Tag: Zach Duke

Zach Duke to White Sox: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Veteran left-handed pitcher Zach Duke has bounced around the majors over the last several seasons, but he has reportedly signed a multi-year deal with the Chicago White Sox, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports:

MLB Roster Moves later confirmed the signing:

Duke, 31, started his career as a starting pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005 but made the transition to the bullpen when he was traded to Arizona after the 2010 season. He floated from Washington to Cincinnati before making his way to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014.    

In a career-high 74 appearances (58.2 innings) last season, Duke amassed an impressive 74 strikeouts, 12 holds and an ERA of 2.45. The White Sox needed pitching depth in the seventh and eighth innings, and they’ve now added a player who specializes in those moments.

With the ability to shut down left-handed hitters (holding lefties to a .198 batting average, per Baseball-Reference.com), Duke will join fellow relievers Jake Petricka, Ronald Belisario and Zach Putnam as the team continues rebuilding the bullpen.

Chicago still needs a true closer to emerge from the current group. If the organization doesn’t believe Scott Downs or any other pitcher on the roster is the answer, filling the void on the free-agent market would be an option.

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Duke-Ing It Out: Can Zach Duke Help the Phillies Rotation in 2011?

At first glance, the answer would be a resonating no.

When discussing Zach Duke though, it is important to take a glance behind his outrageous 2010 numbers and look deeper into what he would really mean to any organization moving forward in 2011.

At age 27, Duke has surpassed a point in his career where most pitchers at the Major League level have established themselves as talented assets, moving into the prime of their careers.

Duke’s case is quite unique, however, as the once highly anticipated Pittsburgh Pirates’ prospect has regressed into obscurity.

Following a 2010 campaign where Duke pitched to a record of 8-15, with an ERA of 5.72, he was designated for assignment by the Pirates Friday afternoon.

With numbers like that, it is hard to make a case for Duke to be an effective part of any pitching rotation in 2011, but with the Philadelphia Phillies, I’ll make a special case.

The Phillies will be heading into the 2011 season in the conversation for having the best rotation in baseball.

Anchored by 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, the Phillies will follow their ace up with dominant pitchers in their own right, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, and serviceable right-hander, Joe Blanton, to round out their rotation.

One through four, the Phillies have a solid rotation. However, the fifth starter’s position is going to be up for grabs, and the Phillies have little organizational depth to create competition.

This is where a guy like Zach Duke could become beneficial to an organization like the Phillies, who undoubtedly will try to round up some competition to compete for that fifth starter’s spot and draw the best out of each of the competitors.

A few in-house names will already compete for the job, headlined by guys who have each started a game for the Phillies in 2010: Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley and Andrew Carpenter.

The trio features a couple of unique angles. On one hand, Kendrick has been a serviceable starter for the Phillies over the course of his career, posting a career record of 35 – 24 and an ERA of 4.69.

However, some of Kendrick’s 2010 numbers have become a cause for concern in the organization, highlighted by the worst Strikeouts per nine Innings (K/9) among qualifying pitchers, in Major League Baseball (just 4.18).

A lot of minds surrounding the Phillies’ organization believe that Kendrick isn’t even the favorite to win the job out of Spring Training, bestowing that honor upon another Phillies’ right-hander, Vance Worley.

Although his time in the major league was brief in 2010, Worley impressed all the right people, including manager Charlie Manuel.

Worley logged a total of 13 innings with the Phillies in 2010, posting an impressive ERA of 1.38.

Worley showed that he doesn’t have to rely on his fastball to retire professional hitters, throwing his breaking pitches, an overhand curve-ball and a slider, a combined 29.9 percent of the time, mixing in a low-90s fastball and a change-up as well.

The final member of the obvious, in-house trio is the least likely of the three to break with the big league club, right-hander Andrew Carpenter.

His time with the 2010 Phillies was very brief, as he only saw three innings of work with the big league club, and allowed three earned runs over that span.

While only one of these three have a chance to crack the rotation, it’s likely that at least one other will make the Phillies bullpen as well.

