Relief pitching is truly a fickle thing. Relievers seem to go from great one year to mediocre the next with far more regularity than any other position. Even the great ones tend to go through the occasional rough season, unless one is the cutter throwing cyborg known as Mariano Rivera.
Rivera’s former setup man, Kyle Farnsworth, is yet another example of how quickly the fortunes of relievers can change virtually overnight. As yet another of the Rays Reclamation Projects in the bullpen, Farnsworth far exceeded anything he managed to put together over a full season in his first season as a member of the Rays, going 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA and 25 saves. Improbably, the Rays managed to turn someone that was typically the equivalent of pouring petrol on a fire into a legitimate closer.
However, Farnsworth could not continue his success. After getting hurt at the end of 2011, he got injured again towards the end of Spring Training the following year, appearing in his first game on June 30th. He struggled through the season, finishing 1-6 with an ERA of 4.00, and was not guaranteed to come back this year. However, the Rays resigned him, and Farnsworth has responded with his worst season to date.
At this point, Farnsworth simply cannot be trusted to enter a close game. Nor can he be trusted to enter a game with runners on base. This season, he has allowed six of the twelve inherited runners he has had to score. In the seventh inning, Farnsworth has 7.36 ERA, with the opposition producing a 1.104 OPS against him. As bad as those number have been, he has been even worse in the eighth inning, with a 24.00(!) ERA and a 1.752 OPS. These numbers not only say that Farnsworth likely should not be used in any type of close game, but that he likely should not be used except in extreme cases, such as a ten-run blowout or his being the last pitcher available in a 20 inning game.
Yet, to have a pitcher specifically for those roles, who may not see the field for weeks at a time, is an utter waste of a roster spot. But what other option is there for Farnsworth? Can he really be used at any other point right now? Unfortunately, he has not proven that he can be trusted in any other situation.
When David Price and Brandon Gomes come back, and with younger options for the bullpen, the Rays are going to need to make some decisions in their relief corps. With the way Farnsworth has been pitching, he may find himself as one of those pitchers let go. At age 37, and in the midst of his worst year as a major leaguer, this may mark the end of the line for Kyle Farnsworth.