Sunday Notes: Kyle Farmer Finally Took The Mound (Which Is a Lonely, Lonely Spot)

Kyle Farmer came in to pitch last August. The Reds were being mauled by the Chicago Cubs, and the 29-year-old Farmer is Cincinnati’s Mr. Versatility. Along with the cameo mound appearance, he caught and played all four infield positions over the course of the season.

What is surprising is that Farmer had never before pitched professionally. The 2013 draft pick — by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the University of Georgia — has both the background and the bloodlines of an ideal mop-up artist. His father, Bryan Farmer, was an accomplished pitcher at Ole Miss who advanced as far as Triple-A in the Atlanta Braves system.

The chip off the old block was a two-way player as an Atlanta-area prep, and while his bat and glove ultimately became his calling cards, he was very much at home on the rubber.

“I loved pitching,” Farmer related to me recently. “I had a really good curveball — I could buckle some knees — and I also threw a lot of strikes, which is something my dad stressed the importance of doing. I was a closer my senior year of high school, but it turned out that I was a better shortstop than pitcher. My coach at Georgia wanted me to play shortstop every day, so that’s what I did.”

Farmer never took the mound in his four SEC seasons, although he did throw a couple of bullpens. The Bulldogs pitching staff was scuffling one year — “We were walking the house” — and Farmer volunteered to give it the old college try. The side sessions went well, an but obstacle stood in the way. “He said they liked what they saw,” Farmer recalled a coach telling him. “But he also said they didn’t have anyone else to put out there at shortstop. So I was, ‘All right. I’ll stay at short.’”

Farmer was drafted as a catcher, despite having never having played the position.

“Along with having quick hands, I had a really quick release,” said Farmer. “That’s why Lon Joyce, who was the Dodgers area scout at the time, wanted to draft me as a catcher. My arm action was short.”

It still is, and that extends to the bump. Asked if he could comp his delivery to a big-leaguer, Farmer name-checked Sonny Gray, explaining that he has a “short, quick arm.” He knows his pitchers like the back of his hand. Not only does the former high-school hurler spend a lot of time behind the dish, he studies the members of the Cincinnati staff.

“I catch Woody [Alex Wood] a lot, and I ask him about grips,” said Farmer. “For instance, he has a really good changeup. I like watching how pitchers throw, because at my position, learning every aspect of the game is only going to help you. I’ll watch video on Luis Castillo to see his arm angle, and his grip on the ball. I don’t throw a changeup as well as he does, but I can get the right spin.”

Yes, he has a changeup in his rarely-gets-to-use repertoire.

“We’re [social distancing] now, and I have this big net that I throw into,” explained Farmer. “I’ve been practicing pitches, and I think I’ve figured out how Luis throws his. I’m throwing a nasty changeup into this net right now.”

None of the dozen pitches he threw last summer were changeups. Nor were any of them curveballs. Truth be told, none were really fastballs, either. Farmer was 90-92 in high school, but against the Cubs he was grandma on a Sunday drive.

“The radar gun couldn’t read any of them,” recalled Farmer. “The numbers didn’t pop up — I don’t think it reads anything under 50 mph — which was my goal. I went out there thinking, ‘I’m going to throw as slow as possible.’”

His reasoning for doing so?

“I know how hard it is to hit that,” said Farmer. “If you groove it in there at 80-82, it’s like batting practice — it will get teed off on — whereas anything with an arc is hard to hit. So it was just straight Zack Greinke eephuses. Tucker Barnhart was catching, and he came out and said, ‘Hey man, what do you want for signs?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Just go back there and catch.’”

Farmer’s slow-balls produced outs from four of the five batters he faced. The first of them is most memorable. His good friend Jason Heyward was at the plate, and when the Chicago outfielder swung and missed at a pitch, Farmer couldn’t help but laugh. Heyward proceeded to ground out, which is something he’s already been reminded of on multiple occasions.

What can hitters expect to see if Farmer is given another opportunity to pitch?

