The Kansas City Royals announced a contract extension today with their young left-handed starting pitcher, Danny Duffy. The deal ensures Duffy will wear the Royal blue for another 5 years. Coming off of a fantastic campaign in which he finally displayed the results that matched his talent, he was worth about 4 WAR and solidified his role as a true starting pitcher. The Royals signed him for 5 years and $65Million in what should be a decidedly team-friendly deal.
Duffy has been something of a favorite of mine for the last 12 months. I did a deep dive on his success back in June, but the basic key for Duffy, as with most other pitchers, was his ability to locate his fastball and cut down on his walks. He also made an appearance in my Golden Age of the Lefty Fastball piece as guy who averages 95 on his fastball. That deep dive published just as I was moving and shaking in my fantasy league, with the goal of snagging Duffy off of the waiver wire. A certain OTBB editor saw that piece and pounced, leaving my squad a starting pitcher short. All I could do was follow the summertime dominance longingly. The Royals, having likely learned from my fantasy squad, will not be watching Duffy dominate for another team for the bulk of his prime years. They know how good he is.
Critics will point to Duffy’s injury history and condemn the Royals’ apparent lack of concern on that front. Those people are wrong. Any young pitcher is an injury risk and Duffy missed most of 2012/2013 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Since then, the Royals have been unsure how to use their fireballing lefty. He has spent time in the rotation, but also made 28 appearances out of the bullpen since his TJ return. In that time, he’s pitched 490 innings with a 3.29 ERA and struck out nearly 8 per 9 innings. Only 18 other pitchers in baseball have reached those basic thresholds. (The full list is about who you would expect, plus Masahiro Tanaka, Lance Lynn, and Tyson Ross.) He’s established himself as an effective pitcher, if without the steadiness you would like to see at the front of a rotation.
To truly understand what kind of deal the Royals just got, we have to understand the baseball market in 2016. Simply: players are getting paid lot’s of money to do what they do.
Mark Melancon is a reliever who got a 4 year, $62 Million deal this offseason. While this is a bit of apples and oranges comparison, Melancon has thrown some 200 fewer innings since 2013 and had roughly the same K/9, but with a 1.80 ERA. Other pitcher contracts handed out this winter were mostly for relievers or one-year.
For more perspective, we have Rich Hill getting 3/$48M, based on the strength of the 110 good innings pitched last year (/ in his whole career). And if we rewind one offseason, we remember that these same Royals gave Ian Kennedy 5/$70M after pitching 550 innings in his previous 3 years… at a 4.25 ERA. One more data point: Ervin Santana got 4/$54 in 2014 after pitching 585 innings with a 4.08 ERA in his previous 3 years.
Essentially, the Royals have locked up Duffy at the same rate that these other guys have gotten even though Duffy has been better on a per-at-bat basis and is younger. He’s just entering his age-28 season and seemed to really figure things out last year.
Duffy would have easily been the best free agent starting pitcher in this year’s class. Peaking ahead to the possible market next offseason when Duffy was due to his free agency, it’s tough to imagine him outranking Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, but a repeat of 2016 would have had him well positioned for a much larger payday 10 months from now.
It’s easy to see why Duffy did this, though. After a career battling injuries, he can settle into his new role atop the Royals rotation and go about figuring out how to get the Royals back to the World Series. The Royals are taking a chance, as is necessary when acquiring a guy of Duffy’s talent at a reasonable price. I just believe in the pitcher.
Stat of the Day: This post had 666 words. It does not anymore.