Zach Duke’s Future

Pirates lefty Zach Duke debuted with a splash in 2005, posting a 1.81 ERA over 14 starts and finishing fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting.  Since then Duke has posted more pedestrian numbers, strong enough to garner decent salaries in arbitration but not a multiyear deal.  Duke is arbitration-eligible one last time after the season.  Let's take a closer look at the Pirates' situation.

This year, the 27-year-old Duke has a 5.20 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9 in 114.3 innings.  Stats like SIERA and xFIP suggest he's been better, deserving of an ERA more in the 4.30 range.  I'd call Duke a back-rotation innings-eater, but he missed significant time this year and in 2007 with elbow injuries.

Duke earns $4.3MM in 2010, and will be due some kind of raise if tendered a contract for 2010.  Given the Matt Capps situation last year, we can't rule out a non-tender for Dukes if the Pirates don't like his salary demands.  Still, a trade seems more likely.  Here's what GM Neal Huntington said to Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on July 30th:

"If the package is appropriate for one of our starting pitchers, we are willing to consider a move.  If the interest is in one of our starting pitchers who is one year away from free agency, that shifts the tolerance accordingly, as we would be able to reinvest their potential dollars into a major-league starting pitcher — via trade or free agency — and add valuable multiyear pieces to our major-league club and/or system. Again, we will need to feel good about the return to make a move."

Huntington was clearly referring to Paul Maholm and Duke.  I'm guessing he'd prefer to trade only one of the lefties.  They're similar pitchers in terms of performance.  Their contract situations and injury histories are the difference.  Maholm is signed for 2011 at $5.75MM and has a $750K buyout for '12 for a total commitment of $6.5MM.  A team tendering Duke a contract might save a million or more in comparison, but they won't have the '12 option and they will have to worry about his health.  As a result, it should take less to acquire Duke from the Pirates this winter.


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21 Comments on "Zach Duke’s Future"


Tacho Bill
5 years 11 days ago

I think Duke will be gone. For the most part, he’s eminently replaceable, and the whole injury concerns will weigh in as well. There’s also that incident in LA when he didn’t hit the pitcher who threw at Andrew McCutchen’s head twice. Maholm will be around for at least another year.

Grab some pine, meat.
5 years 11 days ago

You never bean the pitcher anyways, you bean a positional player or a DH but a pitcher will clear the benches. It’s just a matter of honor, I have NEVER seen someone intentionally hit a pitcher.

But back to Duke… This is a perfect example of someone with an awesome potential to be an ace, ruined by an organization that doesn’t have the tools to help hone his craft, and doesn’t have the drive to solve its inner mis workings. If a team with a decent pitching staff takes a risk on him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a 2nd or 3rd roll in a year or two.

Ian_Smell
5 years 11 days ago

I really don’t think that he can be an ace. Last year was probably the best he’s ever going to pitch and I don’t see him ever really improving beyond that.

5 years 11 days ago

You’ve never seen a pitcher intentionally hit, really? I’ve seen some intentionally hit this season alone. Sometimes managers even send their pitchers to the mound with the intention of having them take their medicine after beaning another player.

martyman24
5 years 11 days ago

Not too long ago Mike Leake hit McCutchen in the back of the head and the next half inning, the starting pitcher for the pirates beaned Leake and he just took it.

bucco_nation
5 years 11 days ago

Awesome potential to be an ace? And we ruined it? Gimme a break, meat. This dude tops out at like 87.

martyman24
5 years 11 days ago

You dont need to be a flame thrower to be an ace, ever here of Greg Maddux?

5 years 11 days ago

You don’t need to pay six million dollars to field a pitcher of Duke’s caliber on most days, ever hear of the waiver wire?

The Hammer
5 years 11 days ago

Name a couple more. The exception proves the rule. And by the way, Maddux didn’t throw 87.

TwinsVet
5 years 11 days ago

Sad, really. I remember when this kid was an elite prospect.

Ian_Smell
5 years 11 days ago

He was never an elite prospect, he just had a really good debut and everybody thought that he was going to be way better than previously thought.

Vote_For_Pedro
5 years 11 days ago

Just like Oliver Perez.I think Duke is gone this winter for a team looking for pitching depth.The only reason anyone would want him because he is a lefty.

The Hammer
5 years 11 days ago

As abysmal as the Pirates pitching has been, Duke is a serious non-tender candidate since he will probably get about $6 million if they go to arbitration

RichardOlivia
5 years 11 days ago

Duke’s career batting average against is over .300. The entire league hits at all-star caliber against him.

bucco_nation
5 years 11 days ago

But according to people in here he’s an ace, we just messed him up.

Ian_Smell
5 years 11 days ago

It amazes me how many people base their arguments off of what people say instead of actually watching games.

TwinsVet
5 years 11 days ago

Even when I had MLBTV, I could only manage about 200 full games a season, and portions of maybe 200 more. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of watching much more than every Twins game.

I just recall how analysts seemed to have a consensus that he was a future ace when he first came up. For 2-3 years people were waiting for his breakout season, but it never came.

martyman24
5 years 11 days ago

Ian_Smell I would give you a like but my stupid computer doesn’t let me.

But just for you,

martyman24 and 10000 more liked this

bigpat
5 years 11 days ago

Duke will always be far too hittable to become an ace. Ace pitchers don’t give up 30 more hits per innings pitched (just ballparking it, not looking up the exact numbers). Even though he seems to be getting a few more strikeouts this year, high contact guys will always be inconsistent based on how the ball bounces that particular night. He and Maholm especially seem to alternate between good games and bad games, and they’re practically the same guy.

Look at guys like Nick Blackburn and Joe Saunders, one season they put up good numbers and the other season they are getting torched. Decent 3-5 starters but not guys you really want to rely on at the top of your rotation because they can get crushed on any given night.

bbxxj
5 years 11 days ago

I would just go ahead and trade both Maholm and Duke. Niether will be around when Pitsburg is looking to break out and both could be fairly actractive to contenders looking for veteran lefty inning eaters who are still under 30.

For the Pirates you probably look for one MLB ready starter and as much upside at any level in the cumulative return for both pitchers and just go with what you have next year:

Ohlendorf
Karstens
McDonald
Lincoln
Resop

Ohlendorf has actually been a solid starter this year (being the only Pit starter with an ERA+ over 100) and Karstens has been cheap and servicable. McDonald could be a real asset if he continues to develop and Lincoln’s tiny K rate is scary but he has good enough control to keep a rotation spot. I would give Resop a chance to start and see if he can translate his AAA dominance to the majors.

The Hammer
5 years 11 days ago

And then there is Morton, No Relation, Ascanio, Hart, Jacko, Gallagher, Morris, Owens and anyone who is signed. That is assuming you have traded both Maholm and Duke. Doesn’t mean they will be good, it just means they have a lot of arms to throw against the wall.