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  • Tyler Duffey Is Trying Something New

    Matt Braun

    Richard Nixon had a problem. No, it wasn’t Vietnam, or the Russians, or the press finding out about a secret slush fund; those would be issues for the ghosts of Nixon past and future. Rather, this was a dilemma for a mid-1960s Nixon, one that the people barely rejected in 1960 in favor of some young, handsome guy and who then badly lost a California governor race that should have ended his career. But the times were changing. The Democrats, crushed under the sins of Lyndon Johnson, were in disarray and out of favor with the general populous. The Republicans were comparatively healthy, but they lacked a true conservative superstar to carry them to success; significant players like George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller belonged to the liberal Republican camp. Perhaps, and this was a longshot, Nixon could re-brand himself and prove that a changed man was deserving of the White House. 

    Image courtesy of © Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

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    Tyler Duffey. You know him; you may like him! The Duffman is now the longest-tenured Twins pitcher, debuting in 2015 back when Ryan O’Rourke and Blaine Boyer were a thing (Caleb Thielbar was technically on that team also, but he took a bunch of years off, so it doesn’t count the same). Evolution has defined his entire career; Duffey moved to a relief role in 2019, cut his changeup, and found new success as a reliable late-inning arm. He’s back to tinkering in 2022.

    2019 is the pivotal year in this discussion. Yes, those previous seasons do count, but Duffey was a different pitcher, so different that analyzing those years does not help us. The Twins front office decided that Duffey would not be up to snuff as a starter (probably true) and moved him to the bullpen where his fastball/curveball combo could play up. Friends, that’s exactly what it did. Duffey averaged 94 MPH with his fastball and spent 57 ⅔ innings laying waste to batters to the tune of a 2.50 ERA with great peripherals (3.06 FIP, 2.94 xFIP).

    Success since that year has been inconsistent, though. He was better in 2020 (1.88 ERA, 2.57 FIP), but his peripherals fell off a cliff in 2021 (3.49 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, enough walks to start a protest). He became hittable and less deadly outside the strike zone, as both his O-Swing % dipped (33.9% in 2019 to 26.6% in 2021) and Contact % rose (69.2% in 2019 to 77.9% in 2021); a terrible combination for any pitcher. Oh, and he’s lost a tick and a half on his fastball.

    The fastball is perhaps the most interesting pitch in Duffey’s repertoire. His curveball always had deep, visceral movement, the kind of drop that pushes one to theorize that all stadiums have a baseball magnet hidden underneath home plate. His 4-seam fastball, though, never carried great traits. It spins a bit more than average but doesn’t ride in the way that Justin Verlander’s heater can look like it’s elevating towards heaven. Still, he had enough juice to effectively attack hitters at the top of the zone in 2019. In the years since? It’s a different story.




    That’s… something; he’s become unpredictable, which can help to a degree (the hitter can’t know where the pitch is going if you don’t either), but inconsistency has plagued him with this new strategy. His solution? Re-invite the sinker to the party.

    He’s thrown the sinker 10.8% of the time—mainly against righties—and has successfully thrown it in exactly one location. See if you can spot the pattern:


    The pitch has excellent Statcast outcomes, but with only six batted ball events against it, bringing up those numbers seems foolish. Overall, Duffey has had an inconsistent start to his season, more than what one would expect from any reliever. The good news is that he might be ahead of the curve by trying out his sinker more; the bad news is that it is unclear yet whether that plan will work. Either way, Duffey is a changed pitcher in 2022.



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    Relief pitchers have the fun task of deveopping new pitches and using them effectively. Nothing really changes, except their speeds and locations. They often have the luxury of facing one batter or maybe 7-10 at most.

    For all the film batters can review on a pitcher, it can mroe often than not backfire on the bullpen arm, as you don't really know when or where you might face the guy.

    But many do follow routines. They can be tracked, especially as they throw against right-handed or left-handed batters. If they challenge the hitter, go inside or outsie early. 

    But if a bullpen arm can have three pitches, maybe even four, and throw them at different speeds, there is a chance for success, mixed in with a bit of attitude and raw skill.

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    Let me tell you something about bears. First, on average, bears don't like us, and we don't cotton much to them, either. Bears are grouchy, prone to sudden violence, and have massive teeth and claws. A bear can literally tear you head off with one swipe of a huge paw. Luckily, they don't often do that, or the rangers would have a final say. 

    Safe to say Richard Nixon never had a bad encounter with a bear, and neither has Tyler Duffey. That's about all the two men have in common. Like most Americans, Duffey probably has seen the Nixon tattoo on Roger Stone's back, and he may casually have wondered if its eyes move. 

    They do.

    Duffey's curveball has always been his bread and butter, his on-field pass to watch pro baseball for free. On the other hand, his four-seam fastball attracts baseball bats the way a full picnic basket could reel in Yogi and Boo Boo from miles away. From a safe distance and with the blessings of anonymity I have sometimes clamored for Duffey to modify his straight heater to duck and swerve and such. Sometimes he'd come up with something that would work for a while. This appears to be happening again.

    At this point, I should wind it up by pulling together some comment that combines an observation about bears, Nixon and Duffey. 

    Nope, I got nothing.

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