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Tigers' Buck Farmer is struggling in a long relief role

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Farmer has not pitched well at the major league level in 2015, but his numbers get even worse when he faces a batting order the second time through.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Tigers acquired Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd at the trade deadline it gave them enough depth to use some of their struggling pitchers in the bullpen. And it makes sense. Shane Greene and Buck Farmer are probably too advanced for Triple-A at this point, yet have not been effective as starting pitchers at the major league level this season. Using them out of the bullpen is the logical choice.

However, the perception is that a starting pitcher has a lot of stamina, therefore he should be used as an innings-eater when coming in as a reliever. Someone who can come in when the starting pitcher is knocked out early and can pitch three to four innings and save the bullpen, i.e. a long reliever. However, is this actually the best use for Farmer?

On Friday, Norris was ineffective in his second start with the Tigers. He only lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits. Manager Brad Ausmus elected to use Farmer to eat some innings so that the bullpen wouldn't be overworked. Through his couple innings, he did not allow a hit and only walked one batter, generating four ground outs and one strikeout. But when Farmer was entering his third inning of work, he got in trouble. He started the inning by hitting Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan, then picked up two quick outs. After that, Farmer gave up two more hits, allowing a run to score.

He got out of the inning without giving up any more runs, but this has been a trend for Farmer all year. He can get through the batting order once just fine, but the second time through the order is when he gets into trouble. Farmer has started three games for the Tigers, none of which lasted past the 6th inning. Here is his breakdown of runs by inning.

Innings 1-3 4-6
Runs 6 10

It's a small sample, but it shows when teams are likely to score off of Farmer. In the first three innings, Farmer has a 6.00 ERA in nine innings, which is bad. But in the fourth inning and beyond, Farmer has an ERA of 14.29 in 5 2/3 innings of work.

Here is the difference between a batter's first, second and third plate appearance against Farmer this year.

Time Facing Pitcher PA AVG OBP SLG K%
1st PA 45 .225 .311 .400 24.4%
2nd PA 38 .371 .421 .600 2.6%
3rd PA 16 .615 .667 1.154 12.5%

Farmer has shown a really good changeup at times. He has a solid 18.3 percent whiff rate on that pitch in 2015, though opponents are hitting .385 against it. As a reliever, Farmer could eliminate his weaker breaking pitch and just focus on two of his better pitches, like his fastball and changeup. Most relievers are two-pitch pitchers, and Farmer has the stuff for late innings work when he hones his command. But it shouldn't be for more than two innings at a time.