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The Red Report 2019 — Zach Duke

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The veteran lefty fills an important role for Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Left-handed pitcher
  • 35 years old (will turn 36 on April 19)
  • Beginning his second stint in Cincinnati

Organizational history

Career stats

Scouting report


Source: FanGraphs

Projections

Outlook

I’ve already written this offseasonmore than once! — about the scarcity of left-handed pitching options available to the Reds as they entered this winter, so I’ll keep this brief: Amir Garrett, he of the 4.29 ERA in 2018 and career -1.4 bWAR, was far and away the most dependable left-hander Cincinnati had available in the bullpen by the end of last season. Cody Reed’s fastball-slider combo will always make him an intriguing option, but he’s never proven he can reliably get big-league hitters out for extended stretches. Wandy Peralta lost the strike zone last year, Brandon Finnegan lost, well, everything, and Kyle Crockett was, charitably speaking, uninspiring. A team can probably get by with an all-right-handed rotation, but everybody needs lefties in their bullpen, and that’s an area that Cincinnati absolutely needed to address in the offseason.

The signing of Zach Duke goes a decent ways toward plugging that hole. Reds fans might remember Duke from those couple of months he was really good in Cincinnati, or for those several years when he was a pretty bad starter for the division rival Pirates. But quietly, Duke has spent the last several years doing solid work as something of a freelance lefty specialist. Since transitioning to the bullpen full-time with Washington in 2012, Duke has pitched for seven different teams, throwing 295.2 innings with a 3.35 ERA (120 ERA+), and maintaining a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.5 while limiting home runs to just 0.6 per nine innings.

Duke’s 2018 season was pretty much right in line with those numbers. He split his time between the Twins and Mariners, putting together a strong run with the former while struggling a bit with the latter. Most appealing to the Reds, however, is the fact that he allowed just one home run in 52 innings. He was no LOOGY, facing 42 more right-handed hitters than lefties, but his platoon splits suggest that could use some correcting, as right-handers OPSed .773 against him and lefties OPSed just .602.

If all goes right for Cincinnati, Duke won’t be counted on to be the bullpen’s shutdown southpaw. Garrett showed the potential to be an elite left-handed reliever last year, and if he takes another step, then Duke should expect to be utilized as a low-leverage arm. If the Reds happen to need him for more than that, though, there’s a good chance he should be able to handle it.