but is now stranding only 76.2% of his baserunners, that should not be an improvement, right? So are the numbers switched, or is the statement just wrong?

Sep 03, 2014 11:54 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Craig Goldstein
BP staff

It is wrong in a few spots, thanks for saying something. I am implying the inverse when what I meant to do was highlight he 85% as an anamoly due to SSS, but compare his current rate to the last time he had a decent sample (2011). That year he was at 70% strand rate, to which 76% would be a clear improvement.

Sorry about that very misleading mistake.

Sep 03, 2014 13:07 PM
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Premium Article Transaction Analysis: ... (09/03)
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