Earlier this month I spent a week in Arizona and got a chance to catch some Arizona Fall League action. For those of you who don't know what that is, that AFL is a prospect development league where MLB teams send a handful of their best prospects in the high minors (AA and AAA) to play against top competition and get in some extra work. I went mostly because I love prospects but also because I specifically wanted to check out two things: Michael Taylor's sudden hitting demise this year and Grant Green's shoddy defensive work. I saw enough of Taylor to think I understand what happened to him, though Green didn't play the games I saw. In addition to scouting the A's guys, I still looked for anyone outstanding that might be good trade bait. In my AFL scouting report, I noted some of those players. When the A's traded Rajai Davis for two relievers, the name Farquhar didn't immediately ring a bell, but when I heard his motion described, I knew I had seen him pitch November 8th, with the Peoria Javelinas against the Desert Dogs (the A's affiliated team in the AFL).
This is my report on Danny Farquhar. Before reading it you should know that I AM NOT A SCOUT and these observations are made in the most impossibly small 1 game sample size. I have no expertise in the visual heuristic evaluation of baseball players. I don't even know if I have any skills. I don't trust these observations and you probably shouldn't either. Go look at the numbers, they tell a much more true story of performance and aptitude. Im not even sure that if I was a scout I should be trusted. That being said I was able to sit behind some scouts and get a look at some of the numbers on their guns as well as hear what they had to say.
The first thing I remember was what the scouts said while Farquhar was walking in to relieve Garrison after a disastrous outing. One scout, from the Red Soxs organization as you can guess by the diction, said the other: "Check out this guy hes got a wicked arm angle. He throws almost submarine to righties but comes back up for lefties. It just burs in on righties." When he's throwing you really see how that would be difficult to hit, coming in hard in the very high eighties to the low 90s from the side like that. The motion itself creates deception which causes his stuff to play up, with the ball coming from an unusual angle and is fairly well hidden by the motion. The slider that he throws from that angle is sweeping and is about 10 mph slower than the fastball. It starts out at 9 o'clock and will break away from a righty and a little down. He doesn't have a lot of command often missing his target in the game I saw. His pitches in the zone while looking tough to hit had that I don't really know where they are going kinda feel too them where it kinda surprises a hitter that its in the zone. This is the right handed hitter motion:
Danny Farquhar pitching at the NH Fishercats (via calxtwo)
When dealing with left handers Farquhar is a completely different pitcher. Adam Foster runs a site that you all should be aware of called Project Prospect hes a super knowledgeable guy and is really accessible (especially on his twitter, seriously follow him) and awesome. He was kind enough to upload some video of Farquhar's overhand motion to LH when I told him that I was doing this piece. Take a look:
From that angle, as you can see in the video, he throws a more traditional slider rather than the sweeping slider from the side and will flash change up on occasion. He can also dial up the fastball higher into the mid 90s, rather than the low 90s from the side. The slider isn't a great pitch but its probably an average pitch to lefties with good but not the tightest break. He has a tendency to elevate the slider which is not what you want to see. He also lacks good fastball command from this angle but he does get some sink on the FB, establishing a good downward plane despite not being tall in the least at 5'10.
Farquhar has strong stuff, thats undeniable, and his minor league K rate back up that observation. If he is going to be a potential key cog in the bullpen, however, he has to control his pitches better. His walk rate in the minors is atrocious, sitting at 4.8 walks per 9 innings pitched for his career and has been even worse recently siting at a stratospheric 5.3 BB/9 for his time in AA. Right now the Chone statistic projection system by Sean Smith has him walking 42 guys in 60 innings of projected big league play. ZiPS, another projection system run by sometimes AN commenter Dan Szymborski, also sees Fraquhar walking 56 in 66 innings. It is impossible to be a successful reliever with that kind of walk rate.
The A's must think that there is something that they can do to fix that walk rate, or otherwise picking him up was at best an exercise in futility. There is some evidence that supports that notion. During his first season in the minors, Farquhar posted an outstanding 2.2 BB/9 while still getting a ton of strikeouts in A ball. Secondly, Ron Romanick the A's new pitching coach has had success teaching side arm pitchers in the past, like Brad Ziegler. Its not a lot to support optimism, but that is the evidence that would back the notion that he could lower his walk rate.
The evidence against is much more convincing in my opinion. First, the motion that gives Farquhar his effectiveness is a huge part of the problem. Pitching control is based off of muscle memory, but Farquhar has to build two distinct muscle memories for each of his motions. Its a lot harder said than done especially since much of the pitching motion is the same, it seems logical to believe that they would have the propensity to throw one another off. Farquhar needs both in order to be a successful late inning cog in the bullpen, as the overhand motion allows him to be effective facing more than just right handed batters. Furthermore, significant changes undertaken in order to lower his walk rate could significantly deteriorate his strike out stuff, which is why hes even looked at as a potential major league reliever. I believe that there is a ton of risk beyond the typically high risk proposition that is pitching prospects, and I am not confident at all that Farquhar can turn into a valuable reliever.