Minnesota Twins: Don’t look now, but Tyler Duffey is very, very good

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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Tyler Duffey #21 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after giving up a two rum home run in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 24, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Tyler Duffey #21 of the Minnesota Twins reacts after giving up a two rum home run in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 24, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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Pitching has long been the Achilles’ heel of the Minnesota Twins. Tyler Duffey has spent his 2019 season bucking that trend.

What if I told you that the Twins already had their best reliever at the trade deadline? And what if I told you that it was the guy who had a 7.92 ERA last season?

Tyler Duffey might be the comeback story of the year for the Twins. A year ago, I was fully on board the Dump Duffey bandwagon, but the Twins have people who know more about this stuff than I do as he’s become one of the key cogs in Minnesota’s bullpen during the stretch run.

Let’s recap Duffey’s time in Minnesota. He was drafted by the Twins in the fifth round of the MLB Amateur Draft in 2012 and made his major league debut for the Twins in 2015, when he replaced the injured Tommy Milone.

Duffey’s first season in Minnesota was short but productive. He ended the season 5-1 in 10 starts with a 3.10 ERA. Duffey started 2016 at Triple-A Rochester but was called up in April. He kept his spot in the rotation and led the team in wins with nine despite an ERA that ballooned to 6.43. The Twins sent him to the bullpen in 2017 and he came out in long relief, bouncing back and forth between Minnesota and Rochester in 2018.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins, the story started before the start of the 2019 season. The new-look Twins staff went to Duffey’s home in Houston to discuss his role with the team. Armed with data, numbers, sabermetrics and a plan, pitching coach Wes Johnson and assistant pitching coach Jeremy Hafner asked Duffey to buy in.

They told him that his signature pitch, a sinker, had to go and showed him how placing his four-seam fastball strategically would increase his strikeouts and decrease hits. Duffey, going into his 28-year-old season, bought in immediately.

That decision turned out to be a really good one. His ERA this season is 2.26, the lowest of his career. Since July 23, Duffey has struck out 22 batters, allowed six hits and has zero walks in 22 1/3 innings.

If those numbers aren’t enough, Duffey’s swing and miss rate is 15.3%, which is double his 2016 rate and ranks him 25th among relievers. In 55 2/3 innings of the 2019 season, Tyler Duffey has recorded 78 strikeouts, joining Taylor Rogers and Trevor May to become the first three relievers have amassed 75 strikeouts each in a single season in franchise history.

The Twins’ 2019 season has been remarkable in a lot of ways and the rebound of Tyler Duffey has been a huge part of their success.

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