Danny Duffy on Pitching (and Not Overthinking)

Danny Duffy has had his ups and downs since being drafted by Kansas City in 2007. Many of the former have come in the past 12 months. The 27-year-old southpaw made three relief appearances for the Royals in last year’s World Series and has a ring to show for his efforts. This season, he has emerged as a dominant starter. Duffy is 11-2 with a 3.13 ERA, and his game log includes a 16-strikeout gem.

His resume includes rocky moments, as well. He’s undergone Tommy John surgery, shoulder woes, and more than a little inconsistency. The issues have been mental as well as physical. Duffy admits to having gotten inside his own head at times. He’s put too much pressure on himself, and an early-career soul-searching session even resulted in him walking away from the game for a few months.

Duffy talked about the road he’s traveled, and where he is today, when the Royals visited Fenway Park in late August.


Duffy on why he’s been able to take a step forward: “That’s an interesting question. I’m just trying to keep it simple, man. It’s that battle I’ve tried to conquer for a while. When you don’t make the game so difficult… it’s hard enough already. I’m kind of just trying to use my stuff for what it is and not trying to be better than I am.

“I don’t know that my stuff is better this year. I think it’s more that it’s a little more refined. I’ve kind of learned myself. [Pitching coach] Dave Eiland has helped me a lot. [Bullpen coach] Doug Henry has helped me a lot. Again, I just try to simplify everything and stay as composed as I can on the mound.

“You can’t expedite experience. You have to understand what you have in the tank, and what I have in the tank is a pretty good fastball, a pretty good changeup, and a pretty good breaking ball. My stuff will get people out if I use it the correct way. If I could put a finger on it, I guess I’m doing a better job of adjusting pitch to pitch.”

On adjusting and not being a numbers guy: “I know I probably sound extremely boring, but I just go with what the hitter is giving me. I think that goes into not making the game difficult, even though it is. I just read, react and adjust to the hitters. Until they adjust to me, I’m going to stay with what’s working, whether it’s a changeup knee to knee, or… if they’re swinging early and my fastball is good, I’ll run a two-seam in there and try to get them to roll over on it.

“I’m probably throwing more two-seamers than four-seamers this year, honestly. I can’t tell you exactly what the percentages are, because I don’t really pay attention to that. If you ask me too much about numbers, you’re asking the wrong guy. It’s not that I don’t use numbers at all, it’s just that I don’t pay as much attention to them as other people do. I just know what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, and I try to use what’s worked more than what hasn’t. Throwing in for effect, then going away, then going back in there… I’m just not a big numbers guy. That probably doesn’t come as a gigantic surprise to many people. I kind of just go day to day with what’s working.

“Before, I think my adjustments may have been too drastic when something wasn’t working. If something bad happened, like say with my curveball, it would be, ‘I need to throw it harder,’ or ‘I need to learn a slider.’ I thought that, if they were seeing my curveball well, I needed a harder breaking ball. I’d sell out on something I wasn’t ready for.”

On pressure and walking away from the game in 2010: “I used to put a lot of pressure on myself, but not to live up to expectations. I just wanted to be good, and I wasn’t. I had a really rough rookie year. I struggled. People go through their struggles, their ups and downs, and I did. That happened before I got to the big leagues, too.”

“I don’t think the pressure of success or failure led me to walk away from the game. I think it was more that I was a 20-year-old kid going on 15. I needed to learn how to be a man. I went home and got my wits about me, and here I am, seven years later.

“It was something where… you’re not always ready for all the things that are thrown at you when you’re 20 years old. All of this good stuff is happening and then, when something not so good happens, you’re not ready for it. You can’t get too high on the highs and too low on the lows. I was guilty of that. I’ve kind of let the game define me at certain points of my life. When things went bad on the field, or when things went bad off the field… that will set you up for failure. You need to keep an even keel.”

On putting things in perspective: “The last two years, I don’t think the mental side has really hurt me. The success just wasn’t there. I was inconsistent. I didn’t have fastball location. I wasn’t very good with my command. It was more of a physical thing the last couple of years.

“After Tommy John happened [in 2012] it was kind of a humbling experience to the point where, when I did have failures, it was, ‘Man, we need to change something.’ But at the same time, it was more of a physical thing. In 2014, I had a pretty dang good year in my own head.

“Again, I think how I think is to keep everything simple. Prepare as hard as you can. If you do that and it goes wrong on the field, you don’t have anything to be overly upset about. That’s kind of how I’ve been driven the last year and a half or so. The stats weren’t there last year, but I feel like, if that’s my worst season, I have it pretty good.

“I am doing well now, but I can’t dwell on it too much. If I do that — if I try to put it into perspective — I’m going to lose sight of my job. I mean, I’m obviously pretty pumped with how the season has gone so far, but we have a lot of time left. If you start thinking about personal accolades, you’re going to lose sight of the finish line, which is a team thing. We want to get back into the postseason. I need to just keep going out there and doing my job, and keeping it simple.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

You can’t expedite experience. Well put.