The Chicago White Sox's bullpen ranked second-to-last in the American League in ERA in 2014. The White Sox took a big step towards improving that number on Tuesday, signing free agent set-up man Zach Duke to a three-year deal. The deal is worth a reported $15 million.
Duke was a major part of the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen last season. He made 74 appearances and posted 2.45 ERA in 58.2 innings. Duke, using a new sidearm delivery, struck-out 74 batters in those 58.2 innings and walked 17. Lefties hit just .198 against him. He fared well against right-handers, too. Although they hit .242 against Duke, right-handed batters posted just a 586 OPS against.
Duke began his career as a starter with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2005. He finished fifth in the NL in the Rookie of the Year voting that season despite making just 14 starts. Duke had a 1.81 ERA in 84.2 innings that season. He never came close to replicating that level of success in subsequent years with the Pirates. His best season came in 2009 when he had a 4.06 ERA in 213 innings. As a starter, Duke pitched to contact, but he has developed into a strike-out pitcher as a reliever.
Duke made the conversion to the bullpen in 2011 with Arizona. He spent the 2012 season with the Washington Nationals and was released by Washington midway through the 2013 campaign. He latched on with the Cincinnati Reds during the second half of the 2013 season and allowed just a run in 10.2 innings pitched. He began throwing sidearm during his time with the Reds. Encouraged by what they saw from Duke towards the end of the 2013 season, the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training. He made the club out of spring training and quickly became one of the Brewers most valuable relievers.
Duke, a native of Hewitt, Texas, will turn 32 next April 19 and this contract will take him through his age 35 season.