Danny Farquhar has been an integral part of the Seattle Mariners’ bullpen each of the past two seasons. In 2013, the right-hander posted an insane 12.77 strikeouts-per-nine that helped him produce a 1.86 FIP. He followed that up with another strong season a year ago in 66 games, including 10.27 K/9 and an improved walk rate of 2.79 versus 3.56 the previous season. In 11 innings this season, however, Farquhar’s walk rate is back up to 3.27 and he’s not missing bats as often, dropping his strikeout rate to 8.18. But those numbers, in and of themselves, do not represent the concern I have with the 28-year-old’s current status in the M’s relief corps.
Farquhar, on top of the nice strikeout ratio in his first two seasons, induced ground balls rates around 42 percent. That’s sunk to 26 percent in 2015. Command and pitch selection can be part of that. Farquhar told 1090 The Fan over the winter that he has scrapped the two-seamer, so perhaps the ground ball rate was destined to drop to some level. Pitchers, even relievers that go one or two innings per appearance, have trouble surviving with so many balls being hit on a line or in the air without balancing it out with big strikeout numbers. Basic batted ball data tells us so, and looking at 2014, not one single relief pitcher in all of baseball finished the year with a Fielding Independent Pitching under 3.5 with a ground ball rate under 30 percent without having a strikeout rate at 8.5 or higher.
The cause for what may prove to be a true decline — I’m willing to wait another 10 innings or so to see if Farquhar bounces back — may be velocity, which generally is more critical for relief arms than starting pitchers. In 2013, his breakthrough season, Farquhar’s fastballs averaged 94.6 mph, according to Pitchf/x, courtesy of FanGraphs. Last season that number dipped by 1.2 mph to 93.4, though some of that may be attributable to Farquhar using the two-seam fastball regularly. His two-seamers averaged exactly 92 mph in 2014. But this season, apparently without the two-seamer as Farquhar told us before the season started, Farquhar’s fastball, the four-seamer, is down to 91.9. Furthermore, his cutter has lost nearly a full mph from ’14 and more than two mph from ’13, and his curveball has dipped from 78.3 mph to 75.7 in 2014 to 73.7 thus far in 2015.
Maybe this is small sample stuff and Farquhar simply is figuring out his rhythm within his delivery. But maybe something else is going on; injury can contribute to this kind of velocity drop, as can issues with mechanics. Farquhar is but 5-foot-9 and is listed at 185 pounds, which can suggest he’s wearing down a bit, though I lean heavily away from that and more toward the latter two potential explanations — injury or mechanics. There’s also a chance both are factors.
Whatever the reason, Farquhar’s inconsistencies and struggles early this season appear to be at least partially due to lack of velocity, which generally leads to fewer swings and misses for relievers, especially when the pitcher in question is used to more velocity and then is without it. Pitchf/x data shows that batters are making contact on pitches out of the zone versus Farquhar at rate of 64.7 percent, up from 54 percent in 2014 and 48.5 percent in 2013. In-zone contact rate is also up, albeit by just 2.6 percent from a year ago, but by nearly 10 percent from 2013. It’s also worthy to mention that Farquhar isn’t throwing as many strikes in 2015. Whether that is due to control/command inefficiencies or because he knows he’s not throwing as hard so he is purposefully attempting to stay on the corners more, it’s a potential problem.
Farquhar doesn’t have to throw 95 mph to be effective. He doesn’t have to strike out 12-plus batters per nine to be a very good late-inning option, or even 10 per, necessarily. But if he’s not going to get strikeouts, his ground ball rate probably has to get back to where it was the past two years, and he’s going to have to throw more strikes to keep the numbers of runners on base lower than the 1.5 he’s posting right now.
We’ll check back in on Farquhar in a month or so and see what’s taken place between now and then.