Sunday Notes: Buck Farmer is Flying Under the Radar in Cincinnati

Buck Farmer is flying under the radar while making an impact in Cincinnati. Baseball’s hottest team went into yesterday having won 12 straight games, and the 32-year-old reliever had pitched in seven of them. Moreover, the Reds had been victorious in 14 of the last 15 contests he’d appeared in. Over those outings, Farmer was credited with two wins and a save while allowing just a pair of runs in 15 innings.

He’s been solid from the start. On the season — his second in Cincinnati after eight in Detroit — the Conyers, Georgia native has held opposing hitters to a .188 average while logging a 2.41 ERA over a team-high 35 appearances. Consistently pounding the zone with a three-pitch mix, he’s issued just 10 free passes while fanning 33 batters in 37-and-a-third innings. By most statistical markers, he’s never been better.

Farmer credits Cincinnati’s pitching program for much of his success.

“I think it’s the development here,” Farmer replied when asked what differentiates his current and former clubs. “[The Tigers] were starting to change over to a more analytical approach before I left, but I don’t think they’d quite made that adjustment yet. When I came here, they were already tuned in. DJ {Derek Johnson] and the other coaches are fully invested in us. They want us to grab a little bit more here and there, and that includes taking what we’re good at and trying to make it great.”

For Farmer, that meant reworking a pitch that has become a lethal weapon. Augmented by a four-seam fastball and a changeup, his slider has flummoxed hitters to the tune of an .091 average and a .212 slug. His whiff-rate with the offering is a heady 45.3%.

“My slider has gotten a bit better, if not significantly better,” Famer told me during our June 1 conversation. “The shape is a lot better. It’s a lot more horizontal. Not quite to sweeper level, but if you go back to before I came here, on my best day it was maybe a negative two or three, whereas this year it’s carrying to an eight or nine. Basically, I’ve lost negative vert and gained positive vert.”

The bearded Georgia Tech product pointed to the thought process behind the pitch when explaining the improved movement profile. Equally, if not more important, has been a grip change he made during spring training. Instead of having his index and middle fingers together, with the latter on a seam, he now has those fingers split. That allows him to “essentially have two pressure points; I can rip down on both seams.”

Improved command is also playing a role in his career-best campaign. Farmer came into the season having walked 4.4 batters per nine innings, and this year that number is a stingy 2.4. Cincinnati’s coaching staff has been a major influence toward that end. Ditto to his degree of focus when he’s throwing a bullpen.

“Here, one of the biggest things is winning the race to two strikes,” said Farmer. “First-pitch strikes and just attacking guys — living in the zone — is first-and-foremost. It’s about being able to land all of our pitches for strikes, and also to be able to leave the zone when we need to. Another thing is that whenever we touch the mound, even when we’re throwing a side, there is always a goal in mind. In the past, it was sometimes just getting on the mound to throw and see how your body is feeling. Here there is a goal for everything.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Adam Dunn went 8 for 13 against Clayton Kershaw.

Royce Clayton went 5 for 6 against Mark Langston.

Ken Reitz went 7 for 9 against Clay Carroll.

David Murphy went 8 for 11 against Clay Buchholz.

Clay Dalrymple went 9 for 19 against Lew Burdette.

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FUTURE HALL OF FAME MANAGER MATCHUPS ADDENDUM

Bruce Bochy went 3 for 6 with a double and a home run against Nolan Ryan. He went 5 for 9 with a double and a home run against John Tudor, and 3-for-3 with a double and two home runs against Bob Kipper.

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The fourth of Ryan McMahon’s 93 career home runs is his most memorable. Hit on August 11, 2018 during his first full big-league season, the two-out, three-run blast gave the Colorado Rockies a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. McMahon recalls taking a first-pitch ball from JT Chargois, then selling out on a heater and driving the second pitch over the right-field wall. He also recalls suffering a bit of brain cramp as he was making his circuit around the bases.

“Around first base I wasn’t sure if I’d tied it or won it,” McMahon admitted. “As I got to second, I realized I’d won it. Then I went to home plate and celebrated with the boys.”

A walk-off jack in a pennant race — the Rockies were 1.5 games behind the first-place Dodgers at the time — and he didn’t know the situation?

“No, I knew the situation when I got to the plate,” McMahon said. “I was just overcome with adrenaline, or something. But it’s the truth, man. I mean, I wasn’t thinking about hitting a homer up there. I just hit one and then basically had to do the math in my head as I rounded the bases.”

The calculation the Mater Dei High School (Santa Clara, California) alum had to make wasn’t exactly advanced algebra. Is math not one of his strong suits?

“Math was actually my best subject,” McMahon said in response to that postulation. “You can ask my mom about my grades.”

