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2012 Season Previews: Kyle Farnsworth

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When the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth last off-season (a story that was broken by DRaysBay), reactions were mixed. Dave Cameron thought the move was a solid signing, while others such as Cork Gaines thought the move was god-awful. In the end, the deal was a fantastic move. Not only did the Rays get Farnsworth's high-quality production for $3.3M last season, but they also got to keep him this year for a piddling additional $2M via team option, well below what he would've gotten on the market.

In looking to project Farnsworth's 2012, it's only logical to examine his 2011 for clues as to what we might expect. It seems reasonable to expect that Farnsworth's role with the 2012 Rays will be similar to what his 2011 role was: the textbook closer, who comes in to rack up saves and to pitch in tied home games going into extras. Farnsworth superficially excelled in said role, putting up an ERA of 2.18 (8th in the AL for relievers). His DIPS were less elite, with a FIP and xFIP of roughly 3.20. Nevertheless, this is still quite good, particularly when placed in Tropicana Field in front of the Rays defense.

Farnsworth's 2011 contained the same transformation that a bevy of other relievers have underwent upon joining the Rays. Just like Rafael Soriano, Randy Choate, Lance Cormier (in his first season at least), and Brian Shouse before him, Farnsworth displayed a concomittant decrease in both his strikeout and walk rates, allowing more of his at bats to end with balls in play, resulting in an overall improvement in peripherals. Unlike the other relievers, however, Farnsworth also underwent a tremendous transformation in his batted ball data.

Career* 2010 2011
LD% 20 22.3 16.5
GB% 40.2 41.3 50.6
FB% 39.8 36.3 32.9
IFFB% 11 6.2 16.7

*2002 onward, data from Fangraphs

The changes are immediately obvious. Farnsworth had more favorable batted balls across the board, giving up fewer line drives and fly balls, and far more ground balls and pop ups. As a result of this abnormal batted ball profile, Farnsy had a SIERA of 2.77.

Obviously, the immediate concern here comes from the small sample size of his 2011 numbers. The change in his LD%, which stabilizes after ~2000 batted balls, is absolutely useless, and should be regressed completely. GB% stabilizes after 105 batted balls (Farnsworth had 160 last season), so we barely need to regress his performance there: something in the neighborhood of 46-47% is a reasonable projection. FB%, which stabilizes after 205 batted balls, needs to be regressed more heavily. There, we'd expect a mark of around 37%. IFFB% requires the most regression, requiring 290 PA to stabilize. For that, we'd have to regress it heavily, up to around 12%. Still, this marks represent favorable improvements from Farnsworth's career levels.

Assuming he's healthy, we can expect more of 2011 from Farnsworth-DIPS projecting him to be around 3 runs per 9, which converts to an ERA of about 2.5 in front of the Rays defense in Tropicana Field. Still, the assumption that he's healthy may not be an entirely valid one. As most of you probably remember, Farnsworth had an elbow injury in mid-September last season. Although he came back strong, with a K/BB of 6 in 3.1 innings after returning, that isn't really that meaningful, given that it was just 3.1 innings. While a much better sign than a reciprocal K/BB of .17, the fact that he had limited time to prove his efficacy upon returning definitely raises some question marks.

Given how little data we have, in order to inflate sample sizes, we must examine his pitches themselves. Per Texas Leaguers:

Before Injury After Injury
4-Seam Velocity 95.4
4-Seam Whiff% 7.20% 11.10%
Slider Velocity 87.1 86.6
Slider Whiff% 16.60% 26.70%

Well, there it is. His two main pitches had similar velocity and superior whiff rates after his injury. We could look at other measures, but frankly, I'm not even entirely comfortable trying to draw conclusions from the above, given how granular the sample sizes already are (18 & 15 pitches).

Overall, Farnsworth had a well above-average season as a relief pitcher last year, and we can expect more of the same next year. Although he probably won't induce pop-ups at the same rate he did last year, it also probably won't make too much of a difference. The only question mark that really comes with him is his health, given his DL stint near the end of last season. Still, given his strong (but brief) showing upon his return, I wouldn't stay up worrying about him--he's *probably* going to be fine.