Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Infielder Matt Duffy

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 24: Matt Duffy #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a throw to first in the first inning during a game against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on September 24, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 24: Matt Duffy #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a throw to first in the first inning during a game against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field on September 24, 2019 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates, under new General Manager Ben Cherrington, have made it an underlying goal to seek help at the hot corner this off-season. Before the arrival of top-prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes, the new front office should consider  the 29-year old former Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Matt Duffy.

Once seemingly a rising star in baseball, infielder Matt Duffy has not had much luck with injuries over the past few seasons. Following a World Series victory in which he recorded a speed of 20+ MPH scoring on a wild pitch from second base, the Duffman had a strong season as a utility player in San Francisco, posting a 4.4 fWAR with a 113 wRC+. He also accumulated 7.5 UZR playing at the hot corner.

However, when Duffy was traded to the Rays to replace long-time third baseman Evan Longoria, he ended up missing the entirety of the 2017 season with an Achilles injury. When he returned, he put up a respectable 2.5 fWAR and a 107 wRC+ and a 3.6 UZR at third, but was held back again in 2019 with injury. He put up a measly -0.3 fWAR and -5.1 UZR in a short sample of 46 games before being designated for assignment this winter.

According to Baseball-Savant, Duffy also presents a strange case when analyzing his contact data. In 2019, Duffy put up just a 1.7% weak contact rate, solid contact rate, and barrel rate. That bizarre fact could only come from a small sample size, one that proves Duffy should not be defined by a single season.

In addition here, there are two things of note: 1) the Rays have a history of dropping above-average players for various reasons (see Corey Dickerson and CJ Cron) and 2) Duffy’s two full months of play last season ended with drastically different results (45 wRC+ in August, 139 wRC+ in September). He also experienced a batting average on balls in play around 25 points lower than his career average, something to take into consideration.

Duffy gets on base consistently. He posted a .343 on-base percentage in 2019 and a .361 on-base percentage in 2018, while walking at an above average rate in both seasons. He’s also a strong contact hitter and rarely misses, as both his career zone contact rate (92%) whiff percentage (17.4%) are well above average when compared to the rest of the league.

Duffy is a player who was not given a chance due to injury and still could hold value as an above-average platoon player or even an every day player. He’s similar to David Freese in a lot of ways and not just the position, either. Both players won the World Series before they ever played a full-season (although, walk-offs are more memorable than passed-balls), have similar nicknames (Duffman vs DaveHuman), both have experienced hamstring issues, and both provide the potential of a .270+ hitter with additional upside. Where Freese has power, Duffy makes up for in fielding ability.

Next. How the Pirates Can Use Their Low Payroll to Their Benefit. dark

Currently, Duffy probably projects an AAV of $2-4M, according to similar players. Due to injury, I believe the Pirates could be able to snag him on a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. That would be best case scenario, giving the Pirates a chance to see if Duffy is healthy and able to play regularly. At worst, he signs a low-cost, low-risk,1-year deal to supplement Colin Moran and Kevin Newman on the left side of the field.

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