A year ago Zach Duke was a non roster invitee with a non guaranteed $850,000 deal from the Brewers.
A year ago Zach Duke said the following to Fox Sports Wisconsin, “I figured out I needed to do something different to get a chance to be in the big leagues again.”
Today, Zach Duke is a 15 million dollar man. Oh to be left handed.
It was obvious the White Sox needed to revamp a horrible bullpen. We are talking season seven of Californication abomination bad here. General manager Rick Hahn decided to throw five million a year at Duke to save us White Sox fans from drinking like Hank Moody when a left handed bat comes up in the later innings.
In 2014, Duke was a dominant bullpen arm. Lefties had a gross looking slash line of .198/.267/.302 this past season. It was a career year for him including his best ever K/9 rate of 11.35. Duke was no slouch against normal handed batters either. Right handed hitters slugged just .298 and batted .242 against the reliever a year ago.
The 10 year veteran allowed just eight of 41 inherited runners to score. If you are scoring at home that is an 80% rate. The White Sox bullpen as a whole last year? 32%
It was a glaring hole, but it was an expensive fill.
Amazingly the five million a year deal only puts Duke at 13th among highest paid relievers. The market for bullpen arms has never been higher. In fact, the only guy happier than Duke today? Andrew Miller. He’s going to get 40 million.
The question is can he do it again? In Duke’s 10 seasons this would be the outlier. As I mentioned earlier, Duke knew he needed to change something to extend his career and he did just that. He was cut from the Astros a year prior in Spring Training. Yes, that was the 107 loss Astros who said no thanks.
Duke lowered his arm slot to an almost side arm delivery and more importantly threw more sliders and cutters than ever before. The results were fantastic. Duke posted the lowest FIP of his career at 2.14.
Call me a pessimist, but I just hate throwing money at a one year wonder reliever. Duke has never traveled to the land of the DH and has posted an above average FIP three times in his career. Middle relievers are what they are; failed starters or closers. We see one year stat lines that make no sense all the time. See Politte, Cliff and Cotts, Neil in 2005.
Five million dollars a year is certainly not going to keep the White Sox from making bigger moves, but I do have that feeling we might look back at this deal and say that was kind of silly. Maybe all Duke needed was a change in delivery and he will be a shutdown lefty bullpen arm from now on. Time will tell on that, but the good news is Hahn knows that bullpen needed more than just a little bit of help and went right to work in free agency.
From being cut by the Astros and contemplating his baseball future to a 15 million dollar contract. What a country!