14 August 2013

What Have We Learned About T.J. McFarland?

Photo: Keith Allison
Ed. Note: This post was written before last night's game.

When T.J. McFarland was selected last December in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, the Orioles seemed to have made a decent pickup. At the time, Baseball America's Jim Callis said, "It's not like you are really having to stretch to believe to say this guy could be a (No.) 5 or maybe a 4 starter. ... I don't think he is a high-ceiling guy, but he could be a back of the rotation guy. It cost, what, $50,000 if you're wrong." Ben Badler, also of Baseball America, said, "He's got great control and can really sink the ball. The Indians had him as a starter. I don't think he has the repertoire to have success as a starter at the big league level, but maybe they put him in the 'pen and he can stick there. I thought this was one of the better picks of this draft." (For what it's worth, Keith Law weighed in that McFarland is an "Org guy. Not a prospect." So Law was likely tempering expectations, unless, of course, you believe that he hates the Orioles.)

So far, Badler seems wise in retrospect, because McFarland has pitched relatively well out of the O's bullpen in what is his first work as a major league pitcher. In 56 innings, McFarland has a 4.18 ERA despite being a little unlucky (.322 BABIP is a bit higher than MLB average of .293). His 53.9% ground ball rate also trails only Jim Johnson (56.5%) and Zach Britton (54%) on the O's pitching staff.

McFarland's numbers are very close to what the average MLB pitcher has done this season. Take a look:

MLB Avg3.897.533.000.9710.6%

McFarland, now 24, has not been fantastic, but there is certainly something to be said for being an average pitcher in the majors. It's a whole lot better than pitching like Freddy Garcia did in his 10 starts earlier this season.

So McFarland is relatively young, seems to be a decent option pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen, and is under team control through the 2018 season. He isn't eligible for arbitration until 2016. Plus, he's proficient in getting opposing batters to hit the ball on the ground, which is a great skill when J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado are covering the left side of the infield. The Orioles also didn't have to surrender any players to obtain McFarland (just a little bit of money) -- which is normally better than building a bullpen by sending away a player with any kind of upside.

Still, as Callis mentions above, McFarland has a limited ceiling. He relies mostly on his sinker and slider, and his fastball velocity only sits around 88-89. In a June Baltimore Sports and Life piece suggesting that McFarland should stay in the bullpen, Tucker Blair noted that McFarland is not very good when facing batters a second time through the lineup. As a reliever, the first time through a lineup McFarland has held batters to a .250/.310/.378 line. And the second time through? .300/.341/.475. (McFarland also started one game and didn't perform well overall, lasting 2.2 innings and allowing three runs and seven hits on June 28 against the Yankees.) Granted, that's an even smaller sample size for someone who's pitching in the majors for the first time.

Strangely enough, McFarland, a 6'3 lefty, hasn't done well against left-handed hitters. 

In 24 IP vs. lefties: .338 wOBA
In 32 IP vs. righties: .303 wOBA

Those may be two things to keep an eye on. If McFarland struggles to retire batters a second time through the lineup, it'll be difficult for him to ever pitch in the rotation. And if he's not retiring lefties consistently -- especially if right-handed batters start hitting him better -- he also loses a chunk of value.

Regardless, McFarland obviously has some flaws. So does Ryan Flaherty, who the Orioles selected in the 2011 Rule 5 draft. But both have been useful at times this season, and they were both added for very little. There are worse ways to round out a roster.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good analysis of TJ. At this point, he is the best we have but as other pitchers come up, I expect we will see him move on.