So, where does Zach Duke fit in all of this, you wonder?

Duke has lived in basic obscurity over the past couple of seasons with the bottom dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates, for a while, serving as the ace of a weak pitching staff.

Called up to the major leagues at a young age, only 22, Duke provides what many 27-year-olds don’t in the big leagues—experience.

A team like the Phillies will be interested in bringing in experienced starting pitchers to show what they’ve got in Spring Training, providing competition to young guys like Vance Worley and Drew Carpenter, while sending Kyle Kendrick the subliminal message that he won’t just be handed a spot in the 2011 rotation.

Over the course of the past three seasons, Duke has had success pitching in Citizens Bank Park, one of the reasons the Phillies may give him a look.

In two starts there, Duke pitched to a 1-1 record, with an ERA 2.57. The only ballparks he’s been more successful in were AT&T Park in San Francisco and PETCO Park in San Diego.

The Phillies will consider a number of variables. Can Duke regain his form? Is his 2010 decrease in velocity going to be a constant decline? Are his numbers in the Bank a fluke?

Can he perform better as a bottom of the rotation arm, in the shadows of decorated aces like Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels?

Surely, he’ll be on the Phillies free agent radar in a weak market. Who knows? Maybe Duke wins the job out of Spring Training and reclaims his 2005 form, where he was 8-2 with an ERA of 1.81.

The Phillies will need to take a chance on him to find out.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Designate Zach Duke and Others for Assignment

The Pirates did what many expected they would Friday night when they parted ways with left-hander Zach Duke.  The announcement came just before the midnight deadline to protect Rule 5 eligible minor league players.

Along with Duke, the Pirates also designated infielder Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young for assignment as well.

The moves should come as no surprise, as Duke continued to struggle in 2010 to get major league hitters out consistently. 

By making the move, the Pirates will likely save close to $6 million, which is around what Duke would have likely earned had they tendered him and possibly went to arbitration.

After his sensational rookie season and a solid first half of 2009, the rest of Duke’s six-plus major-league seasons have been filled with inconsistencies.  The Pirates didn’t need a guy like Duke going forward, and the move had to be made.

The money saved by releasing Duke will be used to fill a spot in the starting rotation. A top-notch starter is very unlikely, but considering the way Duke performed most nights out, a slight upgrade is probable for 2011.

“We know that it’s not going to be easy to find a quality upgrade, and we know it’s going to be a challenge to find a guy who can pitch 180 innings,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

“We plan to reinvest the money that was supposed to go to Zach Duke into the club, but we’ll take the same logical approach into signing a free agent as we did in deciding not to tender him a contract. Just as we made our decision not to offer a contract to Zach Duke, we’ll only spend that money if it is on the right player at the right price.”

Duke ends his career with the Pirates having gone 45-70 with a 4.54 ERA in 160 games (159 starts). He went 8-15 with a 5.72 ERA in 2010.

LaRoche’s offensive struggles were the main reason for the decision on him.  With the emergence of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker in 2010, there is no spot on the diamond left for LaRoche. 

That being the case, it makes much more sense to try and bring in a backup infielder during the offseason who can at least contribute something offensively.

The decision to DFA Young was a bit more surprising, but not unexpected.  Young offered a bit of versatility off the bench, and while he doesn’t play any position particularly well, he offered up a little value with his bat off the bench.

All three guys are free to sign with any team; including the Pirates if they were willing to accept a minor league deal, but I wouldn’t bank on that happening.

With the free spots on the 40-man roster, the Pirates added Jeff Locke, Danny Moskos, Tony Watson, Kyle McPherson and Michael Crotta. The additions filled up the 40-man roster.

None of these guys come as a surprise either, with the exception of protecting McPherson. That isn’t a terrible move after he had a pretty solid season at West Virginia.

One name that was a surprise that was left off the 40-man roster is right-hander Nathan Adcock, who the Pirates are very high on.

