November 20, 2010

Duke, LaRoche, Young Released

The Pirates cut ties with one of their longest tenured players yesterday, as they designated lefthanded starter Zach Duke for assignment. Bench players Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche were also designated, and all three will likely become free agents.

Starting in 2002, Duke went 42-16 with a 2.38 ERA in four minor league seasons to establish himself as a top prospect. He was called up in July '05 and went 8-2, 1.81 that year, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The following year, Duke was a league average pitcher as he went 10-15, 4.47, throwing 215 innings. That was a solid age 23 season, but it was also one he would never improve on. He looked to have put things together in 2009, when he had a 3.38 ERA and 10 wins in late August, but he imploded down the stretch that year and then was hit hard in almost every start in 2010. Overall he went 45-70, 4.54, giving up nearly 11 hits per nine innings over his six years in Pittsburgh.

I really enjoyed watching Zach Duke on nights when he was on. There were always men on base, and opposing hitters would struggle mightily to make solid contact off his seemingly hittable stuff. First-and-third, one out rallies would end in nothing, and frustrated hitters would come back hacking inning after inning, only to end the night having scored only two runs although only two batters struck out. And he could be unhittable too: Duke's masterpiece four hit shutout at the '09 home opener remains one of the two or three best pitched games I've seen in person.

In 2011, his final year of arbitration, Zach Duke would have made $5 million. The Pirates can bring in a better pitcher for the same amount. But for a 20th round pick to even make 159 starts by age 27, including two Opening Day starts, is not bad at all. I'm glad he won his final home start here in Pittsburgh. Like John Russell, Duke had to go but I wish him the best. Someone will sign him as a fifth starter in 2011.

Delwyn Young's .258/.317/.393 career line actually isn't bad for a bench bat who can play infield and outfield positions. Of course, he couldn't play any of those positions well. He's too good for AAA but has no place on a contending MLB team. Someone will give him a bench job in 2011.

Andy LaRoche was a credible third baseman in 2009; not so much in 2008 and 2010. He now has a career .224/.304/.338 batting line, and also had negative defensive value this season. For a guy who can only play one position, that spells a minor league job in 2011.

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