Dodgers Add Finishing Touches Via Tyler Anderson and Danny Duffy

© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

While the Dodgers reached the peak of their offseason in signing Freddie Freeman to a mega deal, they aren’t one to stop after reaching a certain threshold. What’s next after building an impenetrable offense? Adding pitching depth! There’s no such thing as enough pitchers, a truism the Dodgers themselves can attest to after dealing with a myriad of absences last season. Maybe it’s no surprise they’ve not only signed Tyler Anderson to a one-year deal worth $8 million, but also Danny Duffy to an estimated one-year, $3 million contract that includes a club option for 2023 and performance bonuses.

In a rapidly shrinking pool of free agent starters, Anderson was arguably the best remaining option. Working for the Pirates and later the Mariners last season, he took the mound 31 times and compiled 167 innings to go along with about league-average results (4.37 FIP). Consistency and durability matters, and that’s what the Dodgers are hoping to get out of Anderson. Outside of a 2019 season plagued with injury, this is who he’s been: good workload, decent results.

One of Anderson’s greatest strengths is his solid command, which helps him get through games even without swing-and-miss stuff. To wit, if we look at the 115 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings last season, his walk rate of just 5.4% ranked 17th, tying him with Zack Wheeler and Sean Manaea. We can also afford a more granular look. This is an imperfect measure, but the table below shows Anderson’s rate of pitches located in the “Shadow” (i.e. edges) of the zone compared to the league average:

Anderson in the Shadows
Pitch Type Anderson League
Changeup 43.5% 42.6%
Cutter 41.3% 43.2%
Sinker 52.0% 44.6%

You’ll see that Anderson has pinpoint command of his sinkers – over half of them are on the black, producing plenty of called strikes. His changeup is above-average in this regard, too. The cutter falls behind, but hitters still have trouble squaring up against it due to its vertical break.

I’ve omitted his four-seam fastball, though, and that’s because it deserves its own paragraph. The pitch looks absolutely harmless at first glance; an average velocity of 90.6 mph is slow now, and still was even a decade ago. Anderson doesn’t care, though. He gets the job done regardless, which leads us to a fun fact. There were 165 pitchers last season who, upon offering an in-zone fastball to hitters, got them to swing 200 times. Twenty-three of them sat below 92 mph. Among those sluggish hurlers, here’s a list of the ones who recorded an in-zone whiff rate above 20%:

Tyler, the Outlier
Pitcher In-zone Fastballs Velocity (mph) Zone Whiff%
Tyler Anderson 555 90.5 22.5%

That’s it. And that’s it because it shouldn’t be possible for a pitcher like Anderson to induce such a high rate of whiffs across a large sample – inside the strike zone, no less. But again, he doesn’t care. There are a few compelling explanations as to why this is the case that deal with spin efficiency and release height, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t get into them. Just know that Anderson is an outlier, which, combined with his low walk rate, is probably what prompted the Dodgers to give him a chance.

Considering that he’s just one year older than Anderson, it’s surprising to see how many innings Danny Duffy has under his belt. He contributed to the Royals’ heyday as both a starter and reliever, averaging a 3.87 FIP during his 2014-17 peak. But all good things must come to an end, and Duffy’s performance took a downturn in the following years – since 2018, that FIP has ballooned to 4.54.

Regardless, he maintained enough of his former self to settle in as a backend starter. Even better, his 2021 season showed signs of… improvement? As a 32-year-old, Duffy added about a tick and a half to his heater. He set a career high in strikeout rate, albeit in a 61-inning sample. About that: Duffy had been cruising in the spring before straining his left flexor tendon, which kept him off the field July onwards. The Dodgers actually acquired Duffy at the trade deadline, hoping to stretch him into a starter by September as he made strides to recover. But after a marred bullpen session, the team ruled him out for the rest of the season. He underwent surgery this offseason.

The Dodgers have re-upped on Duffy, which is a sign they like what he has to offer. If I had to guess, it’s that uptick in velocity. It might not seem like much, but it’s made all the difference – both Duffy’s slider and curveball have tacked on vertical break, and it looks like his changeup is tailing more and dropping less. Most importantly, it made his already good fastball great. Going from 91-92 mph to the 93-94 range restored the amount of ride Duffy used to get on his heater:

But also, Duffy induced whiffs at a much higher rate last season than he ever did in his prime. That seems related to another adjustment he made: a willingness to climb the ladder. On the left is a heat map showing where his fastballs were concentrated in 2020, and on the right is where they were concentrated in ‘21:

There’s been a visible shift from the heart of the zone to the upper third. It potentially bodes well for Duffy’s capacity to listen to suggestions – changing one’s habits at his age isn’t a simple task, but he seems to have committed to a different approach last season. If the gains in velocity stick, Duffy enters this season with a plus heater that is complemented by a solid trifecta of secondaries. Maybe he ends up spending some time in the Dodgers’ bullpen, which should make his repertoire all the more lethal. Not too shabby for a depth option!

Unlike the lineup, the Dodgers rotation isn’t as indestructible as one may think. Per our Depth Charts, it’s projected as the sixth-best in baseball, ranking behind teams like the Mets, Brewers, and White Sox. Part of that, like whether Walker Buehler will continue to outperform his peripherals, is up for debate, but there’s also a clear amount of volatility. Dustin May is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Trevor Bauer is on an administrative leave that continues to be extended. Clayton Kershaw is back, but how many innings can he plausibly throw? And can Julio Urías maintain his quantity and quality from last season?

At the very least, Anderson and Duffy provide a way for the Dodgers to work around these questions in the short-term. If you recall, they also signed Andrew Heaney to a one-year pact almost as soon as the offseason began. There’s upside in each lefty, but all three should act as a safety net for the Dodgers even if they perform according to expectations. The back of the rotation is shaping up to be quite decent in Los Angeles. For a finishing touch, this ain’t much, but it’s honest work.

Justin is a contributor at FanGraphs. His previous work can be found at Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest. His less serious work can be found on Twitter @justinochoi.

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2 years ago

Raising the floor. Stars AND Depth.