Other notables who were left unprotected include Brian Friday, Eric Fryer and former Pitt product Jim Negrych.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Year-End Awards Edition

I know everyone has been on the edge of their seats anxiously awaiting to see who would be so lucky to be honored by achieving my year-end Pirates awards.

On a team that lost 105 games, awards aren’t likely for many of these guys. Or deserved for that matter. What fun would that be though?

Let’s dive right in and see who receives the dubious honors to conclude the 2010 season.

Feel free to comment and add your own opinions on each award.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: The Strange Saga of Zach Duke

On a good night, Zach Duke can out-duel the likes of Cy Young-winners Johann Santana or Roy Halladay. On a bad night, well, last night’s nine-run outing against the Florida Marlins was all too “good” an example of such.

Do these extremes net out, or is one more important than the other in determining Duke’s worth to the Pirates?

Matt Shetler nailed it when he suggested that Duke be NON-tendered and not brought back in 2011. While Duke isn’t exactly the worst pitcher around, Shetler rightly pointed out that Duke IS about as bad as a VETERAN pitcher will likely be.

Put another way, someone with Duke’s experience should be decidedly better than struggling rookies and near-rookies like Brad Lincoln, Dan McCutchen, and Charlie Morton. Except that he isn’t.

Age might not be the issue here; length of service is. Brian Burres is actually older than Duke. But in addition to making much less than Duke, Burres appears to be a late bloomer with less experience who has finally hit his stride and is on an upcurve appropriate for someone of his experience level (Although he’d be more convincing if it had taken place five years earlier).

On the other hand, Duke was an early bloomer that entered a long term decline. Duke was the Pirates’ great hope as of 2005, when he got off to a sensational start (an ERA of 1.81 for a half season).

But even then there were signs that things weren’t as good as they seemed. At that time, Duke’s  FIP (a “sabermetric” ERA estimated by home runs, walks, and strikeouts), was more like 3.00. That suggested that he was a strong pitcher, but not the Cy Young contender he initially appeared to be.

Then 2006, 2007, and 2010 were all worse than the preceding years. This pattern was interrupted by an aborted rebound in late 2008 and early 2009. Injuries over the year took their toll.

But the main problem is that Duke has less speed and power than the average pitcher, so he needs to use finesse and “location” to get outs. This was an advantage in the early going, when no one knew him. But he’s now a tired subject, because unless he’s at his very best, he’s eminently hittable.

So where does Duke now stand? Based on ERAs to date, the Pirates’ 2011 rotation should be James McDonald, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Brian Burres, and Paul Maholm. Maholm makes the cut, Duke doesn’t (If one used FIPs, one would put Maholm ahead of Karstens and Burres, and possibly Ohlendorf).

As a third year “arbitration” player, someone of Duke’s seniority would probably command a salary of over $5 million. That would suggest that he’s a serviceable, though moderately below average starter. But he’s actually now of “replacement,” not below average, caliber. A low budget team like the Pirates can’t afford this from one of their highest paid players.

Suppose Duke were willing to take a pay cut to $1-2 million. Could he be brought back as a reliever/situational starter? Not really, because his profile is all wrong.

Some of the weaker Pirate pitchers such as Dan McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and even (to a certain extent) Paul Maholm, have what I call a “last inning problem.” That is, they will pitch well for X innings, then crumble in the X plus first. In that case, managing them consists of determining what X is, and keeping them within that limit.

Duke, on the other hand, has a “first” inning problem, the first could well be his worst. If he survives it and settles down, he can pitch well for most of the remainder of the game. Last night, he didn’t.

In a starter, this is acceptable in a mild form (the Duke of early 2009). He’ll give up one or two runs in the first two innings, no more than one more by the sixth, and possibly work the seventh or eight.

But this is unacceptable in a reliever, for whom the first inning is usually the last inning. If such a person gives up a run, say every other time he takes the mound, that leads to probable defeat.