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A quiz:

The list of career leaders in triples is topped by players who performed either in the dead-ball era or in the offense-fueled 1930s. Which player — a Hall of Famer — has amassed the most triples since 1940?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Slugger the Sea Dog was elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame on Friday. The first minor league sports mascot to be so honored, Slugger entertains fans at Portland Maine’s Hadlock Field, the home of Boston’s Double-A affiliate. Syracuse University’s “Otto Orange” is this year’s other inductee.

George Frazier, a right-handed reliever whose big-league career comprised the 1978-1987 seasons, died earlier this week at age 68. Later a broadcaster for the Rockies, Frazier played for the Cardinals, Yankees, Indians, Cubs, and Twins. He won a World Series ring with Minnesota in 1987, and was the losing pitcher in three World Series games with New York in 1981.

Dick Hall, a right-handed pitcher who was converted from an outfielder four years into his big-league career, died last Sunday at age 92. Featured here at FanGraphs in 2020, Hall played from 1955-1971 and was at his best in 1964 when he went 9-1 with nine saves and a 1.85 ERA with the Baltimore Orioles.

Shigeru Sugishita, a member of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame who was known as “the God of the forkball” died last Sunday at age 97. A right-hander who spent the bulk of his career with the Chunichi Dragons, he was at his best in 1954 when he went 32-12 with a 1.39 ERA.
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The answer to the quiz is Stan Musial, with 177 triples. Roberto Clemente had 166, which ranks second-most since 1940.

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Left on the cutting-room floor from Tuesday’s Talks Hitting interview with Giancarlo Stanton were his thoughts on a former Miami Marlins teammate, and on the former batting champ that served as the team’s manager.

“He was an incredible player to watch,” Stanton said when I asked about Ichiro Suzuki. “His bat-to-ball skills were incredible. To see how he could have so much movement yet keep his hands back, and be so knowledgeable about the strike zone, was definitely cool to see.

“[Don Mattingly] talked to me about having a simple approach, to get a good pitch to hit. Effort-level as well; you don’t have to swing as hard as you can to put a good barrel on it, especially with how hard pitchers are throwing now. That and to be on time. It was [pretty straightforward].”

Stanton played in Miami from 2010-2017 prior to joining the New York Yankees.

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A few days ago I ran a Twitter poll asking which of the Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets, and Padres has most underachieved this season. Of the 345 votes cast, 61.7% went to St. Louis, 24.6% to New York, 11.9% to San Diego, and 1.7% to Los Angeles.

That the Cardinals won (or lost, depending on how you look at it) didn’t come as a surprise. That the Dodgers got such a tiny percentage did. The perennial NL West champions were not only a mere eight games over .500 at the time, they were also in a wholly-unfamiliar third place. This is a team coming off of a 111-win season. Not to say that most other teams wouldn’t be pleased as punch to match their currently-projected 90 wins, but this is the Dodgers. With the caveat that I actually predicted the Padres to win the division (not looking good on that one), I did expect more from Dave Roberts’s club. Granted, we’re only now approaching the midway part of the season.

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I also ran a poll asking which of four AL teams has most underachieved. The results were Mariners 38.3%, Blue Jays 31.4%, Yankees 21.7%, and Twins 8.6%. A team that I didn’t include in the poll attracted the attention of Bill James. Commenting on the poll, the renowned writer and sabermetrician said “I would bet that the Royals are just as far beneath expectations as any of these teams. It’s just that the expectations were low to begin with.”

Bill made a good point. Kansas City is currently 22-55, and while expectations were indeed low, they have clearly underperformed. There is too much young talent on this team for them to be this bad. As for the team that won (lost?) the poll, multiple baseball people I’ve spoken to recently have asked this question: Why aren’t the Mariners better? How they’ve been treading water around the .500 mark is truly a mystery.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Munetaka Murakami has recovered from a shockingly-slow start to the season with a strong June and is now slashing .234/.369/.420 with 11 home runs in 282 plate appearances for the Yakult Swallows. The 23-year-old third baseman had 56 home runs and an 1.168 OPS while dominating NPB last year.

Robert Gsellman is 3-3 with a 3.78 ERA over 52-and-a-third innings for the Yokohama BayStars. The 29-year-old right-hander joined the NPB club last summer after pitching for the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs.

Cy Sneed threw a six-hit shutout against the Chunichi Dragons on Friday and is now 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA on the season. The 30-year-old Yakult Swallows right-hander joined the Tokyo-based club in 2021 after previously pitching for the Houston Astros.

Eui Lee Lee is 6-4 with a 3.55 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 63-and-a-third innings for the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The left-hander celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this month.

Woo-Jin An is 5-4 with a 1.61 ERA and a KBO-best 107 strikeouts in 89-and-a-third innings for the Kiwoom Heroes. The 23-year-old right-hander led the circuit with 224 Ks last season while going15-8 with a 2.11 ERA.

