Mets Sign Kyle Farnsworth

I know, I know — I’m a little late on this big news. My apologies.

The Mets have signed 15-year veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training. If the 37-year-old righthander makes the big club out of spring training, he gets $1M guaranteed, and can earn up to another $1.5M in incentives.

Considering what the Mets’ bullpen options, what’s available on the open market, and the low risk / low cost involved, this appears to be a good move. What do the Mets have to lose?

Farnsworth’s approach throughout the majority of his career has been based on velocity: challenging hitters with his 95+ fastball, up in the zone, with the goal of striking out every hitter he faced. And for most of his career, he’s been largely disappointing for someone with such a unique gift to throw fireballs. Oh, he’d strike out 10 or 11 batters per nine innings, but he’d also often give up too many walks, hits, and homeruns for the strikeout rates to matter — kind of like Bobby Parnell‘s first few years in the bigs. Farnsworth would have a good year, bad year, good year, bad year — never quite putting together a string of dominance.

Then in 2011, he completely switched his game from four-seam fastballs and hard sliders to a mix of predominantly sinkers, a substantial amount of sliders, enough four-seamers to keep the batters honest, and a sprinkling of cutters to keep them thinking. The result was a career year, in which he pitched more to contact and converted 25 saves, posting a 2.18 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. That high didn’t last long — he saved only four games since, posting 4.70 and 5.76 ERAs in ’12 and ’13. In a brief stint in Pittsburgh last year (9 appearances and 8 innings), however, Farnsworth performed fairly well, striking out 9 and allowing one run (a solo homer).

Maybe being out of the NL for a few years and adding more pitches to his repertoire is an advantage that Farnsworth can use for the first few months of the season. There is talk that his velocity has been down, but Fangraphs is reporting only a mild reduction in his four-seamer — 94.5 MPH average last year, as opposed to the 95+ in the past. Though, both his slider lost 3 MPH — which is significant — and his cutter lost 2 MPH, while his sinker also lost a little more than a MPH. Looking briefly at some video, it appears to me that his arm is a bit more behind his lower body than I remember from the past, so his timing his off and he’s putting more pressure on his shoulder. It could very well be that his slider’s velocity was more instrumental in his effectiveness than the explosive fastball, and he’ll continue to struggle in keeping hitters off balance going forward.

Still, there’s little risk here for the Mets — they’ll see by mid-March if his stuff can get hitters out. If it can, the most the Mets will have to pay is $2.5M, and that’s about right if Farnsworth can pitch well enough to find himself into about 45-50 games as a 6th- and 7th-inning situational reliever.

Thoughts? Post them in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Colin February 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm
    Quality signing. They cant all be Bartolo Colon.

    I wonder how many powdered doughnuts Bartolo had when the 2 year 20MM deal was inked?

  2. DaveSchneck February 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm
    Joe,
    Yes, risk free, so why not? Word is that Alderson is still on the prowl for a legit backend arm, not a scrap heap guy. And, we all know what Sandy is like when he is on the prowl (see: Bourn, Balfour, et. al.). Anyhow, Farnsworth becomes his “big” bullpen addition, that is a disgrace, even if Farnsworth turns out to be this year’s Marlon Byrd. It’s much more likely he turns out to be this year’s Brandon Lyon. Now, if Alderson lands a Madson, Bailey, or even Rodney, then kudos to him, and the shouold have enough depth given vets and kids to improve the pen performance over recent years.
  3. david February 5, 2014 at 6:27 pm
    I like this move, but was curious Joe as to why so many relioevers (Mo excepted) have that good year / bad year pattern? Is it due to the nature of the job? One other thing I like about Farnworth is he is intimidating, and seemed to have a nasty streak which this team could use. He is a big guy and I have been waiting 10 years for the Mets to get their asses off the bench and at least have a push and shove, to let other teams know they can’t be pushed around (or thrown at). I know some will view this last comment negatively, but it is still a man’s game. To put it another way, consider David Wright as Mike Bossy, and we need a Clark Gillies to teach the Giants (Matt Cain) some respect..
    • NormE February 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm
      david, one possible explanation for the “good year/bad year pattern” is that most relievers are less talented than starters.
      Thus, the conclusion would be that lesser talent leads to greater fluctuations in performance. I guess.
      • Joe Janish February 6, 2014 at 11:39 am
        Good point, Norm. Additionally, the way a reliever is managed, I believe, has a major impact on how he performs. I don’t think it’s an accident that certain managers (Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, Mike Scioscia come to mind) perennially have strong bullpens.

        I also think that most pitchers throw through pain and injury, and the way relievers are used, they may tend to be more frequently injured — but still take the ball — and as a result their effectiveness drops.

  4. argonbunnies February 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm
    As far as cost and performance, sure, fine.

    I do think it’s a little weird, though, that the Mets sometimes act like they care about approach and character, and then at other times they bring in cheaters and idiots. Farnsworth is both (a) a veteran who will carry some clout and (b) a prime example of a thrower, not a pitcher. He’s been described as a flake and a spazz. Let’s hope Parnell, Black and the rest have the confidence and good sense not to follow Farnsworth’s example.

    • Joe Janish February 6, 2014 at 11:42 am
      Farnsworth has always been something of a flake, and definitely was a hothead early in his career. My nephew (who was a bouncer at the time) once threw Farnsworth out of a Wrigleyville bar, when he was still with the Cubs. An isolated incident, but ever since I heard the story, always had a negative impression of the guy.
  5. Walnutz15 February 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm
    Ask Paul Wilson what he thinks of Farnsworth — his face MIGHT be unswelled by now, from June of ’03. lol