I hate Kyle Farnsworth, but I see what you just did there

The other day, the Tampa Bay Rays signed reliever Kyle Farnsworth to a one-year deal. Given the departures from the 2010 Ray’s pen, Farnsworth may actually get a shot at closing, should things stay the way they are.

Why do I hate Kyle Farnsworth? Well, I guess I don’t hate him (hate is such a harsh word), but I despise watching him pitch in crucial situations, in particular his years with the Yankees.

Side story: I was watching a game at the old Yankee Stadium back in 2007. The Yanks took a lead into the seventh inning and with no one on and no one out, Kyle Farnsworth came in from the pen. As soon as I saw his broad shoulders enter the playing field I said out loud, “Oh no! There goes the game!”. The two gentlemen behind me got a little chuckle out of it, but proceeded to ask me why I disliked Farnsworth so much. I suppose I could have just told them to look up his K/BB ratio (He ended 2007 with a 1.78 K/BB rate), but I simply responded with, “He’s terrible. Nothing good happens when he comes in the game.” Like clockwork, Farnsworth walked the first batter, then gave up a double and back-to-back singles (or something like that). The lead was gone and the two gentlemen behind me simply nodded their heads in agreement.

That being said, Farnsworth has actually become a different pitcher over the last three seasons. In 2008, he showed significant improvement in his walk rate, ending the year with a BB/9 of 3.28, his best since 2001. Then, in 2009, he struck out over 10 batters per nine innings pitched. His first full season with the Royals wasn’t pretty and featured injury problems, but he did post a 3.10 FIP in 37.1 innings. During that 2009 season, the Royals had Farnsworth implement a cutter and two-seam fastball. By adding movement every so often to compliment his four seam fastball Farnsworth found a very positive result, more ground balls and fewer home runs. Last season, Farnsworh posted the lowest walk rate of his career (2.64 BB/9).

The Rays took a calculated risk when they signed the 35-year-old Farnsworth. I’m sure they are well aware of his past struggles, but they are also aware of the changes he has made the past two seasons. His FIP in high-leverage situations was 3.71 last season. Whether you happen to buy into that stat or not is a matter of personal opinion. I, for one, don’t buy into “clutch” stats, but I’ve also seen enough out of Farnsworth to not feel comfortable with him as anyone’s closer.

A closer is a closer is a closer is a closer. Fantasy teams need saves, unless you punt saves, which I don’t, so whoever becomes the Rays new closer will be rostered. Given what the Rays are paying Farnsworth, their risk is minimal, but that might not ease the pain of Rays fans when he gives up lead after lead after lead…