Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we’re two months away from Opening Day!
Welcome back in to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, my annual blog series counting down to Opening Day by way of profiling the players wearing the matching number to how far away we are from it. Today is Friday, January 31st and since February is thankfully so short, we are 59 days away from Brewers vs Braves at Miller Park.
That’s not a typographical error in the title of this post. After a few somewhat starcrossed years as a Brewers reliever, John Axford has moved on to Cleveland. The new owner of #59 is also a relief pitcher, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end.
With that, let’s dive deeper into a welcoming for non-roster invitee…
Zachary Thomas Duke is a 6’2″, 210 lb southpaw who was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2001. As a 20th round draft pick, it was thought that Duke might be bound for college. Instead, he signed with the Pirates and at the tender age of 19 went 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 11 starts with their rookie ball team in 2002. Duke advanced to Class-A Hickory in 2003 and posted good numbers, but not the eye-poppers of the year prior. Those numbers came back in 2004 as the 21-year-old twirled 148.1 innings, struck out 142 batters and walked just 30. All told, Duke had a 1.46 ERA between Class-A Advanced Lynchburg and Class-AA Altoona.
Finally, following a 12-3 record in 16 starts with Class-AAA Indianapolis in 2005, Duke was promoted to the big leagues. He answered the bell in 14 starts with a 1.81 ERA, 233 ERA+, 1.205 WHIP, 2.52 K/BB. Those stats and others resulted in Duke finished fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting along with being dubbed a future ace in Pittsburgh.
Outside of small sample size situations, those 2005 numbers would be career bests.
Duke lasted five more seasons in Pittsburgh, making a total of 159 starts for the Pirates. His ERA as a Pirate would finish at 4.54 which is 0.03 lower than his career mark of 4.57. After his time in the steel city, Duke moved on to Arizona via trade. He made nine starts as a Diamondback and entered out of the bullpen in his 12 other appearances. The results weren’t great and Arizona let Duke walk away following the 2011 season.
He signed with the Houston Astros in January of 2012 but was released on March 27th. Two days later he’d wind up signing with the Washington Nationals. He pitched for the Nationals organization for a season and a half, totaling 20 big league appearances with just one start. The rotation had passed him by and he was fully committed to bullpen work. In 2012, Duke seemed like he’d be just fine as a full-inning or even multi-inning reliever. He showed no adverse platoon split and actually had better numbers against right-handed hitters, though in a very small sample. In the minors in 2012, Duke had a more traditional platoon split but it still wasn’t crazily slanted to LOOGy-dom.
In 2013 at the big league level, Duke allowed an .854 OPS against right-handed hitters and a .728 OPS against lefties. Duke’s bigger splits came between home vs. road appearances. Duke limitied opposing hitters to a .615 OPS at home and allowed a massive .948 OPS on the road. It should be noted that “home” for Duke was also split in 2013 as he began the year in Washington but after being released signed with Cincinnati. Something else to point out in 2013 is that against those same-sided southpaw hitters, Duke walked just one and struck out 14 in 50 total plate appearances. He was less effective that way against righties, walking nine while striking out just four in 92 total plate appearances.
In short (too late!), now is the time for Duke to focus on the specialist role out of the bullpen. There are other left-handed relievers who will be in big league camp this spring including Will Smith and Rule V choice Wei-Chung Wang. Then there’s Tom Gorzelanny who has a spot reserved whenever he’s cleared following his off-season shoulder surgery. Still, Duke’s stuff appears to still be playing up when he has the platoon advantage and he needs to capitalize on that if he is to contribute to Ron Roenicke’s bullpen instead of Rick Sweet’s bullpen in Nashville.
You can follow Zach Duke on Twitter: @zach_duke
Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:
- #60 Kevin Shackelford
- #61 Jason Rogers
- #63 Brooks Hall
- #64 Mike Fiers
- #65 Irving Falu
- #66 Robinzon Diaz
- BONUS COLUMN: #77 David Goforth, #76 Kevin Mattison, #75 Mitch Haniger, #74 Michael Olmstead, #73 Kentrail Davis, #72 Cameron Garfield, #71 Adam Weisenburger, #70 Dustin Molleken, #67 Eugenio Velez