Seattle Mariners reliever Danny Farquhar has excelled as independent laborer
It makes sense, on a day like Labor Day, to highlight the struggles of a middle reliever. Even a great one like Danny Farquhar has had to work hard to find a niche on the fringes of the big leagues. Turns out, some of Farquhar’s particular success even has come from ignoring management.
If you remove the guys who have closed for their teams this year, Farquhar is probably the eighth- or ninth-best middle reliever in the game right now. He’s done it with lots of strikeouts based on 93- to 94-mph gas and a great cutter/curve combo. And the best command of his career.
It’s been a long winding road to this point. And it’s required ignoring some of the voices in his ear.
The very first time he threw sidearm, it was to please coaches. Technically at least. You could also say he did it to make the team.
"I was good enough to hit on varsity, but not good enough to pitch on varsity," said Farquhar of his high school experience. "They weren’t sure what they were going to do with me. They were trying to revamp a junior’s career and get him to throw sidearm and he couldn’t throw strikes. And I said, I can do that."
He started out sidearm from necessity, you could say. "I topped out at 77 or 79. Over the top, you’d get hit hard in high school at 77," the reliever laughed. He started mixing in some over the top to keep hitters guessing.
That set him on a path of confusion that lasted years. Five years after being drafted, he’d completed five stints with three different organizations. Each had a different idea of what he should do.
Toronto was the team that drafted him. They told him in 2011 that "the fastest way to the big leagues was if you start throwing sidearm." So, for the first time in his career, Farquhar spent a year throwing exclusively sidearm.
It wasn’t a good year — he showed the worst strikeout rate of his career and his ERA was near five — but he did get two major-league innings. We can see what he looked like back then, at 89 mph.
The Athletics — who once traded the Rajai Davis to the Blue Jays for him, and then traded him back to the Jays for David Purcey, and then finally claimed him back from the Blue Jays off waivers — had a different idea for Farquhar.
"Oakland messed with me a little bit," said Farquhar with a smile of his first stint with the team. "They wanted me to throw like Dennis Eckersley, a little higher. I came in throwing overhand and sidearm and they wanted me to leave both of those and go to a completely different one."
The reason he’s not so bitter about that decision (which also didn’t lead to much success) is that when he finally clicked, it was in the Oakland organization. After what was already a long path, he found himself there for the second time, tired of being manipulated.
"There was a lot of information — a lot of people in my ear — when I went from organization to organization," Farquhar said. "I bounced around so much."
But with Gil Patterson, the pitching coordinator in Oakland, he finally found a different voice. Patterson asked him what he wanted to do. They talked, he threw, and something clicked. Unfortunately, he was on the 40-man roster, and he hadn’t thrown well with the A’s the first time he was with the team.
"I threw one or two more times with Oakland and threw really well, but I think my prior outings had hurt me so bad, trying to throw sidearm, that when they needed a 40-man spot, I was out of there," said Farquhar of that moment in 2012.
He was released. The Yankees picked him up. He never threw for them. He was designated for assignment two days after they claimed him. Nobody claimed him, and so he headed to the minors.
"By that point, I knew what I wanted to do," Farquhar said of his minor-league stint with the Yankees. "A couple guys talked to me and I told them to leave me alone — I’m going to do this."
He threw well with the Yankees, well enough to be traded for a fading Ichiro Suzuki. This was the fifth transaction on his player card over a two-year stint. The pitcher was very glad to find a comforting hand when he finally arrived in Seattle.
"I talked to [special assistant to the GM] Pete Vuckovich … and he said, ‘I don’t want you to throw sidearm, I can’t believe people were in your ear, you’re never going back to sidearm, I like what you got overhand.’ " Farquhar said. "Ever since I got here, we’ve been on the same page."
For a guy who always knew he had more velocity going overhand, this was a winding path that finally got him to this point. Ninety-four mph over the top:
Of course, there were a couple final tweaks that Farquhar had to make to finalize his mix. That slider-like thing he threw from sidearm turned into an overhand curve, thanks to physics. It’s the same grip, and the same release, but since it comes from over the top, it’s a curve, and the pitcher has had to reckon with different movement.
And in general, all the different arm slots have been hard on the pitcher. "Take someone with the best command in baseball, and give him three arm slots and tell him to throw strikes and wish him luck," laughed Farquhar. "Consistency, being able to train for one arm slot, knowing what you’re going to do" — all of these things have helped him improve his command in his second long stint in the major leagues.
It’s not right to frame this completely as Farquhar vs the world. He had help from key advisors along the way, and teams saw enough that they wanted to acquire him.
But at some point, the sometimes sidearmer figured out what was going to work for him, and stuck with it. And though he doesn’t get all the accolades of the higher-profile major leaguers, he’s happy he found himself a steady job. Even if he has to work on Labor Day.