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2020 Player Reviews: Buck Farmer has become the Tigers’ most reliable relief pitcher

Tigers count on Farmer for late inning relief

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Buck Farmer came up through the Tigers’ farm system as a starting pitcher, taking the mound for at least 20 starts as recently as the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He has seen some spot duty as a starter in parts of four seasons in the major leagues, but he has now settled into the Tigers’ bullpen as a reliable relief pitcher. Farmer has led all Tigers’ relievers in appearances and innings pitched over the past three seasons.

Farmer’s numbers have been more steady and reliable than spectacular, posting a 3.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.38 while striking out over eight batters per nine innings and keeping the home runs down to less than one per nine frames- something that unfortunately stands out on the Tigers’ pitching staff.

The weak link in Farmer’s performance has been that he hands out too many free passes- almost four walks per nine innings. His strength is in his consistency. As an example, he held opponents off the scoreboard in 18 of his 23 appearances in 2020. Limited to no more than one inning per game, he allowed more than two runs just once. He is neither a fly ball nor a ground ball pitcher. He’s just very steady.

In the small sample we have from the 2020 season, Farmer’s K rate dropped to 5.91, but his BB ratio fell to 2.11 and the WHIP came down to 1.17. It’s too soon to conclude whether there are any trends in these numbers, particularly as he was battling a groin strain early in the season that necessitated a stint on the 10-day IL. Still, Farmer has decreased his walk rate substantially each of the last two seasons. If he can return healthy in 2021 we’ll see if he can rebuild the strikeout touch while maintaining the improvements in strike throwing.

Fangraphs’ David Laurila wrote an interesting article in September, 2019, about how Farmer developed his curve ball and mixes it into his repertoire. Ultimately, he stuck to his trusty fastball-changeup combination, but the high spin rate breaking ball should be more of a weapon for him. New pitching coach Chris Fetter is very skilled in pitch design, so keep an eye out for adjustments in the breaking ball and the way he uses it off the fastball and changeup.

Farmer will be eligible for arbitration for the second time with two more seasons remaining before he will be eligible for free agency. He earned a modest salary of $1.15 million in 2020, and is projected to receive between $1.4 and $1.9 million in 2021. I would lean to the high side of that range. At those numbers, he is well worth his salary for the value that he provides to the team.

The 29-year-old right hander has earned a spot in the Tigers’ bullpen as a late inning reliever, though not a closer due to the lack of strikeouts. He can work in high pressure situations and deliver much more often than not.

The Tigers don’t have to decide whether to extend him for another season or two, but he should be a fixture in the team’s bullpen for the next two seasons. After that, it’s difficult to see the club assembling a bullpen full of pitchers who are more reliable than Farmer.