Let’s rewind the clock.
It’s December 2018. After brutal years of rebuilding, there were rumors that the Reds were looking to do something different during the offseason.
They were looking to improve.
I still remember the moment when I learned of the trade (which honestly, is a bit sad. Reds fans are so used to losing, that one exciting trade becomes seared into memory). I was sitting on my couch in my apartment living room, scrolling through the news on my phone. After a few boring minutes, my phone vibrated, and a notification from the MLB app popped up my screen.
The Reds had made a trade with the Dodgers.
In exchange for prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs (what a great baseball name!) and Homer Bailey (an unfortunate name for a pitcher), the Reds were receiving several exciting players from Los Angeles. Like many Reds fans, I was personally most excited by Yasiel Puig, who I thought would have a monster year in the small confines of Great American Ball Park. Many fans were intrigued by Alex Wood, a clear rotation upgrade over Homer Bailey. Others were thrilled by Matt Kemp, who had just come off an All-Star season.
Three exciting players. What a Christmas present!
Very few fans realized that the most impactful player in that trade was utility man Kyle Farmer.
In the seasons since that trade, Reds country has been through a lot. We’ve seen a fantastic, nostalgia-driven throwback jersey campaign, a pandemic, clinching the postseason, another rebuild and most recently, 100 losses.
Throughout all the change, one thing that has stayed constant is Kyle Farmer.
While originally pitched as a bench bat who could play all around the ballpark, Farmer has played his way into the starting lineup, as well as the hearts of fans in the Queen City. He’s also become a favorite in the broadcast booth, with Barry Larkin even going so far as to say that the Reds should make him team captain and sign him to a multi-year extension.
With arbitration approaching, some fans are wondering what will happen with Farmer. While I can’t say for sure what the Reds will do, we can look at Farmer’s performance and get an idea for what his true value is from the team, and what he’s worth as a player.
Let’s dive in.
For his career, Farmer’s numbers aren’t particularly inspiring. Since his Dodgers debut in 2017, Farmer’s generated a slash line of .255/.311/.393. His advanced metrics aren’t much better, with a below average wRC+ of 86. In other words, for his career, Kyle Farmer has been 14% less productive than the average MLB hitter. In spite of this, he’s still been a useful player. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference have listed his 2022 season as having generated 1.4 and 1.0 WAR, respectively.
One way to evaluate Farmer is by comparing him to his peers, at both shortstop and third base. For the 2022 season, Farmer ranked 17th among shortstops for wRC+ and 19th in WAR. It’s not great, but the Reds could certainly do worse at short. Third base is a different story. His 91 wRC+ and 1.4 fWAR rank 22nd among active third basemen.
His defense is also suspect. For the 2022 season, Farmer generated -3 outs above average and -3 defensive runs saved at the shortstop position. He was slightly more successful at third base, generating 2 OAA and -2 DRS.
In spite of these misgivings, Farmer does excel at one important thing: putting the ball in play. Over the course of the 2022 season, Farmer ranked in the 77th percentile for K%, the 83rd percentile for Whiff% and the 69th percentile for xBA. In an age where strikeouts are far more common, finding a player who doesn’t miss the ball can be very useful.
It’s also worth noting that Kyle Farmer has extreme handedness splits. During the 2022 season, Farmer’s OPS and wRC+ against southpaws was .948 and 157 respectively. Against righties, however, Farmer’s OPS and wRC+ were a measly .611 and 67.
Farmer’s problem is that while he consistently makes contact with the ball, he rarely makes hard contact. For the 2022 season, he ranked in the 6th percentile for average exit velocity and the 15th percentile for barrel rate. He also doesn’t walk much, indicated by his 5.7% walk rate (MLB average is 8.4%).
In other words, Kyle Farmer is the prototypical example of an excellent bench player. He can play all around the infield, without hurting you too badly defensively, and he’s not horrible with a bat. He’s also been described as being a great leader in the clubhouse — an intangible benefit that is difficult to understand the true value of.
