When the Yankees traded for Clay Holmes last July, the general collective response was rather simply, “Why?” Holmes, after all, had a 4.93 ERA and a 4.07 FIP with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he allowed almost one and a half batters to reach per inning. The Yankees, however, simplified his approach, getting him to drop his four-seamer and curveball to become a two-pitch, sinker-slider pitcher. Now, Holmes has become one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
Since New York is also looking to add an outfielder and a starting pitcher, GM Brian Cashman might decide to go bargain-bin shopping to bolster their relief depth, looking for a low-cost pitcher who may be underperforming his actual stuff on a bad team. Searching for who that might be brought me to Cincinnati Reds reliever Buck Farmer.
Now in his ninth year, Farmer has largely been the prototypical “just a guy.” With a career 5.30 ERA, 4.96 FIP, and 1.526 WHIP, he has not exactly been high on anybody’s bullpen pecking order for the vast majority of his career. So why would the Yankees want to add a reliever from a last-place Cincinnati team that has a 4.74 ERA in 19 innings?
There’s one very simple reason: that sweeping slider.
That slider has a 43.6 whiff percentage this year — higher than Shane Baz, Luis Severino, Michael King, Garrett Whitlock, and Gerrit Cole. Batters have an xBA of just .199 against it, and an xSLG of .238. His fastball, on the other hand, has an xBA of .228 and an xSLG of .475, and gets hit hard more than 40 percent of the time. And yet, rather illogically, Farmer throws his four-seamer almost half the time (47.5 percent), while he deploys his slider just 32.5 percent of the time (his changeup accounts for the other 20 percent, a pitch that splits the difference in performance between his fastball and slider).
On top of that, despite his rough performance, his peripherals have been somewhat encouraging. His FIP is a rather encouraging 3.49, and his xERA a solid 3.87. His 30.2-percent strikeout rate ranks 55th out of the 355 relievers who have thrown at least 10 innings this season; this is ahead of the likes of Holmes, Jordan Romano, and Emmanuel Clase — all All-Star relievers. While his 11.8-percent walk rate is on the high side (279th), his 18.6 K-BB% ranks 98th in the same group. On top of that, he’s been effective in Triple-A this season, with a 3.63 ERA in 22.1 innings. The results haven’t been good, but at least there’s something for Matt Blake and team to work with.
At the end of the day, a player like Buck Farmer isn’t the type of make-or-break deal that defines a deadline. More often than not, you get an Andrew Heaney situation — the player is exactly who he was before you acquired him, just in a different uniform. Sometimes, however, the new team is able to unlock something, and the change in scenery results in a breakout nobody on the outside looking in could have foreseen. In 2021, the Yankees pulled that magic off with Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, and Lucas Luetge; could Farmer be their latest triumph?