Duke was the star of a promising but ill-fated (2006) rotation consisting of himself, Paul Maholm, Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. The latter two had to be sent down to the minors, then traded away (although Gorzelanny is now prospering in his home town of Chicago).

It’s now time to say goodbye to Duke (and absorb Maholm into the new rotation mentioned above.) In doing so, the Pirates will say goodbye to what has been a major liability for the past half decade, and hopefully move on to a new start.

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Will Zach Duke Still Be a Pittsburgh Pirate in 2011?

Pop quiz: Who is the worst starting pitcher in Major League Baseball over the last four seasons?

If you said Zach Duke, then you nailed it.

The Pirates lefty has flat-out not been very good for a span that’s lasted four seasons. In that time he has compiled a 26-51 record and a 4.99 ERA and more than once has led MLB in hits allowed.

He put together a decent first half of 2009, where he was rewarded with an All-Star selection, but if Duke has proved anything, it’s that he can’t get major league hitters out consistently.

If you say he hasn’t been the worst over that span, give me a name, because I’ve run the numbers on pretty much every pitcher that has had a regular rotation spot.

In 2010, there is no doubt he is the worst pitcher taking a regular turn on an MLB staff. His losses are tied for fifth among pitchers with at least 120 IP. His 5.47 ERA is the second highest, and his .320 opponents batting average against is easily the worst. That’s actually embarrassing.

Once or twice out of 10 starts, Duke can turn in a good outing, as he did against the Mets a little over a month ago, but the overall body of work has not been good.

In his latest outing, he couldn’t get an out in the second inning. There is no longer an upside to Zach Duke. He can’t be a part of the Pirates rotation going forward.

What do you do with Duke?

He’s making $4.3 million this year and is third-time arbitration eligible after the season. On innings pitched alone, he’s going to get a raise.

The Pirates can’t allow that to happen. 

The only move that makes sense is to non-tender him after the season. His career as a Pirate should last two or three more starts.

It’s very unlikely Duke gets a major league offer from another team. He’s looking at signing a minor league deal with an invitation to some team’s camp.

The Pirates can’t spend over $5 million on a guy that just can’t get outs.

The production Duke offers can be found on the waiver wire for a lot less money. Take Brian Burres, for instance. His 3-3 record and 5.75 ERA can be found easily and a lot cheaper than $5 million.

It’s almost fitting that the Pirates have the worst pitcher in the game, but to turn the corner, management has to start parting ways with guys that are incapable of getting the job done on a consistent basis.

There is nothing about Duke that warrants him being part of the 2011 Pirates team. It’s such a shame after the way he came up as a rookie in 2005. Injuries set him back, and that 2005 Zach Duke was entirely a different pitcher than the guy wearing that jersey now.

Duke fans, enjoy him while you can, because he is more than likely spending his final few weeks in a Pirates uniform.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Time for Another Autumn Ambush?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a cellar-dwelling team for as long as most fans remember. But often, in September, they have their moment of glory by taking three games from a division leading team in PNC Park.

This is what may be happening now, against the Atlanta Braves. A win tonight would result in a sweep. Even a loss would not change the fact that the Pirates have already clinched the three game series.

In 2006, the Pirates swept the New York Mets in three games at home, thereby delaying their clinching of the division. Two of the winners were lefties Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. In the third game, Tom Gorzelanny, also a southpaw, started, but was rescued by a “committee” of  relievers, with closer Matt Capps getting the win.

Last year, the Bucs took three out of four at home from the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Paul Maholm, Dan McCutchen, and Zach Duke all pitched good games, but only Duke got a win; the other two were “no decisions” for the two starters and split 1-1.

The remaining game was pitched by a committee, with Jeff Karstens being lifted after three innings, Donnie Veal getting the win in a 3-1 game, and three more relievers protecting the lead.

On the other side was a reliever named James McDonald (traded by the Dodgers to the Pirates in July 2010 as partial consideration for reliever Octavio Dotel).

Monday night, Brian Burres put up one of his better starts against the Braves, giving up only one run in six innings (This is his third quality start, giving up a total of four runs in nineteen innings, all at home.). Even the Pirates were good enough to score three runs off Tommy Hanson, resulting in a win.

