In 2009, Brian Duensing had a respectable debut. He pitched in 24 games, starting nine of them. All told in ’09, he threw 84 regular season innings to a 3.64 ERA, 4.13 FIP, and 4.77 xFIP. The xFIP is a bit high because Duensing didn’t strike many guys out (5.68 per nine), but he did display decent control (3.32 BB/9), and kept the ball in the park (0.75 HR/9). He got guys to ground out 45.5% of the time and stranded 74.9% of the batters who faced him.
2009 saw Duensing work with a fastball-slider combination, while mixing in a changeup and a curveball from the left side. In the 2010 season Duensing has changed things up a bit. He’s throwing his fastball much less, has apparently added a sinker, upped his changeup usage, and kept steady with the slider. Brian doesn’t throw very hard, but the results have been there, especially in 2010.
In 53 games, 13 starts, he’s thrown 130.2 innings. The strikeout numbers stayed low–5.37 K/9–but he lowered his BB/9 to 2.41. His HR/9 “rose” to 0.76, so he’s still doing a great job of keeping the ball from landing amongst the people. His groundball rate is up to 52.5%, so we can see the results of that added sinker right there. As for the rate stats, they’re pretty solid: 2.62 ERA (3.05 as a starter)/3.85 FIP/4.10 xFIP. Again, the punchouts aren’t there, but he’s got great control and he doesn’t give up homers; that will definitely lead to a good FIP/xFIP.
There are some things that could give us some pause. For example, Duensing’s strand rate is high at 81.6%. The league average strand rate is 72.2%. His BABIP is also down to .276 from .295 last year (.302 avg. this year, .303 last year). But, man cannot live on BABIP alone. Duensing’s BABIP is so low because he’s not giving up terribly hard contact.
He’s only allowing line drives 15.6% of the time and his tRA as a starter (StatCorner) is 4.05 (3.46 as RP), good for a 109 tRA+ (122 as RP). The FanGraphs version of the stat has Duensing at 3.76 total.
By the numbers, Duensing has had a great 2010. Now, let’s look at how he’s going to attack the Yankees.
On the first pitch, Duensing varies greatly. He’s thrown three different first pitches over 20% of the time: 26.3% fastball, 24.9% sinker, 22.2% slider. Out of those three, the sinker with its 61.2% strike percentage has been the most effective on the first pitch.
Once ahead 0-1, Duensing increases his slider usage to 21.9% and gets it to be a strike 72% of the time.
When behind 0-1, he still mixes pretty well. He throws a fastball 32.1% of the time, a sinker 29.4% of the time, and a change up 24.3%.
What the Yankees can expect, then, is a guy who’s going to mix his pitches a lot and use his non-fastball stuff when he’s ahead and behind.
How should the Yankees approach Duensing? They should do what they always do: make him throw his pitches for strikes. It seems that Duensing likes to pitch backwards and if he is locating the sinkers and sliders, he’s trouble. If he can’t do that, the Yankees should be able to jump on his fastballs for hits or let him work himself into trouble with walks. If Duensing can locate his breaking pitches, the Yankees may have to wait him out and try to beat the Twins’ bullpen. They could do what they did the other night against Carl Pavano, too. In the first few innings, Pavano was getting ahead of hitters early and they couldn’t do much. As the game progressed, the Yankees got more aggressive early in the count and were able to drive the ball. A similar strategy could work in Game Three if Duensing is locating well with his non-fastballs early on in the game. Pardon the Captain Obvious appearance here, but Duensing’s sliders and sinkers will be his key tonight. If they’re good, he’s good. If they’re not, he may not be long for the game.