The Seattle Mariners have a new closer: Danny Farquhar. The former M’s closer, Tom Wilhelmsen, has been cast aside after repeated implosions and losing the ability to consistently strike out MLB hitters. Strikeouts are incredibly important for closers, because they limit the chances for batters to get hits. Now, Wilhelmsen is in Tacoma playing triple-A baseball and the Mariners will try to find a new role he can succeed in. Danny Farquhar has been impressive in his 10 save situations, giving up only 6 hits and striking out 15 hitters.
I have to admit though, I thought Tom Wilhelmsen would last—he was so dynamic, he inspired so much confidence, and he looked completely in control in the 9th inning during most of his time as a closer. I looked at the tenures of closers over the past 13 seasons and was really surprised at what I found: closers just don’t last that long.
In reality though, not many pitchers have what it takes to last long as closers—injuries, age, meltdowns, high price tags, and the extreme skill of MLB hitters keep most closers from lasting more than a few seasons in one of the most difficult roles (mentally) in sports. For whatever reason though, closers like Wilhelmsen feel bulletproof to fans.
Here is a graph that I think does a good job of showing just how much turnover there is in the MLB amongst closers:
As you can see over the last 13 seasons, more than 95 different pitchers have been closers long enough to pick up 50 saves, which by my estimation is two seasons (between 2011 and 2012, 14 pitchers managed to notch 50 saves). However, only half have stuck long enough to reach 100 saves and less than 20 managed to get 200 saves. None of the M’s closers have managed to crack the 200 save plateau. Only Kazuhiro Sasaki and JJ Putz have even accumulated 100 saves for the Mariners over the last 13 seasons. Here is a very rough chart of the approximate tenure of each Seattle closer measured in percent:
As I looked around the league, I found that the Mariners were pretty normal in terms of numbers of closers used over this timeframe. Not to be a Debbie-Downer, but the only real thing to take from this is that the Mariners’ new closer, Danny Farquhar, probably won’t still be the closer by the end of the 2015 season.
However, let’s talk about Danny Farquhar while he is the closer. Farquhar was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Ichiro trade last season and made his Seattle debut in May. Over the course of May, he threw 7 and 2/3 innings and had a ghastly 7.04 ERA despite striking out a bunch of hitters and touching 96 mph with his fastball. At the time, Farquhar blended in quite well with Carter Capps, who also threw hard and couldn’t get anyone out.
Fast forward to the All-Star break and Farquhar had an ugly 6.94 ERA in mostly mop-up appearances and hitters were smoking the ball to the tune of a .280/.353/.407 line. Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) loved him though, saying his ERA should have been 2.43. FIP loved Farquhar because of the high number of K’s he generated (35 K’s in 23 and 1/3 innings) and the lack of home runs he gave up.
After the All-Star Break (ASB), something changed for Danny Farquhar and he has been lights out, posting an astonishing 1.89 ERA and a 0.67 FIP. His sudden dominance came at a good time; he took over as Mariners’ closer on August 3rd and has converted 9 of his 10 save opportunities. Since the ASB, opponents are hitting only .149 off him. The difference for Farquhar has been his curveball. Around the middle of July, Danny Farquhar started mixing in his curveball at a much higher rate than before and the results speak for themselves:
How can we be sure that Farquhar’s new found dominance came from featuring his curveball almost twice as much? Simple—his curveball is the most devastating pitch in the league. MLB hitters have swung and missed at Farquhar’s curveball more frequently than any other breaking ball. Hitters swing and miss 67.92% (!!) of the time at his curveball. The next closest curveball is swung at and missed a mere 57.5% of the time. No pitcher in the MLB has any pitch that is harder to make contact with than Farquhar’s curve. Batters are hitting just .108 off Farquhar’s hammer with only one extra-base hit.
It’s odd that Farquhar threw the curveball so infrequently when he first came up—he knows how important the pitch is. “It’s a big off-speed pitch that I need to continue to throw for strikes, continue to mix in there because I have the fastball and cutter which are too hard pitches. Even if it’s just showing it to hitters. It’s changing the speed, changing the plane and the eye level. The curve ball is a big difference maker,” he said.
In any case, as long as Farquhar is a Mariner, there will be plenty of people to remind him to throw his curveball often; Coach Darren Brown said, “It’s a put-away pitch. Hitters don’t see it and they are just not ready for it.”