Last night, James McDonald pitched seven scoreless innings, including finding his way out of a couple of jams. Veteran Tim Hudson put up only six blank frames, and then came apart in the seventh, to the tune of five runs, leading to a 5-0 victory for the home team.

In his best three (home) games, against the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Atlanta Braves, McDonald has given up one run in twenty innings. But his five inning, five-run start against the Mets, though technically in PNC Park, was of “away” game quality, and his four away games have been (mostly) this bad.

The last game of the current series features Zach Duke, the hero of the previous two series. Paul Maholm will open the next one.

In the two earlier years, the losses to the Pirates were just speed bumps on the way to the division leadership for the Mets and the Dodgers. This year, though, the impact on Atlanta may be more meaningful.

They’ve already lost their division lead as a result of the past two losses. Another loss tonight could push them down into a tie for the wild card if San Francisco wins.



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Previewing The Upcoming Pirates-Giants Series

Whenever the San Francisco Giants come to town, I always ask my parents if I can get tickets. I do this for these three reasons:

  • Tim Lincecum
  • Tim Lincecum
  • Oh yeah, did I mention Tim Lincecum?

As you may have assumed, Lincecum is my favorite pitcher. He has the nastiest stuff in the majors by far. Plus watching his funky motion come from that small body is something that every baseball fan should do before they die.

But, contrary to popular belief, the Giants do have some other notable players. Pablo Sandoval and Aaron Rowand are always fun to watch. Rowand can take quite a few runs away with his kamikaze defense, and Sandoval is a colorful character who puts on great displays of prowess at the plate.

This ought to be a good series filled with pitching. The Giants have one of the best, if not the best, pitching staffs in the majors. Jonathan Sanchez, noted for throwing his no-hitter last season, is a very respectable 3-4 with a 2.90 ERA. Sanchez will start against Zach Duke tomorrow night. Both pitchers have had little run support in their past few outings, the main cause to their losing records.

On Saturday, journeyman Todd Wellemeyer will start for the Giants against the Pirates’ potent lefty, Paul Maholm. Wellemeyer has had little success in PNC Park, going 0-2 with a 6.95 ERA in eight career outings at the Bucco’s ballpark. Maholm has also been a victim of low run support, but he has been effective in his past few starts. Against the Braves on Sunday, Maholm gave up just two earned runs on a scattered 10 hits and walked away with a no decision.

Sunday, the game I am looking forward to the most, has Giants ace Lincecum on the hill. Ross Ohlendorf is starting for the Pirates. Lincecum has struggled as of late, and his ERA has ballooned to an un-Lincecum like 3.14. He hasn’t been Lincecum-esque dominant on the mound lately, and he hasn’t had a double-digit strikeout game since the beginning of May. Ohlendorf hasn’t lived up to his potential this season, but he pitched a good game against the Cubs on Memorial Day. Slowly but surely, Ohlendorf is making progress, and he should get better with each start he makes.

The Giants have finally started to come around at the plate, after Lincecum won the NL Cy Young with only 15 wins last season due to a big lacking of run support. The Giants are fifth in the NL in hitting this season, but they haven’t dominated games with the long ball. The Giants have only 40 dingers, just two more than the light-hitting Pirates. The Giants have some power potential with Sandoval, Rowand, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, and prized prospect Buster Posey. Posey has done a fine job since being called up to play first base for the Giants this season, hitting .474 in 19 at bats.

The Pirates offense has been sad to say the least.

They are 15th in hitting, and nobody has really given the Pirates much hope besides prospect Neil Walker, power-hitter Garrett Jones, catcher Ryan Doumit, and local icon Andrew McCutchen. When the bulk of your offensive production comes from four guys, it’s going to be hard to win ball games. The Pirates have learned that the hard way, as they are currently in 5th place in the NL Central Division.

Prediction for the series: Giants take 2 of 3 from Pirates

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