Mike Morin is 2-1 with six saves and a 2.13 ERA in 12 relief outings for the Mexican League’s Guerreros de Oaxaca. The 32-year-old right-hander has pitched for six MLB teams, primarily the Los Angeles Angels.

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Only a handful of players drafted in the 40th round have gone on to reach MLB, with Brandon Kintzler (Padres in 2004) and Ray Lamb (Dodgers in 1966) the most successful among them. Cade Bunnell is hoping to join that exclusive group. Selected 1,207th overall out of Indiana University by the Atlanta Braves in 2019, the 26-year-old Stoughton, Wisconsin native is currently with Double-A Mississippi where he is slashing 232/.332/.411 with nine home runs and a 103 wRC+ in 241 plate appearances. Defensive versatility is among his strong suits. Bunnell has seen action at all four infield positions — primarily second and third base — as well as left field.

A senior-sign who hadn’t been drafted previously, Bunnell batted just .196 while logging only 55 plate appearances in his final collegiate season. That he waited so long to have his name called was hardly a surprise, nor was the fact that his signing bonus was only $5,000. Not the latter mattered all that much. As he told me last fall during his stint in the Arizona Fall League, he wasn’t expecting anything, so “five grand was fine.” All he really wanted was to get his foot in the door.

Unsure if baseball was in his future, Bunnell had begun preparing for a real-world job — “I was pretty much getting my resumé ready” — as his senior year was nearing an end. It was around that time that he fielded a question from someone who felt an opportunity was forthcoming.

“One of my coaches at Indiana asked me if I wanted to play professional baseball,” recalled Bunnell, who takes his cuts from the left side. I said, ‘Yeah, it’s been a dream of mine my whole life.’ He told me he thought that I had a pretty good chance, whether it was via the draft or signing a free-agent deal. I ended up being a 40th-round pick.”

His attitude going forward was admirable.

“I could have been pissed off about it, like ‘Man, I should have gotten drafted higher,’ but instead I looked at it as an awesome opportunity,” said Bunnell. “It was also kind of, ‘I’m not even supposed to be here,’ so I just went out there and played free, hoping to prove a lot of people wrong.”

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FARM NOTES

Luis Lara is slashing .314/.433/.379 in 171 plate appearances with the Low-A Carolina Mudcats. Signed as an international free agent out of San Felipe, Venezuela last summer, the 18-year-old, switch-hitting outfielder is No. 11 on our Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list.

Jonatan Clase is slashing .251/.371/.530 with 42 stolen bases and 16 home runs in 302 plate appearances between High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas. The 21-year-old outfielder was signed as an international free agent by the Seattle Mariners out of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 2019.

Wen Hui Pan is 2-0 with three saves and a 1.54 ERA in 35 innings for the Low-A Clearwater Threshers. The 20-year-old right-hander was signed as an international free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Hualien, Taiwan this past January.

Adam Mazur is 3-0 with a 1.72 ERA and a 2.67 FIP in 47 innings for the High-A Fort Wayne TinCaps. The 22-year-old right-hander was drafted in the second round last year out of the University of Iowa by the San Diego Padres.

Tink Hence is 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and a 3.21 FIP to go with 42 strikeouts in 40 innings for the High-A Peoria Chiefs. Currently No. 3 on our St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects list the 20-year-old right-hander was featured here at FanGraphs back in January.

Carlos Franco is slashing .379/.471/.716 with 15 home runs in 206 plate appearances for the independent Atlantic League’s Gastonia Honey Hunters. The 31-year-old third baseman played in the Atlanta Braves organization from 2009-2018, topping out in Triple-A.

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Jumping back to cutting-room floors, Charlie Blackmon had more to say about stats than what I included in the Talks Hitting interview that ran here on Thursday. After naming OPS as the one he most cares about, he proceeded to say that he’s not a fan of OPS+. I asked him why.

“I think anything with a plus on it is garbage,” the longtime Colorado Rockies outfielder said. “There’s a subjective component that includes ballparks and defenses, but what if you’re weighting those things poorly? Which I think a lot are. Whatever. You might hate me for that, because you work at FanGraphs, but I think there are a lot of problems. When you start saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to add 10% for this guy and take 10% away from this guy. because of the park he plays in… I mean, I’d rather look at a guy and say, ‘His OPS is 750 and he plays in Miami, and that’s actually better than .750 because he plays in a tough park.’ I’d rather assess that myself, apples to apples, rather than have someone else do it with a calculation that might not be right.

“I also really don’t like WAR as a statistic. Now, a lot of this is because all of the sabermetric, park-adjusted numbers hate Rockies players. I think they’ve got that wrong, which is a whole other conversation. But I think WAR overweights defense, and there are actually a lot of things that go into WAR that don’t make it a great stat. I understand trying to take an offensive component and a defensive component, and wanting to assign one number to a player — one number being the all-inclusive, end-all-be-all of stats — but in my opinion it’s not great.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Rays benched 22-year-old shortstop Wander Franco for behavioral issues. Marc Topkin has the story at The Tampa Bay Times.

