In George We Trust
A(nother) blog about the most storied franchise in sports
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Kyle Farnsworth, behind the numbers
He's a big, intimidating presence on the mound (6'4", 240 lbs) armed with a triple digit fastball and a sharp, biting slider. That's the recipe for a dominant reliever, if not a dominant closer in the current baseball era. But Kyle Farnsworth sports a career ERA+ of 99 (100 is league average), so what's holding him back?

Farnsworth is terribly inconsistent year to year, having put up solid seasons in 2001, 2003 and 2005, while stinking it up 2000, 2002 and 2004. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here's his stats, graphically: (all graphs from - dark blue lines represent league averages)

Looking at his career stats, nothing really jumps out at you regarding what may be the cause of the inconsistency. His GB/FB ratio and percentage of inherited runners scoring fluctuates like the rest of the stats. I thought maybe he was having trouble getting ahead of hitters, but he's thrown first pitch strikes to roughly 49% of the batters he's faced over his career (which is surprisingly good, the great Mariano has dealt first pitch strikes to roughly 51% of the hitters he's faced in his career), so that discounts that theory. I gave up looking at stats that were solely a function of Farnsworth's pitching, and decided to look beyond the traditional stats and see what kind of situations he was used in. In doing so, I came to a conclusion: Kyle Farnsworth is a glorified long reliever.

Let me explain. Using David Pinto's Day by Day Pitching Database, I sorted Farnsworth's career into two categories, games he's pitched 1 inning or less, and those were he's thrown more than 1 inning. I neglected to include his rookie year of 1999, because he was primarily a starter that year. The results were startling:

1 IP or less297243.022611.
more than 1 IP5382.2599.802.723.602.83.2401.02

It's a tale of 2 pitchers; one who seemingly throws gas on the fire, and another who has Hall of Fame worthy numbers. While the long relief Farnsworth doesn't strike out as many batters, he gives up less hits, less walks and less runs - a trade anyone would make. Fifty-three games and 82.2 IP is a sufficient sample size to say this is more than just a fluke.

Why was he more effective in longer roles? Who knows. Maybe he was throwing great that day and his manager decided to leave him longer than he usually would. Maybe he came into less pressure situations and was able to relax. Maybe he wasn't throwing well for 2 weeks beforehand, and he had a chip on his shoulder when his manager used him in middle relief instead of in set-up situations. It leaves you in quite the quandary, but I'm leaning toward believing he was brought in for multiple innings with less on the line, allowing him to chill out a bit.

Now I'm not suggesting Joe Torre should use Farnsworth for multi-inning appearances with nothing on the line, the man is going to be paid very well for the next 3 years to deal with the pressure and slam the door. I'm trying to dig deeper into the enigma that is Kyle Farnsworth, but his stats are over the place with almost no trend lasting longer than 2 years, making it almost impossible to figure out what's going on. He's developed a reliance on the book "Mind Gym" in the last year, so we can all hope that'll cure his inconsistency and allow him to be as effective in 2006 as he was in 2005.

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