“Next time, I might mix in some curveballs and my Castillo changeup,” mused Farmer. “But in all seriousness, I have a lot of respect for pitchers. You’re out there alone and everyone is looking at you. It’s a lonely, lonely spot. You’ve got to have some nuts go out there and do it.”

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Scott Radinsky is well-acquainted with the feeling of being alone on an island. A big-league pitcher from 1990-2001, he’s also the longtime frontman for the hardcore band Pulley. The latter role has sometimes been the more nerve-wracking of the two. Facing a George Brett or a Kirk Gibson with the game on the line and tens of thousands of fans screaming at you is one thing. Facing an angry horde of alcohol-fueled skinheads is another.

Radinsky shared the following when I asked how the stage compares to the mound in terms of anxious moments:

“Music can be both intimidating and dangerous. The intimidating part comes as a singer, holding a microphone and feeling naked with nothing to hide behind. In a sense, that’s similar to being a pitcher. Yes, there is a team/band behind you, but it’s all on you to do the entertaining — especially in between songs when you’re exposed by the silence.

“We’ve generally had good experiences playing live, with good fan interaction, singing, dancing, etcetera… but I can remember one incident in the early 1990’s at a club in Riverside [California] called “Spanky’s.”

“We were the headlining band that night, and of course the beer had been flowing. The crowd was a little rowdy, heckling us and then getting somewhat violent. We can do well with the heckling — we can fire back, usually in good fun — but this particular group of skinheads wasn’t having any of it. They started threatening us, and throwing lit cigarettes onto the stage. During one of our last songs a huge fight broke out, so we stopped playing and scrambled to get all of our gear out the back door and into the van. We then peeled out of the parking lot with beer cans being thrown at us.

“I can’t think of a bench clearing brawl where I ever felt like I was in real danger, 
but that night I think we were all wondering if we’d get away.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Bobby Floyd went 2 for 3 against David Clyde

Cliff Floyd went 7 for 8 against Matt Kinney

Floyd Robinson went 6 for 10 against Sam Jones

Floyd Rayford went 6 for 11 against Jimmy Key

Floyd Baker went 5 for 11 against Marino Pieretti

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On June 2, 1966, Don McMahon was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Boston Red Sox. On June 2, 1967, the Red Sox traded McMahon to the Chicago White Sox.

That year-to-the-date actuality would be a good fit for the Random Facts and Stats portion of this column, but that wouldn’t do justice to the excellence, nor to the oddness, of McMahon’s career. His SABR BioProject entry is recommended for a deeper dive, but here are a handful of… well, random facts and stats.

McMahon was not only dealt midseason in 1966 and 1967; the same thing happened in 1968 and 1969. Those trades sent him to Detroit and to San Francisco. And he was no slouch. Over that four-year stretch, the righty reliever appeared in 216 games and went 26-18 with 29 saves and a 139 ERA+.

All told, McMahon worked in 874 regular-season games from 1957-1974, throwing his last pitch at age 44. His 10 postseason appearances are part of what makes his career odd. Per the ever-informative Aiden Jackson-Evans, all 10 were in games that his team lost. No matter. McMahon won World Series rings with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and 1968 Detroit Tigers.

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A quiz:

Nolan Ryan surrendered just one walk-off home run. Who hit it?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

The Kiwoom Heroes have released Taylor Motter. The former Rays, Mariners, and Twins outfielder went 4 for 35 in 10 games with the KBO club.

The Mexican League announced earlier this week that it will begin a 48-game season on August 7. An expanded postseason will follow, and extend into November.

Foley’s, the iconic baseball bar located near New York City’s Penn Station, won’t be reopening. Shaun Clancy, Foley’s owner, made the announcement on Friday. A popular watering hole for fans since 2004, Foley’s was adorned with a collection of approximately 3,500 autographed baseballs.

Dolly White, who played seven seasons in the American Girls Professional Baseball League, died earlier this week at age 88. White joined the South Bend Blue Sox when she was 15 years old, and later played with the Kenosha Comets and the Fort Wayne Daisies.

