Defending the Indefensible: Kyle Farnsworth

 Before people start calling for my head, let’s get this out of the way:  Royals GM Dayton Moore’s decision to sign Kyle Farnsworth prior to the 2009 season to a 2 year, $9 million contract was, in a word, stupid.  (Or Moore-onic, your choice.)     When you’re operating on a very limited free agent budget, and you have glaring holes at several positions, the last thing you should do is spend 40% of your available funds on a relief pitcher coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career.  (The second to last thing you should do is sign Willie Bloomquist.  Ever.) 

So, just so we’re straight – this post is not intended to justify or excuse Dayton’s disastrous personnel moves in the winter/spring 2009.   What it is intended to do, however, is look at Farnsworth, from a performance perspective, in an objective light.  

Contract terms aside, was the decision to bring in Farnsworth a good one?  

At the conclusion of the 2008 season, the Royals had several apparent weaknesses:   the catching options were anemic, there were giant problems in the outfield, the 1B/DH positions were missing either a DH or a 1B, depending on where Butler ended up, and only about half of the rotation looked to be above replacement level.   

The bullpen, though, was in the best shape it had been in years, having just posted one of the lowest collective ERAs in the American League.  A pair of ill-advised trades in which the team lost Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez, however, left Moore in what could best be described as a state of panic.   The bullpen, once a source of pride, was now in shambles.  What’s a man to do? 

If that man is Dayton Moore, the answer is to bring in the beleaguered, yet hard-throwing, Kyle Farnsworth in a reckless attempt to salvage the season.    This was the same Kyle Farnsworth who hadn’t posted a positive WAR in three years.   

Royals fans expected Farnsworth to fail, and he certainly delivered right out of the gate.   He was singlehandedly responsible for the Royals losing the first game of the season, having served up a meatball to Jim Thome that resulted in a game winning 3-run homerun.   He went on to allow an additional four runs in his next four appearances (in only 2.1 innings pitched!)    The fans’ ire was officially drawn.

A strange thing happened after that point, however.  While he became more and more of a pariah among the Royals’ faithful, his pitching improved to a point where his 2009 season was probably the best he’d had in four or five years, and among the best in his career.

As depressing as it may sound, Farnsworth’s performance was probably the third best on the team, behind Soria and Greinke.  Look at the numbers:

 

Name

K/9

BB/9

K/BB

HR/9

ERA

Joakim Soria

11.72

2.72

4.31

0.85

2.21

Zack Greinke

9.50

2.00

4.75

0.43

2.16

Kyle Farnsworth

10.13

3.38

3.00

0.72

4.58


The walks allowed could have been a bit better, but it was still respectable.  Most importantly, he managed the second lowest homerun percentage in his career (after his 2005 campaign, which was also his best season.)    

Here’s how Kyle stacked up relative to his fellow Royals.

Stat

Team Ranking*

K/9

3

BB/9     

6

HR/9

3

K:BB

3

*out of 23 pitchers, minimum 1 inning pitched


Despite comparing favorably to an all-star and a Cy Young winner in the above categories,  Farnsworth had a pretty pedestrian ERA.  The reason:  Kyle had an obscenely high batting average on balls in play of .387.  In fact, it was one of the worst ten BABIP in the league.  (Two other Royals actually made the list ahead of him:  Yabuta and Dinardo.)

Ironically, in a season in which Farnsworth increased his ground ball rate to 45.8%, it ended up hurting him.  That’s how bad the infield defense was last year.  (Dinardo, coincidentally, had the highest GB% on the team at 57%, so his BABIP of .428 is less surprising.  Greinke and Soria insulated themselves a bit by giving up a higher than average fly ball percentage.  Yabuta just sucked.)

Take away the horrible defense behind him, and you’re left with FIP of 3.10, just behind  Joakim (2.74) and Zack (2.33).

So why the hatred toward Kyle?

  1. Fans had a hard time getting over the horrid introduction to Farnsy
  2. Farnsworth cost way too much
  3. Farnsworth was really, really bad when it counted (he averaged 10.50 BB/9 during medium or high leverage situations).  Of course that was only over 7 innings, and he really wasn’t allowed the opportunity to pitch in those types of situations after the first month.
  4. He missed a month due to injury

Or at least that’s how it all appeared to the casual observer.  I must admit that I didn’t have the fortune/misfortune of seeing too many games live last year due to time differences.   As such, it’s entirely possible that I missed the fact that Farnsworth came down with a case of The Grimsley’s;  in which he allowed an endless parade of inherited runners to score,  something which doesn’t necessarily present itself in the stat sheet.   

I guess this all means I’m willing to give Kyle a second chance.  I’m actually kind of intrigued by the thought of him becoming a starter, even though I doubt it will happen, and even though I doubt it would really work out that well.  But if he’s able to throw 70-80 innings again this year, and put up the same kind of rate stats as in 2009, then he can definitely be an asset to the team, especially now that the infield defense looks like it may have improved.   And maybe… just maybe… he might justify his 2010 contract.  

Once he gets traded.



 

 

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