The path to the major leagues was never expected to be easy for Danny Farquhar. A mid-round draft pick in 2008 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Louisiana Lafayette, Farquhar had a solid college career, capped by being named the Preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year in 2008. He didn't pitch great that season (4.95 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.5 SO/9, 12 HR allowed in 14 games, 11 starts) but he had a nice arm, routinely touching the low- to mid-90s. But he was a 5-foot-9 side arming right-hander -- there aren't exactly a lot of those in the big leagues.
Farquhar impressed immediately in pro ball, though. Converted back to the bullpen, he breezed through three levels of the minors for Toronto, hitting Double-A in late May of 2009 and ending that 2nd pro season with a 1.89 ERA having allowed just 5.8 H/9 while striking out 9.9 per nine in 69 games out of the pen. He’d repeat Double-A for a full season in 2010 with strong results again, but Toronto dealt him to Oakland that winter in a deal for outfielder Rajai Davis, only to reacquire him in another trade shortly after the 2011 minor league season started. He made an impression with Oakland that spring, however, with Oakland Pitching Coach Ron Romanick telling Oakland Clubhouse at the time, "I've never seen somebody who changes arm slots that much, but he’s had success doing that, so we'll see how that pans out. He's got good work habits and he seems willing to listen to a few things and do what he needs to do." Not surprisingly, Oakland claimed him off waivers just a year later.
That was the first of a string of moves in the summer of 2012 that ended when the Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell. An interesting historical anecdote and possible future trivia question answer who helped relieve the Mariners of an albatross contract was probably what most people thought of as the ceiling for Danny at that point.
And now? Now he's the Mariners best reliever.
So what has changed for Farquhar to enable him to go from minor league journeyman to big league closer? If you don't read the Mariners' own great blog, From the Corner of Edgar & Dave, you should. Bookmark it now. On the blog earlier this week, broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith touched on The Rise of Danny Farquhar and offered this from pitching coach Carl Willis on the development of Farquhar's curveball: It "raises his ceiling" and will "allow him to pitch more meaningful innings."
A lot of times coaches offer up quotes like this that don't really mean anything, but in this case, Willis was stating exactly what appears to be behind Farquhar's recent stretch of dominance, which has seen him rack up the 2nd most strikeouts among relievers in Major League Baseball over the last month with 25 in 15 innings. Check the graphics:
Curveball whiffs per swing
Farquhar has been mainly a fastball/cutter/slider pitcher for most of his six-year career, and he's done well enough with that mix. But he was hit hard early in the big leagues both this year and in his brief three-game debut for the Blue Jays back in 2011. This move to throw more curves -- a true offspeed offering -- is new for him, and it's new for the hitters facing him. The result is that the 26-year-old rookie currently ranks 6th in MLB in strikeouts-per-nine at 13.6 and 7th in MLB in strikeout percentage at 36.4%. And while Farquhar is currently sporting a not-so-dominant-looking 4.95 ERA, a lot of that has come from what looks like bad luck and a crazy low strand rate as his FIP is 1.89 -- also 6th best in the majors.
Not bad for a guy that bounced around four organizations just over a year ago.
Along with throwing more curveballs, you can also notice another trend from Farquhar. He is working well to keep the ball away from batters on all of his pitches, working effectively on the outer half to both lefties and righties. Here are a few more graphics to help visualize how that is working:
Just looking at the color coding of those is telling. Digging in a little more we see that Farquhar has thrown nearly 52% of his pitches away and/or down with nearly 1/3 of his total pitches being in the very low and away four squares of the above graphic to right-handed hitters. To lefties it is even more pronounced of a focus -- 76% middle away and when he does come inside, he comes inside down. The result? Lefties -- who he's actually faced more than right-handers (78 PA to 73 PA) -- have mustered just a .169/.234/.225 slash against Danny.
The success Farquhar is seeing with the pitch is helping him build confidence in it, and as he told Wyman, Mike and Moore the other day on 710 ESPN, "Confidence in a pitch is huge." Farquhar went on about his style on the mound, "Executing a pitch, trying to miss the barrel," he said, is the way he goes about his business on the mound. Danny finished up saying, "I've always been a strikeout pitcher; a max-effort guy."
For the former journeyman, that effort is paying off big time right now.
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