On May 17, Danny Duffy threw what was among the best starts of his still-young major league career. Remember that? A 1-0 Royals victory over the Orioles?
I ask because in the haze of Wednesday’s debacle at the hands of the Houston Astros, it may be difficult to summon that outing from the memory bank. Duffy was, in his own words, “hogwash,” against the former worst offensive team in the AL. (The Royals, in addition to being swept by the Astros, also seized the opportunity to supplant them as the worst offense in the American League. Victory cigars for everyone!)
Anyway, it wasn’t about the miserable performance from Duffy. We’ve seen plenty of those. What we saw on Wednesday was much more alarming. Duffy’s fastball averaged 92.8 mph while his sinker clocked in at 90.1 mph. In the start against the Orioles referenced above, his fastball was 94.9 mph and his sinker averaged 93.8 mph. Simple math: Duffy’s fastball was two mph less than in his best start of 2014 and his sinker was almost four mph less. This is not good.
(I don’t want to look at Duffy’s seasonal velocity average because it will be skewed by his time in the bullpen.)
Maybe we can dismiss the velocity on his sinker since that’s a pitch he doesn’t use that frequently. Perhaps more notable was his usage of his change-up. In his start on May 17, Duffy mixed 10 change-ups among his 97 pitches. Wednesday, he threw his change once in 83 pitches. Maybe that’s another reason the Astros were banging the ball around the yard. They were sitting fastball and adjusting slider. There was no in-between.
Speaking of his slider, he was throwing that like normal. The break was close to his usual movement, accounting for the fact it was averaging about three mph less than his May 17 outing.
Perhaps more alarming was how Duffy was losing velocity through those 83 pitches. From Brooks Baseball, here’s the ugly velocity chart:
Compare that to the May 17 game.
Duffy always loses a little off his fastball the deeper he goes into the pitch count. But Wednesday’s game was something we haven’t seen in some time. Post-game, it was revealed Duffy was battling a “dead arm.” I suppose that’s possible. It’s fairly common. I just wonder how common for a pitcher who has thrown 35 innings in the season’s first two months to have a dead arm. With eight of those innings coming in relief.
I’m still not sold on Duffy being anymore than rotational filler. But with the uncertainty of Yordano Ventura, the Royals rotation is already stretched. (Yeah, there’s uncertainty around Ventura. Do you believe anything the Royals say when it comes to injuries? How many starters leave a start with elbow pain and are back a week and a half later?) Last I saw, the Royals starter for Ventura’s turn on Saturday was “TBA.” Because there aren’t any palatiable options. Lose Duffy at the same time… Let’s put it this way: The offensive struggles won’t be the only thing we’re discussing.
We’ve been over this before. At four games under .500, the season isn’t lost. But with a corpse-like offense that is showing no signs of a pulse, the season is slipping away. Lose two guys from your rotation and this team becomes a runaway freight elevator heading for the basement.