“(Duffy) is a heavy sweater. Not a heavy sweater that you wear, but a heavy sweater that sweats. I just think the heat got to him a little bit.”
– Ned Yost
I mean, that quote just about tells you everything you need to know about the weekend at Kauffman. After a difficult road trip where the Royals staggered to a 4-6 victory, home cooking tastes much better. Three games, three wins. With the AL Central sinkhole getting deeper, the Royals have now opened an 11.5 game lead over the second place Twins. Perhaps more importantly, they have a five game lead for the best recording the AL and home field throughout October.
It was hot on Sunday. Danny Duffy started well enough, retiring the first six White Sox in short order. His command disappeared in the third. To Duffy’s credit, he didn’t prop up against the excuse his manager provided.
Since returning from the disabled list, Duffy’s strikeout rate has cratered.
2011 – 7.4 SO/9
2014 – 6.8 SO/9
2015 pre-DL – 7.0 SO/9
2015 post-DL – 4.3 SO/9
In Duffy’s first eight starts of the year, opponents swung 45.5 percent of the time. He generated a whiff 13.5 percent of the time. In his eight starts since his return (not including Sunday), opposing hitters were swinging 46.6 percent of the time and missing the exact same 13.5 percent. The velocity is still there, yet the results couldn’t be more different. His ERA from his first eight starts was a Guthriesque 5.87 with a 4.54 FIP. There may have been some poor luck, but it wasn’t that poor. He simply wasn’t a good pitcher in the first two months of the season. Fast-forward and since his return from the DL, he has posted a 2.66 ERA, but a 4.88 FIP.
Duffy’s continued elevated FIP is reflected in a strikeout rate that has featured a precipitous decline. I get pitching to contact, and obviously the Royals have a defense that is unparalleled in baseball. Yet the best defense for a pitcher will always be a strikeout. Duffy has the stuff. We’ve seen it for stretches throughout his Royals career. We also know he’s struggled with his economy of pitches. It looks like Duffy has made the conscious decision to pitch to contact, but the numbers don’t back this narrative. In the eight starts prior to the DL, Duffy threw 53.4 percent of his pitches for strikes and batters made contact 86.5 percent of the time they swung the bat. In the eight post-DL starts, Duffy has thrown 52.1 percent of his pitches for strikes and contact has been made on 84.5 percent of the swings.
So Duffy is generating less contact but overall is throwing fewer strikes. That could explain any kind of variation in his strikeout rate, but not the extreme drop we’ve seen.
While Yost projected an aura of calm in his post game presser, referring a number of times to the luxury the Royals currently hold in the ability to give certain guys days off without worrying over the result of removing a key bat from the lineup or an important arm from the bullpen, he acted with appropriate haste in removing Duffy from the game. After wheezing through the third, Duffy only got three hitters in the fourth before he was allowed to cool down in the showers.
It was a proactive move from the manager, who realized that if he were to give Duffy any more rope, he’d hang himself within two or three more batters and the Royals would be facing a deficit after rushing out to a three run lead. Enter Kris Medlen. Last seen around these parts throwing just three pitches in an outing August 6 against the Tigers. There were no limitations on Medlen on Sunday as he got a strikeout and a fly out to get out of the first and third jam left behind by Duffy. Medlen mixed his fastball that topped out at 95 mph along with his curve and change to work 3.2 innings of no-hit baseball. He walked just one batter, but erased him with a pickoff in the fifth. It was exactly the kind of outing the Royals hoped he was capable of, after they rescued him from the Tommy John rehab pile last winter.
The 5-4 victory finished a series where the Royals posted wins of 3-2 and 7-6. Three one-run triumphs. When a foundation is poured with relief pitching and defense those kinds of wins happen with happy regularity. Indeed, that was their 18th win by a single run against just 10 losses. I’m glad teams like the White Sox are around in 2015. They remind me of those 2009ish era Royals teams. Poor fundamentals, crappy defense and just all around bizarre baserunning plays to TOOTBLAN the night away. Let someone else suffer the agony. We’ve had enough to last a couple of generations.
But hey, this is a “no nostalgia” zone. Live in the now. Because the present is pretty damn great. In case you forget that Yost continues to play with house money, consider the lineup he ran out behind Duffy to open the game. Off days to Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, plus the optioning of Cheslor Cuthbert and the recall of Paulo Orlando meant the Royals had a surplus of outfielders. Yost chose to position newcomer Ben Zobrist at third. We all know how Yost loves his Swiss Army Knife players, but this was a bit of a stretch. Yes, Zobrist has played all over the field, but he’s logged the fewest innings at third of all the positions he’s played in his career. Prior to Sunday, he has made two starts at third and fielded the position for a grand total of 20 innings.
Naturally, Zobrist didn’t handle a chance in the field all afternoon.
And with a one run lead in the eighth, Yost decided to bring Moustakas off the bench for defensive purposes. Naturally, with a runner at third and one out, Moustakas made a diving stab at a ground ball to hold the tying run at third and made the out at first.
Couple that substitution with his management of the bullpen and we can put this one in the Yost win column. The lesson: Never bet against Ned Yost. At least not in 2015.
So you know what? If Yost says Danny Duffy sweats a lot, I’ll just sit in my corner of the internet, nod my head, and keep socking away money for another October ticket buying extravaganza.
Before then, Johnny Cueto makes his home Royals debut against the Selling Tigers of Detroit on Monday. I suspect The K will greet our new ace with open arms. Forever Royal.