Chicago Cubs Signing Former Twins Reliever Tyler Duffey to a Minor League Deal
The Chicago Cubs are bringing in another arm for their camp bullpen competition/reclamation project wing, and it’s a guy who was very good for a long time with the Minnesota Twins: righty Tyler Duffey.
Unlike some of this category of signing, where the Cubs are trying to next-level someone who has never quite gotten over that big league hump, Duffey, 32, was just a really solid reliever for the Twins for a long time, posting a 3.83 ERA and 3.56 FIP after he was converted to the bullpen in 2017 through 2021. He was even more dominant from 2019-21, with ERAs and FIPs that were 30 to 40% better than league average, and a 29.8% K rate to go with an 8.2% BB rate. The guy was just really, really good.
Then 2022 happened, when Duffey saw his strikeout rate plummet, his barrel rate rise, and his HR/9 skyrocket (probably beyond the bounds of skill, so I’m immediately thinking he had some small sample bad luck on the homers, alone). I’m not sure what was underlying the struggles, though I do see that he started using his sinker a whole lot more in 2022 – looks like it was generally successful (good results, good pitch metrics), so I wonder if he was working on trying to replace his rough four-seamer with the sinker as his primary fastball. The potential problem there is that his curveball likely pairs better with the four-seamer, and sure enough, the productivity of the curveball dropped a lot last year, too. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, I don’t see a dramatic drop in his spin rates … )
All that said, those are reasons to be interested in getting him into a new organization that is known for helping pitchers exactly like Duffey get it back. Maybe the Cubs can help him rely more on the sinker, and figure out a better breaking pitch shape to pair with that one.
Obviously the reason you sign as many of these types to minor league deals as you can is because they are no risk, modest upside, and you never know how much depth you’re going to need. But I really do like the guys who’ve had a whole lot of big league success before, and who might just be a new org and/or modest tweak away from returning to form. You’re not looking for an ace closer here, but another really good middle reliever? Yes, that’s a possible outcome. Take as many swings as you can, and while most will miss, some will work out. The Cubs have shown that.