As we sit here today, about two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting for the 2017 season, Danny Duffy does not rank among the best of the best in Royals history. In fact, here’s where he ranks in some key categories:
Some of those numbers are solid, but he’s nowhere near the best in Royals history. The one that does stands out to me as maybe an indictment on the franchise is that Duffy ranks 14th in strikeouts but just 29th in innings, and that’s taking into account the fact that he didn’t really rack up the strikeouts until his excellent 2016 season. But you wouldn’t call them great numbers.
The raw numbers are that Duffy has a career record of 36-33. He has a 3.71 ERA and a 4.59 DRA. He’s pitched one season with a WARP of higher than 0.5. And yet, he received a contract for five years to pay him $65 million that is generally considered a very good deal for the Royals. And you know why? Because he’s well on his way to being a Royals great by the time it’s all said and done.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
His 36 wins currently ranks just 28th in team history behind such luminaries as Hipolito Pichardo, Jeff Suppan and Marty Pattin. He won 12 games last season. If he does that each year of his deal, he’d end it with 96 wins. That would rank 7th in team history. He’d actually crack the top 10 in 2019. But I don’t think he’ll average 12 wins per season of this deal. I think 2016 was the real breakout. I don’t think it’s crazy to think he can average 14 or 15 wins per year during the next five seasons. Let’s give him 72 more wins in those years. Okay, that still puts him seventh, but within spitting distance of Bret Saberhagen, Larry Gura and Kevin Appier and nearly 30 ahead of Tom Gordon, who is currently the man in seventh.
Let’s move to a stat that tells more about the pitcher than wins. We’re talking strikeouts. Duffy currently has 540 strikeouts, which, as I mentioned above, is the 14th most in team history. Most of the names ahead of him on the list are good ones, but literally all of them are within reach for Duffy. In 2016, Duffy struck out 188 batters in 179.2 innings. He had a rate of 9.3 strikeouts per nine after he was stretched out, so pitching as a starter didn’t hurt his K-rate too much, but let’s be not so generous and drop it a full point.
So if Duffy is striking out 8.3 batters per nine innings and averages, say, 180 innings per season, that gives him 166 strikeouts per season. That’s 830 strikeouts over the five seasons of his deal. That would give him 1,370 strikeouts, which would be the second most in Royals history and just 88 behind Kevin Appier. Surely Duffy would want to sign another deal with the Royals to pass Ape for such a prestigious title. Even if Duffy falters or misses time with injury and just averages 111 strikeouts per season, he’ll be fourth on the Royals all-time list. That’s pretty high up there.
If he averages 30 starts per year, he’ll move up to fifth on the all-time list and be just 19 behind Appier.
If he averages those 180 innings per year, he’d move up to seventh on the all-time list and be just 137 behind Saberhagen.
If he averages one complete game a year, he’d move to a tie for 33rd. Okay, they can’t all be winners.
And in the rate stats, if he continues to pitch at the level he showed in 2016 and averages 180 innings per year, he’d move up to :
- 10th in ERA (3.59)
- 3rd in WHIP (1.204)
- 4th in hits per nine (8.226)
- 10th in BB/9 (2.61)
- 1st in K/9 (8.746)
All in all, that’s not too shabby.
Of course, any number of things could happen throughout this five-year deal. He could get hurt again. He could struggle and become a reliever. He could be even better than 180 innings per year and the rest of the stats he put up in 2016. Anything could happen.
Sometimes when I’m watching any sport, I find myself losing sight of the fact that I’m watching potential all-time greats, whether it’s from a team perspective or from all of baseball. Some guys like Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon are obvious from a Royals perspective, but others maybe don’t stand out as much. As it looks right now, Duffy has a chance to rank as one of the 10 best pitchers in Royals franchise history by the time he’s just 32 years old, which is something I think we should take a step back and appreciate.