Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of outside the box thinking, but this is a little too outside the box for me. Yesterday Bob McClure went on record saying that, “Kyle Farnsworth is competing for a job in the rotation.” I’ve read several reactions to this news and all of them have there merit, but it seems to me that we are missing the boat here.
Here are some thoughts from and links to a number of sources on the concept of Kyle Farnsworth as the Royals fifth starter. For what it is worth, I recommend that you take the time to read each and every one of these.
From Dick Kaegel’s MLB.com piece:
“Now he’s throwing two types of fastballs [two-seam and four-seam], which I think is really going to help him,” McClure said. “We had some comments from other teams going, ‘When did he start doing that? He should have done that a long time ago.”
Over at The Royal Tower, Keith had this to say:
A lot of people talk about how straight his pitches are, and yes his four-seam fastball is fairly straight, but he added a cutter and a two-seamer to his arsenal last year that can cut or move in on hitters. It’s a more diverse group of pitches and improved command under the help of McClure that I think will allow this transition to be very successful.
Craig, from Royals Authority contributed this:
So it’s not altogether crazy that Farnsworth be looked at as a starter. He’s developed a third pitch and began to accumulate more ground balls and kept the ball in the park which is a key component of avoiding the big inning.
Still, it’s a bad idea.
From FanGraphs, Dave Cameron chimed in:
There’s also reasons to be encouraged that he may have learned something last year. As McClure notes in the linked article, they got him to start throwing both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball last year, and it significantly changed his pitch mix.
What this development does show is a glimmer of hope for those of us who have been clamoring for some outside the box thinking on the part of the Royals. While I would place the chance of this experiment working out at about 12%, it does give me a little hope.
Finally we have Rob Neyer’s take:
In a related note, there’s no particular reason to think Farnsworth can maintain his stuff for more than an inning or two. We all know that pitchers throw harder when they don’t have to pace themselves. Last year he was throwing his four-teamer at 96 and his two-seamer at 90. Can he be effective if those numbers drop to 92 and 87? And without any changeup to speak of?
From all of the above sources there are a few common lines of thought:
1) Hey, at least they’re being creative.
Not much to react to here. The Royals are definitely thinking outside of the box. Creativity can lead you to untold riches, but it can also lead to your downfall. Since we’re talking about the Royals, a team who managed to average only 67.2 wins the last ten seasons, it seems like this would be worth a shot. They are already the doormat team in MLB so there really isn’t anywhere to go but up. However the following two points cancel this one out in my mind.
2) Maybe the adjustment in his mix of pitches will unlock some of the talent that lies mostly dormant within him.
I’m not an expert on what it takes to get big league hitters out so if Bob McClure and others who are experts think that Farnsworth’s adjustments can turn around his fading career, I’m open to the possibility. On the other hand baseball is a game of adjustments. Last season Kyle started to adjust and because of it, started catching opposing hitters off balance. Farnsworth effectively deviated from his scouting report and found some success in the process. Now that opposing teams have had an off-season to study his changes, react, and adjust the “book” on him it seems likely that the league will catch up to his adjusted arsenal. As a reliever maybe he is on to something with his adjustments, but as a starter he’s going to have to face guys a 2nd or 3rd time and I don’t see that ending well.
3) This probably isn’t going to work, but why not?
Everyone has focused on what Kyle Farnsworth could do if he was a part of the Royals 2010 rotation and that certainly valid way to look at this. However, I think we also need to examine the other side of the coin. If he is given a chance to, or actually does make the rotation, who is he replacing? Who loses their spot, or at the very least tune-up innings because of this experiment?
I think everyone is in agreement that the top three starters are set with Greinke, Meche, and Bannister. The number four starter should be an open competition between Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies with the “loser” being bumped into the battle for the fifth and final spot. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to assume that Hochevar will open the season as the number four starter because the Royals have to find out what they have in him. With all that in mind, we have to evaluate Kyle Farnsworth compared to the remaining candidates for the rotation.
To answer the question of why not, we have to ask a series of question regarding who you would rather have as your fifth starter.
Kyle Farnsworth or Kyle Davies (26)?
Kyle Farnsworth or Robinson Tejeda (28)?
Kyle Farnsworth or Edgar Osuna (22)?
Kyle Farnsworth or Aaron Crow (23)?
Kyle Farnsworth or Jorge Campillo (31), Brad Thompson (28), Bryan Bullington (29), or another minor league contract guy?
Everyone will have different answers to the above questions, but I am guessing that everyone reading this picked the “other” option over Farnsworth on at least two of the questions. Personally I’d only take Farnsworth over Osuna and that is mainly because Edgar hasn’t pitched above Double-A and probably needs to spend 2010 hidden in the bullpen, assuming he even makes the team.
I’d opt for “not-Farnsworth” in all the other matchups. Davies and Tejeda are are significantly younger, have far more experience as a starter, possess a better feel for pitching, and are both reasonably priced mid to long term options for the Royals. Aaron Crow has yet to throw a pitch in the major leagues, or minors for that matter, but you can make a very strong argument that he is more prepared and better suited to open the year in the Royals rotation than Farnsey is. It would be a lot to ask of our 2009 1st round pick, but I think it is also a lot to ask of Farnsworth. I’m on record with my belief that Bryan Bullington has a break out season if he is given a spot in the bullpen so that removes him from the discussion. Thompson has a better track record in 32 starts, compared to Kyle’s 26, and he is quite a bit younger so I’d go with Thompson. Campillo is the closest in age to Farnsworth and is coming off a lost season in 2009, but his 2008 performance which included 25 starts gives him an advantage.
The bottom line is that Kyle Farnsworth has shown himself to be an effective reliever at various points throughout his career, and when used correctly even had his moments for the Royals in 2009. He finished the season with an ERA+ of 96 so even for all the mistakes he, and his manager, made he wound up being a basically league average reliever. He was given a ridiculous amount of money over two years, but that doesn’t mean the Royals should make matters worse by trying to turn him into something he’s not. The Royals have several better and more reliable options to fill their 5th spot in the rotation, so while the concept may be creative and outside the box, in the long run this experiment will serve only to hinder the evaluation of more viable options.