Matt Duffy was the runner up for the 2015 Rookie of the Year award. There were 30 writers, and the majority of them thought that Duffy was the second-best rookie in the National League. It was an uncontroversial vote.
What you might not remember: Duffy was pretty bad over his last 13 games. He hit .236/.263/.382 in 57 plate appearances, with just two walks and 11 strikeouts. The writers added him to their ROY ballots anyway. You did not worry all winter if Duffy's slump was going to carry over into the next season, and that's if you realized he slumped in his last 13 games, which you didn't. A 13-game sample wasn't enough to change your opinion about Duffy. It wasn't enough to change the Giants' or the BBWAA's opinion about him. It was just a baker's dozen of games. Why would you care?
Ah, but if those at-bats came at the very beginning of the season, with the numbers staring back at you from the scoreboard in 14,384-point font? You would notice. You have noticed. So has Duffy and the Giants. From Henry Schulman:
"It’s fair to say he’s trying to find it," Bochy said. "He’s a good hitter. They all go through it. His timing is off. You can see it. He’s human. He’s battling it. I’ll probably give him a break in a couple of days."
At the risk of being the dog from that flaming-house meme, this is fine. You're noticing the slump more because it's the start of the season. Everything is magnified, and this is the only evidence that we have for anything in 2016. And right now, Duffy's timing is way off, and he's not getting any help. The baseball term for this is a "slump."
Call hurts #SFGiants— Giants Strike Zone (@GiantsUmp) April 14, 2016
Strike 2 should be ball 2
Top 8 Qualls vs Duffy
16% call same
2.4in from edge pic.twitter.com/X6I3itBxi9
Call hurts #SFGiants— Giants Strike Zone (@GiantsUmp) April 4, 2016
Strike 1 should be ball 3
Top 5 Torres vs Duffy
20% call same
1.6in from edge pic.twitter.com/WKu6PtsbIs
Those are the only Duffy-related tweets from @GiantsUmp in the regular season this year, but they confirmed what I've been seeing. Every first pitch is just off the corner for a called strike. Every 1-1 count somehow becomes a 1-2 count. Because, yep, that's what a slump is like, alright.
If you want evidence that things will be fine, something that's more than "sample size" shrieked over and over again until the neighbors bang on the door, look at how Duffy has been pitched. According to Baseball Savant, pitchers worked Duffy away away away on the lower-outside part of the plate last year. More than a quarter of the pitches thrown to Duffy were outside and low, and he had little success going out of the zone, as you would expect. It's the way pitchers tried to get him out, and it's a plan that worked.
And Duffy still had a fantastic year. This isn't a fatal flaw. Look, they're pitching him exactly the same way this year. I was worried that when I looked at the zone data, there would be some heretofore undiscovered hole in his swing, something a mad scientist of a scout figured out in January after watching hours and hours of footage. That's not the case. There's nothing different about the way Duffy is being pitched to.
What is different? For starters, Duffy has seen 13 pitches in the middle of the plate. He doesn't have a hit on any of them. Not only that, but he's making his weakest contact when the ball is right in the middle of the strike zone. That's not the sign of someone who needs to adjust to a league-wide adjustment -- it's the sign of someone currently in the clutches of remarkably janky timing. He's not hitting the pitches every hitter can hit. Fix that, and you've fixed the baseball player.
He'll be fine. HE'LL BE FINE. And, really, we're talking about just 12 games, considering how fantastic his first game was. Players slump over the long, long season. It's just way easier to pick the slumps out when they happen in the first two weeks.