Before last night's game, there had been some talk here and perhaps elsewhere that, despite a horrible first week with the Royals, perhaps Kyle Farnsworth was working out. A bunch of scoreless innings... and it wasn't just that "streak." At the moment, his ERA stands at 3.43. FanGraphs has his FIP at 3.04. His K/9 is 9.00 (league average is 6.91). His K/BB is 4.20 (league average is 1.91). His tRA is 3.07, for a 133 tRA+ when measured against other AL relievers. Knowing the Royals' current front office and their affection for these and other "advanced metrics," perhaps he's simply a good pitcher that they identified. Hmmm... maybe... but , maybe, just maybe, there's something else going on here.
Some seem to think he can't stand "pressure" situations. There isn't much statistical evidence to back this up, though. If we reject the "clutch" evaluation for position players like Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Derek Jeter, Joe Carter, etc., then we should do so for pitchers as well. It simply hasn't been shown to be a repeatable skill. This is borne out by the "clutch" stat on Farnsworth's own FanGraphs player page, (you can read this for an explanation of win probability stats -- they work the same for pitchers and hitters) -- yes, this season he's been horrible, but in previous bad seasons, he's been above average. What I'm saying is, if you're looking for a "skill" explanation for what's up with the professor, this isn't it.
But what other explanation might there be for the Professor's so-called "rebound" the last few weeks that seems to be reflected in his stats?
Believe it or not, there is still plenty of useful stuff to be found at Baseball Prospectus. Of relevance here is their Quality of Batters Faced by Pitchers stat. That is, it lists the accumulated stats of the hitters the pitcher has faced, except against all pitchers, to get a sense of the quality of competition the pitcher has gone against. Although it still uses BA/OBP/SLG/OPS (why not EqA?), it serves well enough for our purposes. It would be nice if they allowed one to exclude the performance of the batters against the pitcher himself (since facing, e.g., Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, or Roy Halladay's opponents are obviously going to look worse as a group simply for facing those guys, or, in the cases of Horacio Ramirez, Oliver Perez, etc....).
Here is the Royals' page. Cutting to the chase: as of the time of this post, Kyle Farnsworth has faced the weakest hitting opponents of all Royals pitchers. He's a reliever, so it's not like he's biasing the sample with his awesomeness, either. Almost as interesting is checking out the AL leaderboard. Out of 255 pitchers, Kyle Farnsworth has faced the hitters with 223rd highest OPS. Hmmm...
In summary: on one hand, there's not much statistical evidence that Kyle Farnsworth has a problem with "pressure." On the other hand, there does seem to be a problem with him facing guys who can actually hit.