Scott Miller wrote about the recently-deceased Roger Craig for The New York Times.

The AP’s David Brandt wrote about the grassroots efforts to bring more Black players to MLB.

MLB.com’s Jason Beck wrote about Negro League legend Turkey Stearnes, and how Detroit’s old Negro Leagues stadium is alive and thriving.

Garrett Whitlock shares that his first language is American Sign Language. Christopher Smith talked to the Red Sox right-hander about it for MassLive.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Yusei Kikuchi has allowed 19 home runs, the most in the majors. He’s thrown 77 innings. Sonny Gray has thrown 81 innings and allowed two home runs.

Larry Walker slashed .381/.462/.710 with 154 home runs in 2,501 plate appearances at Coors Field.

Mike Sweeney drove in at least one run in 13 consecutive games from June 23-July 4, 1999. The Kansas City Royals first baseman finished the season with 102 RBIs. The following year he had 144 RBIs.

Jack Taylor threw complete games in 187 consecutive starts from June 20, 1901 to August 9, 1906. The New Straightsville, Ohio native pitched for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, and had a career record of 152-139 with a 2.65 ERA and 279 complete games in 287 starts.

On today’s date in 1985, Ruppert Jones hit a walk-off grand slam in the 13th inning to give the California Angels a 7-3 win over the Cleveland Indians. Neal Heaton coughed up the gopher.

Happy Foreman made the last of six career pitching appearances on today’s date in 1926. Taking the mound for the Boston Red Sox — the southpaw had previously pitched for the Chicago White Sox — he walked Babe Ruth and struck out Lou Gehrig in his final inning on a big-league mound.

Players born on today’s date include June Greene, a pitcher/pinch-hitter who played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1928 and 1929. Born Julius Foust Greene in Ramseur, North Carolina, he had an 18.38 ERA in six relief appearances, and had seven hits in 25 at-bats.

Also born on today’s date was Camp Skinner, an outfielder who played briefly for the New York Yankees in 1922, and for the Boston Red Sox in 1923. Born Elisha Harrison Skinner, in Douglasville, Georgia, he logged six of his nine big-league hits as a pinch-hitter.

Rags Faircloth pitched for the Class-D Empire States League’s Waycross Blowhards in 1913. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1919.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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sadtrombonemember
9 months ago

I guessed Lou Brock for the quiz. Right team, wrong player. I probably should have guessed it was earlier based on the cutoff. Still I am a little surprised by the answer.

MikeSmember
9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I could have sworn it was going to be Willie Mays. Great hitter, reasonably fast guy who played most of his home games in the weird dimensions of The Polo Grounds or the unpredictable winds of Candlestick. Played for a long time.

Mays is 4th, Brock is 5th. Willie Wilson is third.

Left of Centerfield
9 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

I got the quiz right but only because it said he was a HOFer. Otherwise my guess would have been Willie Wilson.

sadtrombonemember
9 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Willie Wilson was a fun player. He had 13 (!!!!) inside the park home runs.

It’s also interesting to look at his FG page. He was a capital-S Star for four years, fell apart, and then somehow managed to hang around for another decade (most of that as a regular).

Left of Centerfield
9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Wilson was one of the players caught up in the KC drug scandal. So that may have been a factor in some of his struggles.

BTW, I’m surprised to see he’s listed at 6’3, 190. Given his lack of power, I would have guessed he was smaller than that.

sadtrombonemember
9 months ago

That’s wild, I basically forgot entirely that this happened because the Pittsburgh drug trials happened afterwards and a huge number of the same players were called to testify for that. But Wilson didn’t miss much time and I don’t think he testified in PIttsburgh…

bosoxforlifemember
9 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Willie was my guess. He only played in the Polo Grounds for 5 seasons and led the league in triples in 3 of those years. Candlestick wasn’t a triples park.

PC1970
9 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I was a combo of sad & LoC..Guessed Brock & would have guessed Willie Wilson without the HOF hint.

Thought of Willie Mays & also Pete Rose (based on # of hits & brief thought that Rose’s hustling style may have led to more 3B’s..he ended up with 135, Mays was at 141, tied with Brock). Musial never even crossed my mind.

Francoeursteinmember
9 months ago
Reply to  PC1970

This will forever be my favorite piece of baseball trivia: two players have career numbers of 300 HR, 100 triples, and 300 steals. Willie Mays and who ???

baseballfan115member
9 months ago
Reply to  Francoeurstein

Steve Finley!

Francoeursteinmember
9 months ago
Reply to  baseballfan115

Yep!