It’s Time For The Rays To Move On From Matt Duffy

As April winds down, the Rays current sit 15-8 with a commanding lead in the AL East. The Rays have the best record in the American League, sitting 7 games over .500 and have done so without Matt Duffy, who was expected to be a big piece for them this season.

Duffy came over in the 2016 season in a trade that sent All-Star pitcher Matt Moore to San Francisco, and immediately slotted in at shortstop. Early in September, Duffy was shut down due to surgery on his Achilles that ended his season. During every rehabilitation stint that Duffy had in 2017, he’d re-injure himself. He ultimately didn’t play in a single major league game that season.

Duffy broke out in 2018 following the trade of franchise icon Evan Longoria, and showed off the first few weeks of the 2018 season manning third base, before he’d hit the DL for an injured hamstring. Getting back quickly this time, he’d have a great first half. He even had a .300 batting average heading into September, with a chance to become the first Ray to hit .300 since Casey Kotchman in 2011. However, he was barely hovering around it after being at .320 in July. He’d then get even worse, going 1-13 to close out the season at .294. Duffy was healthy and ready to continue to play, he’d have even more hamstring issues and even back issues.

Between the injury of Matt Duffy and the injury that sent Joey Wendle an IL list early on in the season, Yandy Diaz emerged as the Rays third baseman. Diaz, who was projected to play first, was traded to Tampa right before Christmas in a 3-team deal that saw Jake Bauers going to the Indians and Edwin Encarnacion going to the Mariners. PSE’s own Jameus Mooney has a basic head-to-head comparison on Twitter:

Interestingly, Diaz favors far better in a vast majority of statistical categories. For the sake of the comparison, we’re going to use what many believed to be Duffy’s breakout year, 2018, due to his lack of games so far in 2019. For comparison purposes, we’ll use Diaz’s 2019 season thus far. All stats are heading into Tuesday’s game against Kansas City.
Diaz: .289/.398/.579, 6 homeruns, 164 OPS+
Duffy, 2018: .294/.361/.366, 4 homeruns, 105 OPS+

In a word, yikes. Duffy’s slugging percentage is only 5 points higher than his on-base. His on-base percentage in 2018 was the highest of his career and significantly higher than his career mark (.337). The league average slugging percentage in 2018 was over .400, far higher than his abysmal clip. The league average OPS was .728, which is higher than his .722 mark. His .072 isolated power was the worst in the major leagues, citing soft contact in almost all of his at bats.

In fairness to Diaz and the numbers he’s raked in so far, we’ll use 2019 averages to compare. His .977 OPS is 232 points higher than the league average .745. His on-base 77 points higher than the league average .321 and his slugging percentage is 155 points higher than league average.

This means that Yandy Diaz gets on base at a higher clip than the average major leaguer, and shows more power than the average major leaguer. Matt Duffy, on the other hand, will hit .300 but barely reach the league average in on-base percentage. Maybe he makes up with that in power? Not a chance. Duffy had the second lowest slugging percentage in baseball in 2018, only behind Seattle’s Dee Gordon.

A healthy Matt Duffy was one of baseball’s best defenders with San Francisco and a very enticing option anywhere in the infield. However, with the injuries piling up, Matt Duffy was rather poor at third base in 2018. His range was awful, and he was one of the worst rated defenders at third base for the season. Diaz hasn’t been extraordinary at third base, but he’s been extremely solid and the offense alone should outweigh anything else. Diaz is a pivotal cog in the Tampa lineup, and you don’t mess that up for Matt Duffy. It’s not like Diaz hasn’t seemed comfortable, either. In 86 innings, he has a perfect fielding percentage at third base. Duffy was top 5 in errors by an American League third baseman in 2018, despite only getting to mostly routine plays.

With the way Ji-Man Choi is hitting to start the year, you don’t want to move him either. There’s no other place to put Diaz on a regular basis. Duffy is 28 years old, injury prone and at his very best no more than league average. Diaz is scorching hot and healthy, with more years on his contract. Diaz is hitting above league average marks in a major way in every major offensive category, while Duffy has hit below them with regularity. Duffy is a quality player, but with the amount of quality options Tampa has to fill a utility role (Wendle, Lowe, Robertson), there isn’t even room on his bench. Tampa’s 25-man roster is pretty much set, and it looks like Duffy will rightfully be squeezed out.

It’d be a bold move for Tampa, because of how liked by the fan-base Duffy is due to his seemingly excellent contact rate. However, his offensive prowess is extremely one-dimensional on a team with more complete offensive weapons, and he doesn’t offer superior value to any of the utility alternatives on the other side of the diamond. He doesn’t offer much value to the Rays because he’s always injured. You cannot offer value if you aren’t on the field. This isn’t the 1970s where hitting .300 is some crazy accomplishment. There isn’t a reason for Tampa to keep him and it’s best that they cut ties with The Duffman.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheJameus
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(Photo credit: Getty Images)

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