Last year, Zach Duke represented the Pirates at the All-Star Game, but after another poor outing, he has become a non-tender candidate. The 27-year-old leads the league in losses for the second consecutive season and while won-loss records don't mean much, Duke has also posted a career-high 5.78 ERA in 141.2 innings.
Duke makes $4.3MM this year, which means he won't be cheap if the Pirates offer arbitration. Even a modest raise would give the lefty a $5MM salary in 2011, which is roughly what Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers and Doug Davis signed for last winter. The Pirates will have to be prepared to pay Duke as well as established starters coming off better seasons if they offer arbitration.
But in spite of the ugly ERA and loss total, there's some hope for Duke. His 5.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 are respectable and he appears to be the victim of bad luck. No MLB pitcher who has as many innings as Duke has seen a higher percentage of batted balls fall in behind him for hits. Opponents have a .351 average on balls in play against Duke, which is well above his career mark. With better luck and potentially better defense, he could have a lower ERA.
It's also worth noting that only one MLB pitcher with as many innings as Duke has seen a higher percentage of fly balls leave the yard. Home runs haven't been a massive problem for Duke before, and if his homer levels return to normal, the rest of his numbers would look better, too. At this point, his stats don't look good, and we can't simply write this season off in the name of bad luck. Duke has not pitched well and his manager appears to be losing confidence in him.
The Brewers had interest in Duke last winter, according to FOX Sports. They're one of many teams likely to add starters this winter, so Duke would draw some interest if the Pirates non-tender him. Uncertainty surrounds Pittsburgh's 2011 rotation, partly because of Duke. The Pirates must decide whether to non-tender Duke and risk losing him to a rival team or offer him $5MM or so after a disappointing performance. I'm guessing the Pirates non-tender the left-hander and see if they can bring him back at a discount, but let's see what you think: Click here to take the survey and here to view the results.