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.
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.