A Power Pitcher Melts Down in New York

The trade deadline came and went, and the beleaguered New York Yankees bullpen, rather than adding, subtracted. They are dependent, now more than ever, on the right arm of Kyle Farnsworth.

As yesterday’s game at Yankee Stadium showed, this is not a good thing.

The fans, who have already decided Farnsworth is poison, booed him lustily when he entered late in the late innings on Aug. 2 to try to hold the White Sox close. By the end of his brief outing, Farnsworth had done precisely what the crowd expected of him, turning a manageable 11-9 deficit into a demoralizing scoreline of 13-9.

Farnsworth, a 31-year-old native of Wichita, KS, has never been a particularly reliable relief pitcher; even in his best seasons, he walked too many and was prone to the home run. That hasn’t stopped a series of organizations from taking a chance on him, tempted by his blazing fastball, typically at 97-98 miles per hour, and an effective slider. He has always had the stuff to be dominant.

But while Farnsworth has always managed a healthy strikeout rate–fanning 107 in 82 innings in 2001, and even 75 in 66 innings last season, his time in New York has been a different story. So far this year, he has struck out just 29 hitters in 43 1/3 innings.

It’s not clear exactly why the wheels have come off so dramatically, but there are plenty of theories. One, based on his ability, at times, to overpower and intimidate hitters, is that he ought to be throwing his slider less and throwing inside more. Another is that maybe Farnsworth simply can’t stand playing in New York. (He has now taken to complaining publicly that manager Joe Torre isn't using him often enough.)

As it is, Farnsworth seems incapable of making things easy for himself, having walked 21 hitters in 43 1/3 innings, even while allowing opposing hitters to compile a .281 batting average against him. And the deficient Yankee defense hasn’t helped either.

Still, the one bright spot in Farnsworth’s statistical line this season is that none of the five home runs he gave up were to right-handed hitters. In fact, he’d been quite effective against righties, holding them to a batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage line of .247/.295/.315, as opposed to his awful numbers against lefties: .313/.423/.538.

Yesterday, all that went by the wayside: Farnsworth was effective against no one. In short order, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye – both right-handed hitters – had blasted two home runs, Konerko’s on an inside slider, and Dye’s on a fastball thrown over the outer part of the plate. The fact is, major league hitters are simply going to feast on any slider left up, and on fastballs—even at 98 miles per hour, as the YES network’s radar gun had Farnsworth’s home run pitch to Dye—down the middle.

Farnsworth has become an all-or-nothing pitcher. That is to say, he’s either over the heart of the plate, or so far off of it that hitters aren’t even tempted to swing.

With a fastball that is fast but no longer effective, and an increasingly poor attitude, Farnsworth has lost the faith of the Yankees and their fans. It won’t be long before the Bronx is longing for the return of middling reliever Scott Proctor, who was traded to the Dodgers just before deadline for an infielder. Proctor was far from perfect. But he’s no Kyle Farnsworth.

A Power Pitcher Melts Down in New York