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Matt Duffy’s 2015 is the real Matt Duffy

Duffy will excel with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Matt Duffy meets the media
Matt Duffy meets the media

As the clock struck 'midnight' at the trade deadline, the Rays struck a deal sending Matt Moore to the Giants to receive their injured third baseman Matt Duffy in return, along with two prospects. There are ways for this deal to work out for the Rays, but the easiest way is for Duffy to be an above average position player for the next 4+ years in a Rays uniform.

Finances played a role as they always do when you are working on a tight budget like the Rays and Matt Moore is scheduled to make seven million dollars through an option that was going to be picked up by whoever is Moore’s employer for next season. Matt Duffy will make league minimum and that’s pretty important for the Rays. The roughly six and a half million dollars allows the Rays to have much more financial flexibility in 2017.

The move isn’t only financial as the Rays had an abundance of MLB starting caliber pitching heading into next year and needed to reallocate these resources either at the trade deadline or during the winter. All the talk has been about the Rays targeting elite prospects to headline a deal, but Duffy fits the mold of some recent returns where they have targeted cheap controllable MLB assets.

The Rays received two quality prospects in SS Lucius Fox and RHP Michael Santos that are high risk and high reward. If they become MLB regulars they could make this a big win for the Rays, but the bulk of the trade is three years of Matt Moore for four years of Matt Duffy.

If Duffy performs up to his 2015 breakout season this trade could be a big win for the Rays as soon as next year.

Is 2015 or 2016 the real Matt Duffy?

2015 612 4.9% 15.7% 0.336 0.295 0.334 0.428 0.331 116
2016 286 7.0% 14.0% 0.282 0.253 0.313 0.358 0.295 88

*Data gathered from Fangraphs.

In 2015 Matt Duffy broke onto the MLB scene with a great season at the plate and in the field. He was worth 4.9 fWAR as his bat was a positive with a 116 wRC+ and his glove was elite as defensive metrics loved his work and put up 12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and 10.6 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) or 12.7 UZR per 150 games. The only qualified defender that UZR liked better than Duffy was Adrian Beltre (13.0 UZR/150) and DRS had him fourth behind Adrian Beltre (18 DRS), Nolan Arenado (18 DRS), and Manny Machado (14 DRS).

In 2016 his offense slipped to below average at 88 wRC+, but DRS and UZR continue to love his third base defense. Even though Duffy has missed the last six weeks he has the second highest UZR behind only Adrian Beltre. Duffy’s 11 DRS puts him behind only Nolan Arenado (15 DRS) and Adrian Beltre (12 DRS).

The defense continues to be great, but the real question is in his bat. The lazy answer would be that his BABIP dropped and while he’s likely a bit unlucky with a .282 in 2016 he was more fortunate last year as he posted a .336 BABIP. He’s likely better than the 88 wRC+, but closer to that than the 116 wRC+ posted in 2015. If he settles in around 100 wRC+ that’s not a terrible outcome, but is there more in his bat?

Analyzing Matt Duffy’s batted ball profile.

Year FB% GB% LD% POPUP% BB% K%
2015 14.9% 44.8% 22.2% 1.4% 4.9% 15.7%
2016 17.5% 43.2% 21.4% 2.3% 7.0% 14.0%

*Data compiled from Baseball Savant.

Matt Duffy’s 2015 and 2016 batted ball profile are much more similar than they are different. Duffy has struck out less and walked more which are both good things.

How has his results on differed by batted ball type?

Ball Type 2015 BA 2015 ISO 2016 BA 2016 ISO
FB 0.165 0.271 0.178 0.356
GB 0.262 0.020 0.252 0.027
LD 0.685 0.378 0.527 0.145

xBABIP or expected batting average on balls on play love Duffy’s profile as it pegs him for a .350 xBABIP in 2016 as a guy that hits lots of line drives and groundballs with an opposite field approach very similar to Derek Jeter. Last year’s batted profile put his xBABIP at .342 which is slightly better than the .346 that he actually produced.

His results on ground balls and fly balls have been very close. He’s been more fortunate on fly balls by generating a .013 higher batting average than 2015, but has been negated by generating a .010 lower batting average on ground balls.

The culprit has been his luck on line drives. Duffy has taken a hit by dropping -.158 of batting average and -.233 ISO.

That is a massive difference, as .158 additional batting average on line drives would equal 8.69 more hits, and would increase his overall batting average by .030 points. An additional .233 ISO would equal a .045 ISO gain on his season line. If he ran equal to last year on line drives that would put his season line to .283/.343/.433 and would put his line slightly above what he did last year.

Was Duffy just lucky in 2015 on line drives, or has his contact quality dropped played a role in this decline in production?

His average exit velocity has increased from 91.0 MPH on line drives in 2015 to 91.6 MPH in 2016. League average on line drives is a .662 batting average and .396 ISO. League average exit velocity on line drives is 93.2 MPH, so Duffy does under perform compared to the league.

Of players with 25 or more line drives this season Duffy ranks 231 of 322 batters in exit velocity. The results, though, have him ranking 312th in batting average and 317th in ISO. Batting average isn't affected by exit velocity a ton unless it's 100 MPH+ and the ISO does skyrocket at 100 MPH+, but is pretty stable at everything sub 100 MPH. 11 of Duffy's 55 line drives this year have been hit 100 MPH or harder and he has a .727 batting average and .273 ISO on those balls. The batting average is slightly below the league average of .783, but his ISO is well below the .784 league average.

His line drive results should improve and as long as he maintains his batted ball profile his line should receive a serious bump to his 2016 line and move towards his 2015 line.

What do I expect moving forward?

Defensively I don’t really know how it will play out, but there is reason to believe it will be successful. I would have less optimism if the Giants didn’t have a defensive beast in Brandon Crawford covering the position who has put up 42.2 UZR (8.9 UZR/150) and 62 DRS over 6,180.2 innings.

The closest comparable you could make to Duffy's situation is Manny Machado, who has put up 17.7 UZR/150 at third base and been a 4.6 UZR/150 defender at short in a very small 433 innings of work. It's hard to say what will happen.

The defensive adjustment at Fangraphs calls for a five run difference between shortstop and third base and Jeff Zimmerman at re-examined the defensive adjustments last May and found the difference between shortstop and third base worth roughly three runs.

In other words, Matt Duffy has "runs" to spare as he makes the transition to being an everyday shortstop.So if defense should be somewhere between a success and a neutral result, it's up to the offense.

Moving forward, I expect for his line drive results to be significantly better, which will bring his numbers much closer to his 2015 overall line than his current 2016. And a shortstop that is even average defensively brings a ton of value if his batting line is closer to his 2015 performance.