2013 wasn’t supposed to turn out this way for Kyle Farnsworth.
After reinventing his career in 2011 as the unlikely closer of the Tampa Bay Rays, the veteran’s year was supposed to be a repeat of his redemption story; only this time, he was coming back from a serious elbow strain that caused him to miss almost half of 2012 and limited him to just 27 mixed innings of work.
What wasn’t supposed to happen was him becoming the team’s anti-MVP of the first half as the least valuable member of an up-and-down bullpen.
But hey, I guess that’s why they have that saying about the best-laid plans. Now, Farnsworth’s 4.44/1.33 ERA/WHIP over 26.1 innings aren’t astoundingly bad by any means, but everywhere you look, this is a 37-year-old showing diminishing returns thus far. Not the least of these is his velocity, once in the mid-high 90s but now averaging 93.9 mph on his fastball, second lowest only to 2012 … when he was pitching with a bum elbow.
On top of that, he’s second in the Rays bullpen with a five-year highs in BAA (.282) and HR/9 (1.37), suggesting that opposing batters are having little trouble teeing off against his diminished offerings — that’s not to mention his career-high 23.5 percent line drive rate either.
But the worst part? He’s no longer fooling anyone.
See, while Farnsworth wasn’t always the most consistent or reliable pitcher out of the bullpen, he could be counted on to get whiffs. Owning a 8.86 career K/9 and having coaxed swinging strikes at a 11.8 percent over his career, it was always the tool that he could go back to when things got rough — the sign that he still had the stuff even when control failed him.
This year, even that’s abandoned him too. With a 5.47 K/9 and an 8.2 swinging strike rate, not since the 37-year old was a starter back in 1999 was he so inept at setting folks down by strike three; and in case the decade-plus in his career following that experiment doesn’t tell you quite how it went … no, he wasn’t a very good starter at all.
So while he’s been able to throw first strikes at a career-best 67.3 percent and walk batters at a relatively strong 2.05 BB/9 rate, he’s lost some of the primary tools he needs to do the fundamental part of his job: get outs.
Even at $1.25 million for the year, negative value is negative value, and the last thing the Rays need is a -0.2 fWAR reliever in an already-shaky bullpen.