Thanks to sudden injuries to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers were forced to scour their minor league affiliates’ rotations in order to find a replacement on short notice. Whether due to his rather fun name or the fact that he happened to line up to pitch on Wednesday, the Tigers selected Buck Farmer from Double-A to make the start against the Pirates.
Although Farmer was a four-year college pitcher out of Georgia Tech, he hadn’t thrown a pitch above Single-A until August 1st of this year. This fact, coupled with his lack of pedigree as a prospect, would lead one to believe that Farmer’s odds for the 2014 season weren’t looking particularly bright, let alone existent, a few short weeks ago. Will Farmer have any impact on Detroit's literal odds to win the AL Pennant in 2014?
As a 23-year-old in Single-A, Farmer did exactly what he would be expected to, posting 10.07 K/9 while walking only 2.08 batters per nine. He’s mostly a groundball pitcher, and the long ball (0.52 HR/9) hasn’t been a problem for the big right-hander.
The Tigers believed that Farmer is advanced enough to compete (for one start, at least) against major league hitters, and he proved himself worthy of the challenge. While his final line wasn’t necessarily pretty (5 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 4 K, 1 BB, 1 HR), he pitched much better than the numbers might indicate.
Farmer relied mostly on his fastball, a two-seamer that he threw 53.01% of the time. The pitch sat at 93 mph and topped out at 95 mph while exhibiting mild sink. He only got one whiff with the fastball, and four of the six hits he allowed came on the pitch. The two biggest hits of the game, an RBI double by Russell Martin and a two-run HR by Travis Snider, came on fastballs up in the zone. Farmer struggled to keep the pitch down in the zone, where it is most effective since it doesn’t garner whiffs.
His best pitch throughout the night was his changeup, which flashed plus at times. Farmer throws the changeup at various speeds, from 80-86 mph, and he used it as his main strikeout pitch, especially against left-handed batters. The pitch showed nice fading action, sinking more than his fastball did. He threw it from an identical motion, and most hitters were off balance when offering at the changeup. Both of his swinging strikeouts were a result of the changeup.
Farmer’s slider wasn’t particularly impressive, and he struggled to get right-handed batters to chase the pitch out of the zone. Varying in break and velocity (79-83 mph), the slider sometimes looked more like a curveball, often exhibiting far more vertical than horizontal movement. Yet he was able to throw it over the plate to steal strikes, and he mixed pitches well for the most part.
What really hurt Farmer was his (or, more likely, Alex Avila’s) stubbornness with the fastball. In the fourth inning, Farmer had retired the first batter before backing Pedro Alvarez—who he had struck out on three consecutive changeups in the third inning—into an 0-2 hole. Avila called for a fastball, which Farmer placed perfectly on the lower edge of the zone. Alvarez lined it into center field for a base hit, setting things up for Jordy Mercer and Travis Snider, who tripled and homered, respectively—both on fastballs. Farmer retired the next two batters using his slider.
Overall, Farmer was more than decent for a kid making only his third start above Single-A, not to mention his first big league start in the thick of a pennant race. He was confident enough to throw any pitch in any count, and he was in or around the zone for the most part. When he did miss, however, it was often up in the zone. That’s not going to work against MLB hitters, especially since he probably won’t get many whiffs with the fastball.
The slider needs more polish, but it looks to be an average pitch. His high strikeout rate won’t translate to the major leagues, unless he adds more bite to the slider in order to get right-handed batters to chase. But the changeup is a nice pitch and he throws hard enough, doesn’t hurt himself with walks, and gets enough ground balls to be a No. 4 starter in the big leagues, maybe even in 2015.