Perhaps lost a bit in the trade-deadline shuffle, Kansas City left-hander Danny Duffy pitched one of the very best games of the year this past Monday. On the road against Tampa Bay, he had a no-hitter going until the eighth inning. By the time that inning had ended, Duffy had recorded 16 strikeouts against just one hit and one walk. After a fairly mediocre 2015 season spent mostly in the rotation, Duffy looked to be the next in line to become a very good reliever on a Royals team that has had its fair share. For the first month of the season Duffy pitched quite well out of the pen, but since the middle of May, he’s been a part of the rotation. Jeff Sullivan chronicled Duffy’s rise in the middle of June, noting in particular the lefty’s ability to throw for strikes, and hitters’ general inability to hit those strikes.
The numbers Sullivan cited in his post six weeks ago have remained good since then. Danny Duffy is generally a strike-thrower, keeping the ball in the zone 53% of the time this season, a figure which ranks sixth out of 95 qualified pitchers. Nor is he necessarily pitching to contact, however: his 78% Z-Contact rate is third in baseball behind only knuckleballer Steven Wright and Max Scherzer. Hitters haven’t fared too much better outside of the zone: his 56.6% O-Contact rate is 13th among qualifiers. His overall contact percentage (72%) and swinging-strike percentage (14.3%) sit behind only the figures produced by Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Michael Pineda, Max Scherzer, and Noah Syndergaard. His 62% first-strike rate is good, but closer to the middle of the pack.
In Duffy’s brilliant game against he Rays, his first-strike percentage was actually a tad lower than normal at 53.9%, and his zone percentage was just a bit under 50%. Where Duffy excelled was getting the Rays to chase the ball outside the strike zone. Of the pitches outside of the strike zone, Rays batters swung at 44% of them and made contact on just 20% of swings.
Danny Duffy has four pitches, and three of the four are above average when it comes to whiff rate, with only the slider coming in a bit below. However, the slightly below-average whiff rate on the slider is mitigated by a high ground-ball rate. Duffy is a fly-ball pitcher — having recorded a 44.6% fly-ball rate that ranks ninth in baseball and a 35.2% ground ball that places seventh from the bottom — but the slider has induced ground balls on 52.6% of balls in play. The table below depicts league-average whiff rate for all pitchers, for left-handed pitchers, for Duffy in 2016, and for Duffy in his 16-K start against the Rays, per data from Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball.
|2016 MLB||2016 MLB LHP||2016 Duffy||Duffy v Rays|
I have attempted to draw your attention to the ridiculous 53.8% whiff rate on the change. Duffy threw the pitch 26 times, hitters swung 19 times and they whiffed 14 times. That isn’t actually the high on the year for changeups; Jeremy Hellickson, David Price, and Matt Shoemaker have all recorded games with 16 whiffs on the change and Shoemaker has another three with 15 whiffs. Shoemaker actually has another two games with 14 and Kyle Hendricks has a game with 14, as well. (Brooks Baseball classifies Shoemaker’s pitch as a splitter.) The table below shows the pitchers with at least 14 whiffs on the change in a game, accompanied by the percentage of whiffs on the pitch.
|Pitcher||Whiffs on Change||Changes Thrown||Whiff % on Change|
Again, I would direct your attention to the highlighted portion, as Duffy’s percentage is the highest of the pitchers shown above. For some perspective on Duffy and the rest of the pitchers above, note that fewer than one in five starts in the majors this season has resulted in a pitcher recording at least 14 whiffs on all pitches. Duffy’s change has been good all year, but against the Rays, it was at its best. Duffy was getting more horizontal movement on the pitch, per this chart from Brooks Baseball.
On average, Duffy was getting close to two extra inches moving to his arm side on the change. Against left-handed batters, that meant that the pitch stayed outside, making it nearly impossible for the hitter to reach. Here it is against Nick Franklin getting nearly 13 inches of horizontal movement.
That pitch was darting down well out of the zone. Even when he left it up, though, it was difficult for Rays batters to find. Here it is against Tim Beckham in the eighth for what would be Duffy’s penultimate batter.
Of course, Duffy got whiffs on more pitches than just the change. He got 35 whiffs in all, which, as Daren Willman noted, is tied for most in the Statcast era. Taking that information, here is the highest percentage of whiffs for pitchers with at least 25 in one game (out of a total of 56 games).
|Date||Whiffs||Total Pitches||% of Whiffs|
|Rubby De La Rosa||2015-05-23||25||99||25.3|
You might notice a few games from 2016 up there. There have only been 77 starts with even 20 whiffs. Of those starts, here are the highest percentages of whiffs in a game.
|Date||Whiffs||Total Pitches||% of Pitches|
By Game Score, Duffy scored a 95, and in the last decade, that places him an at impressive 34th overall, per Baseball Reference’s Play Index. In 2016, it places him behind only Madison Bumgarner, Jaime Garcia, Vincent Velasquez, and tied with Clayton Kershaw. His Game Score is hurt a bit by not finishing the game; a scoreless ninth would have given him an even 100 and the highest score of the year. If comparing only to eight-inning games, only Corey Kluber‘s 18-K performance last season is ahead of Duffy with Johan Santana’s 17-K game against the Rangers in 2007 tied.
Duffy’s Game Score from Monday does represent the highest mark in Royals franchise history for a nine-inning game; the 16 strikeouts are a franchise record. In 15 starts this season, Duffy has struck out 29% of batters and walked just 5%. His 3.37 FIP and 2.98 ERA are both very good. If there’s a downside for the Royals, it is that Duffy, now 27, will be a free agent after next season. The Royals’ patience with Duffy has paid off, and he is a reminder that players do not always develop in a smooth upward trajectory.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.