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March 15, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Kyle Farnsworth
by SG

After two superlative years as Mariano Rivera's setup man, Tom Gordon has moved on to Philadelphia to close. Despite his problems in the postseason, Gordon was a huge asset for the Yankees in 2004 and 2005. It's interesting to compare Gordon and another setup man the Yankees had signed a few years back.

Gordon: 2 years, $7.25 million, 170.1 IP, 189 ERA+.
Steve Karsay: 4 years, $21 million, 101 IP, 133 ERA+

The Gordon signing has to be one of the best free agent bargains of the last few seasons.

Gordon was not as good in 2005 as he was in 2004, as he pitched 9 fewer innings, allowed 2 more runs, walked 6 more, and struck out 27 fewer hitters. The drop in K rate and a flukishly low batting average on balls in play were not good indicators for the future, so I think the Yankees made the right move in letting Gordon walk. Also, by letting Gordon sign with Philadelphia, the Yankees got a first round draft pick to make up for their signings of Johnny Damon and Gordon's primary replacement, Kyle Farnsworth.

First off, here's Farnsworth's scouting report.

Farnsworth's overpowering fastball sometimes reaches the 100-MPH mark. However, he had no other effective weapon until late last season, when he developed a late-breaking slider that came in at around 92 MPH. It's a pitch that can help Farnsworth turn the corner in his career. Farnsworth is an adequate fielder at best. A shorter leg kick he developed late in the year should help him hold runners better.

Farnsworth has always had a great fastball, but he suffered from inconsistency as a Cub. The recent addition of a slider seems to have made him into a better pitcher, as you can see from his career rate stats below.

Trends in baseball statistics are not always as meaningful as they are portrayed. However, I certainly would prefer to see a positive trend to a negative one. in Farnsworth's case with the new slider, it's certainly possible that he has been improving, and his increasing K rate, combined with a decrease in his HR rate and BB rate, are all good things.

Farnsworth's 2005 season was a microcosm of his career as far as consistency goes, although he was strong after a rough opening to the season, as you can see below.

So, let's see how Farnsworth projects in 2006.

Last year, Tom Gordon was worth 42 Pitching Runs Created in 80.2 innings, which was about 14 runs above average. Farnsworth projects 14 runs worse on average, but part of that is the 12 fewer innings he's projected to pitch. I'll assume that he'll pitch around the same amount as Gordon did, which would make him worth roughly 33 PRC, so about a 9 run or one win downgrade.

Farnsworth could very well do better than that, but there are some legitimate concerns with him. First of all, his control is not very good, as he's walked around 3.5-4.5 men per 9 innings in most of his seasons. His pre-2005 career was also marked by inconsistency, as he alternated ERAs of 6.43, 2.74, 7.33, 3.30 and 4.72 from 2000 to 2004. He's also a fly ball pitcher (career G/F of 0.99) and will be playing in front of a shaky OF defense.

The good news is his high K rate, which will be a big help with the Yankee defense behind him.

One thing that should be noted is demonstrated in the pie chart below, which breaks down Farnsworth and Gordon's appearances by games they gave up runs in and did not give up runs in.

Although Gordon had the better overall season numbers, Farnsworth allowed runs in a fewer percentage of his appearances. This may narrow the gap between them even further, or it may just be me sneaking a gratuitous pie chart in and not particularly meaningful.

One interesting thing about Farnsworth is he doesn't show much of a platoon differential.

From 2003-2005
Vs. Lefties: .218/.308/.340
Vs. Righties: .208/.292/.328

This will be important for Joe Torre to remember when he thinks about keeping Mike Myers in to face a righty when there is a lefty on deck.

So Farnsworth looks like about a one win downgrade from Tom Gordon in 2005, which isn't really that bad, with Octavio Dotel looming to give the Yanks more setup depth. Hopefully Farnsworth can avoid last year's rough start and earn Joe Torre's infamous reliever trust, which will then makes Torre's choice of whom should set up Rivera between he and Dotel a tough one. Ideally, they can share the workload.

So far the top of the bullpen is about 3 wins worse than last year's on a relative basis, but I'm fairly certain that that will be made up by greater depth as we move through the rest of the list. Remember, no more Alan Embree or Wayne Franklin.

Spring Training Update
In yesterday's spring tilt, he Yankees fell to St. Louis 4-3. Randy Johnson pitched five innings, cruising through the first four before allowing a homer in the fifth. Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect sixth inning, Farnsworth a shutout seventh despite allowing a hit, walking a batter, and hitting another, and then Tanyon Sturtze gave up the go-ahead run in the eighth. Mike Myers closed the game out by giving up another run.

On the offensive side, Robinson Cano homered and singled, which was the only real offensive highlight. Jason Giambi actually played, starting at DH and batting twice.