When the Cubs signed Matt Duffy in December, most Cubs fans probably looked at the notification on their phones, made a snarky joke about the Ricketts family crying poor, and then carried on with their day.
I’ll admit, I did not emotionally react to the signing. I figured he’d be a depth piece that would make the team if he had a strong spring.
A month and a half into the season, Duffy has been much more than a depth piece.
As of May 14th, Duffy has one of the best contact rates in baseball at 90.5%, per Fangraphs.
Of batters with at least 50 plate appearances, only Nick Madrigal (95.5%) and Willians Astudillo (92.4%) have a better contact rate. Duffy is making contact at a career-high clip. His highest heading into the 2021 season was 85.3% in 2016.
Throughout his baseball career, Duffy endured some tough seasons. Hell, he spent the entire 2020 season at the Yankees alternate site.
Despite that, the Cubs may have found a future piece for their infield if they elect to bring Duffy back.
Duffy finished second behind Kris Bryant in the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year chase. He was primed to be a signature piece of the Giants’ future after finishing with a 4.4 WAR in 2015.
However, he hasn’t surpassed a 3.0 WAR in any season since.
Duffy entered this season with a new approach to the game: have fun.
This season, he sports a career-high in OBP (.370) aided by walking just over 11% of his plate appearances. Duffy’s patience at the plate is a breath of fresh air for Cubs fans because he consistently produces professional at-bats.
That can be defined as many things, but Duffy ranks sixth in baseball in Z-Contact% at a 95.3 clip. This means Duffy is making contact with pitches in the strike zone in 95.3% of his plate appearances.
He’s not hitting for power but he is putting the ball in play, and many of those balls in play have been for hits.
Duffy swings at pitches outside the strike zone at a 20% clip. Compare that to some of the players near the top of that category such as Yadier Molina (46.3%), Javier Baez (44%), Tim Anderson (43.9%), Salvador Perez (49.4%), and Fransisco Mejia (50%), and you’ll see those players all present an OBP lower than Duffy.
The versatile infielder and outfielder is posting solid contact and taking walks when needed on top of playing all over the baseball diamond early on this season.
No Cubs fan predicted Duffy becoming a voice in the clubhouse either. During Adbert Alzolay’s last start, Duffy offered the young hurler assurance after allowing a tough homer that gave the Indians a 3-2 lead.
Where Does Duffy Fit Beyond 2021?
At only 30 years old, Duffy could be the next veteran player to be part of the Cubs short-term future.
There is still no telling on the Cubs’ direction this summer. July is still several weeks away and the trade rumors surrounding Kris Bryant will only amplify.
Given Duffy’s early production, it puts the Cubs in an interesting spot, however. If he continues to play at this clip, the Cubs could potentially re-sign him for less money than, perhaps, Javier Baez?
They could also elect to trade Duffy in exchange for prospects. If this season is truly a transitional year for the Cubs, they’re definitely having conversations about Duffy regarding his future with the Cubs beyond 2021.
Either way, he has become a fan favorite by simply hitting singles and walking frequently. In today’s age of baseball, that’s weird to think about.
Cubs fans should be excited to watch Matt Duffy play moving forward.