The good news is that Kyle Farnsworth is back from his elbow injury. The bad news is that he has been a complete disaster so far. He has made 6 relief appearances, going 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, striking out 7 but walking 6 in 5 innings. Are Farnsworth’s struggles simply a product of rust after not pitching in a big league game since last September or has Farnsworth lost something from his arsenal? Let’s compare the Pitch F/X data on Farnsworth from 2011 and 2012, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, in one of my original displays and see if there’s significant enough differences between the two years for us to be concerned long-term.
The two graphs here look very similar. But the key is pretty alarming. The pitches in the key are ordered based on the frequency that each of them were thrown, and we see that the slider went from last in 2011 to first in 2012. But that’s just the start. Kyle Farnsworth has always been a pitcher who worked primarily with a fastball-slider combination, but one of the big reasons that he was so successful in 2011, posting a 2.18 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and a career-high 25 saves in 63 appearances, was that he managed to take velocity on and off his two pitches to fool hitters and force weak contact. We see in the 2011 graph how his sinker is basically his fastball, but taking 2.5-3 MPH off of it led to more sink and horizontal run. The relationship between his slider and cutter was the opposite as he added velocity to his slider and lost some movement to get to his cutter. In 2012, we see similar movement, but the velocity is around 2 MPH down on both his fastballs. That has made them much less effective and forced him to go to his slider as a put-away pitch for more than he would like. With 2 strikes in 2012, Farnsworth has gone to his slider an insane 82% of the time compared to just 27% in 2011.
Farnsworth’s control and command clearly have not come back yet and that’s a process where the Rays just need to wait for it happen. But even if it does, can Farnsworth overcome his loss of velocity? I’ll say yes, but Farnsworth will likely never close consistently in the major leagues again. In order to get back on track, Farnsworth needs to figure out where his pitches are going, and then he has to mix them better to keep hitters off balance. In 2011, Farnsworth used his four-seam fastball, his cutter, and his sinker all around the same percentage of the time. In 2012, he has completely abandoned his cutter, despite promising movement, making him a three-pitch pitcher with his fastballs significantly worse than they have been in the past. Farnsworth has to have the confidence to use any pitch in any count. His arsenal has always been better when he establishes his fastball, but he has to be willing to start with a first-pitch cutter or a slider because he can’t simply throw a high-90’s fastball anymore and be confident that hitters won’t be able to do anything with it. Kyle Farnsworth has always been a “thrower.” Now, he has to become more of a “pitcher” and continue what he did in 2011, keeping hitters off balance with his four-pitch mix. Farnsworth has to get his control and command back before he can have the slightest bit of success. But once that happens, the difference between Farnsworth being an over-the-hill middle reliever and a pitcher who can continue to succeed will be how he mixes his pitches and utilizes his entire arsenal to keep hitters guessing.