What can we expect moving forward
Anyone who has followed baseball over recent years will tell you that there is a shift taking place in how players are paid. They’re increasingly given compensation over how the value they are projected to provide, rather than the historical value already provided. The Reds’ front office shouldn’t treat Farmer any differently.
So, what kind of production should we expect from Farmer in 2023?
Let’s take a look at the Farmer’s Almanac (winks at camera while a laugh track plays).
To project this, let’s take a look at a fancy new stat I created called Weighted Quality of Plate Appearances. As its name suggests, this metric is designed to show how often a hitter has a strong performance at the plate, by examining how many plate appearances end in a walk or a barreled ball, and then assigning a proper weight to each of those outcomes. It’s a helpful predictive stat, as it measures the true talent of a hitter by taking into account their plate discipline and ability to make solid contact. For context, an average MLB hitter would have a wQOPA score of between 6-9%.
To get an idea for how Farmer may perform next season, let’s examine his wQOPA over the last several years and use linear regression to project performance for 2023.
It’s not a pretty picture. Outside of the pandemic-shortened 2020, Kyle Farmer has consistently been below average in terms of the quality of his plate appearances. He’s also 32 years old, so I don’t expect much improvement from him. Neither does the linear regression model, which is projecting a slight decline to a score of 4.4%. It’s (obviously) an impossible task to truly predict the future, but the data is suggesting that a repeat of Farmer’s 2022 season may be the best case scenario here.
ZiPS paints a similar scenario. For the 2023 season, the projection model forecasts a slash line of .254/.306/.396, with a wOBA of .304 and 1.0 fWAR. In line with the linear regression model, ZiPS is projecting a slight decline in overall productivity from the Reds’ Swiss Army Knife.
Farmer is projected to earn almost $5.9 million in arbitration by MLB Trade Rumors. That’s not huge in terms of MLB salaries, but would it be an overpay for Farmer? To answer that, let’s see what kind of value he’s expected to produce on the field. Baseball Trade Values isn’t a perfect projection system by any stretch of the imagination, but it does provide a solid starting place to have a discussion around player value. Baseball Trade Values is estimating that Farmer’s adjusted field value (the player’s projected on-field contribution) to be $5.6 million, slightly below what he’s projected to earn in arbitration.
In other words, $6 million would be an overpay for Farmer, but it wouldn’t be significant. Depending on how the Reds value the supposed intangibles of Farmer, $6 million may perfectly capture the value that he provides to the team.
Who’s on first? And second? And short? And third? And….?
There’s one other thing that I haven’t really addressed in this analysis of Kyle Farmer. If the Reds did choose to non-tender him, who would replace him on the roster? After having a fire sale over the last two seasons, there aren’t too many in-house options available to the Reds. Mike Moustakas could play third, but he’s been incredibly injury prone recently. Jose Barrero could play short, but he’s had tremendous difficulty adjusting to MLB pitching. Top prospects Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte are still a while away from the majors.
The best course of action would be for the Reds to hold onto Farmer. His multi-positional flexibility will be helpful for a Reds team that has very little depth and doesn’t appear to be preparing to bring on any new talent, either. Even if prospects speed through the minor leagues and supplant Farmer in the starting lineup, his talents are still incredibly useful off the bench.
For the 2023 season, Kyle Farmer is projected to earn $6 million, and he’s projected to be worth almost exactly that. In spite of mediocre hitting and fielding, Farmer provides flexibility and stability to a Reds roster that desperately needs it. It’s highly unlikely that he’ll be a member of the next good Reds team, but until then, the Reds still need to put a team on the field. Someone’s got to stop ground balls hit toward third! I don’t expect the Reds to part ways with Farmer, but if they do, it will be another cheap cost-cutting move that fans have grown accustomed to.
Featured Photo: Steve Mancuso