Biff Pocoroba, a left-handed-hitting catcher for the Atlanta Braves from 1975-1984, died earlier this week at age 66. Per RIP Baseball, Biff Benedict Pocoroba — that was his given name — was a younger cousin of former Angels and Red Sox catcher Tom Satriano.

SABR’s Chicago Chapter is hosting a Facebook Live chat with Garrett Broshuis, today at 2 pm CST. Broshuis is a former minor-league pitcher and a co-founder of Advocates For Minor Leaguers. The virtual event is open to the public.

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The answer to the quiz is Bruce Bochy. On July 1, 1985, Bochy took Ryan deep in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the San Diego Padres a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros.

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How different are fWAR and bWAR? Look at these two reliever seasons from 1963:

Ron Perranoski threw 129 innings and went 16-3 with 21 saves and a 1.67 ERA. Arnold Earley threw 116 innings and went 3-7 with one save and a 4.79 ERA.

Perranoski had 0.0 fWAR and 4.5 bWAR.
Earley had 0.9 fWAR and -1.3 bWAR.

For those of you scratching your heads, ERA (bWAR) and FIP (fWAR) are at play here, and every bit as meaningfully, so are adjustments for league and ballpark. Perranoski played his home games in cavernous Dodger Stadium, in the pitcher-friendly National League. Early played his home games in the bandbox known as Fenway Park, in the hitter-friendly American League. So the numbers don’t lie; they simply tell two different stories.

Which of the two had the better 1963 season? Opinions may differ, but it’s a safe bet that Early would have swapped numbers with Perranoski in a heartbeat.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Tim Thompson is one of approximately two dozen former big-leaguers to have served in World War II. Anne R. Keene talked to Thompson for the Lewiston (PA) Sentinel.

Baseball America put together a list of how many minor-league players each team released from March-May in 2018 and 2019.

Luke Easter hit over 600 home runs in a career that started in the Negro National League, ended in the International League, and included six seasons with the Cleveland Indians. Alex Painter wrote about Easter for Home Plate Don’t Move.

At Sports Illustrated’s Inside The Dodgers, Cliff Corcoran used a Nate Silver-developed formula to determine the number of seasons in which the best pitcher in baseball was playing for the Dodgers.

Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller wrote about how Esteban Loaiza went from being an All-Star pitcher to an inmate in a federal prison.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo finished his big-league carer with a .400 batting average. The erstwhile infielder had two hits in five at bats for the Montreal Expos in 1993.

From 1998-2004, Reggie Sanders played for seven different National League teams in seven seasons but never in his entire career played for two teams in the same season.

The New York Yankees won six straight American League pennants from 1949-1954. Ralph Houk played on all of those teams; he appeared in 36 games and recorded 10 hits.

In the final months of the 1974 season, the Montreal Expos starting outfield often comprised Willie Davis, Jim Northrup, and Ken Singleton.

Babe Ruth had 16 triples and 17 stolen bases in 1921.

In the second game of a Memorial Day doubleheader played on May 30, 1922, the St. Louis Browns beat the Detroit Tigers 2-1, in 16 innings,. St. Louis starter Urban Shocker was ejected in the 15th inning for arguing balls and strikes, as was Browns right fielder Jack Tobin.

On May 30, 1922, the Chicago Cubs traded Max Flack to the St. Louis Cardinals for Cliff Heathcote. The deal was consummated between games of a doubleheader between the two teams. Flack and Heathcote played in both contests.

On June 1, 1988, Gerald Perry went 5 for 5 with a home run to help lead the Atlanta Braves to a 14-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Perry’s middle name is June.

June Greene appeared in 32 games for the Philadelphia Phillies between the 1928 and 1929 seasons. Used as both a pitcher and a pinch-hitter, Greene had an 18.38 ERA over 15-and-two-thirds innings, and seven hits in 25 at bats.

Happy Townsend, who pitched for three teams from 1901-1906, was born in Townsend, Delaware.





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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Scott Radinsky was Kyle Farmer’s 1st pitching coach in pro ball. Ogden 2013