2019 Stats: 0-0, 4.82 ERA, 51 G, 56 IP, 35 SO, 1.625 WHIP, ERA+ 93 (-0.6 bWAR)
2019 Salary: $1,400,000
2020 Status: Selected off waivers by the Oakland Athletics on November 4th (Arb 3)
T.J. McFarland was one of the earliest signings by Mike Hazen after he took control of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In need of some left-handed depth for the pitching staff, Hazen picked up McFarland as a free agent during the spring of 2017, shortly after the McFarland’s release from the Baltimore Orioles. Though his overall stat line for 2017 wound up being mediocre, the stats do not tell the full story. For one thing, the stats include the game he pitched on August 20th of that season - the game where he was unwisely selected to start the game. That outing against Minnesota lasted all of one out. Before McFarland left that game, he gave up seven runs, all earned, on five hits and two walks. He threw 38 pitches and left with a game score of 11. That outing alone, near the end of the fifth month of the season, ballooned his ERA by 1.34. Prior to that outing, he had only thrown two “bad” outings, both close to each other in mid-June. Other than that, his one other poor showing was one dictated by team need. On August first, McFarland came into the game with the team down 6-0 after three innings. McFarland was left in to eat innings in mop-up duty. After throwing two zeres up on the scoreboard, McFarland was finally tagged for a pile of runs in his third inning of work. Already down by a number of runs, the team left McFarland out there to take the drumming fo a while. At the season’s end, McFarland managed to compile 54 innings of work as a groundball lefty. Rather than tendering McFarland after the 2017 season, they granted him free agency then turned around and signed him to a contract. McFarland rewarded the team handsomely in 2018, compiling an ERA+ of 211. That performance made McFarland one of the few true locks for the 2019 bullpen as pitchers and catchers reported in February of 2019.
McFarland’s 2019 is nearly a tale of two seasons in itself. While McFarland’s mediocre 2017 stats were largely depressed because of two outings that were as much on management as they were on him, McFarland’s mediocre 2019 stats were the result of two bad months, not games. McFarland began the season on the IL. He did not join Arizona’s 25-man roster until the calendar turned to May. That return was not kind to him. McFarland only made eight appearances in May, totalling 14 innings. IN eight appearances he allowed eight runs to score. Though this was by no means catastrophic, many could already see the seams starting to fray. Though McFarland was still inducing ground balls, hitters were making louder, more frequent contact. Then June happened to McFarland. IN the month of June, McFarland made 10 appearances out of the Arizona bullpen. He allowed at least one run in eight of those 10 appearances. He allowed more than one run in five of those, including three on two different occasions. McFarland finished the first half of the season with a 6.37 ERA in 29.2 innings pitched. BY this point, a large portion of Arizona’s fandom had brought out the pitchforks and wanted a change that involved McFarland either sinking some other team’s hopes or collecting unemployment.
Despite McFarland’s early struggles, it was during this period that McFarland had what is probably his most memorable outing of the season. On May 8th, Yoshihisa Hirano and McFarland (with a bit of defensive help up the middle from second baseman Ketel Marte) combined to pitch out of a bases-loaded no-out jam against the Tampa Bay Rays to preserve a 2-1 Arizona lead.
Then the second half of the season happened. In July, McFarland turned in July, McFarland turned in nine strong appearances. Included in this stretch of strong performances was an outing of 2 2⁄3 innings in which he struck out six of the batters he faced.
August was again a bit of a bump, but a perfectly normal month for most middle relievers. He then made nine more appearances in September, working well as a partial-inning reliever. Still, this second-half resurgence was hardly enough to make up for the near dumpster fire that was his first two months of work.
To put things bluntly, McFarland’s sub-90 mph sinker simply was not fooling anyone. Never one much for striking batters out, McFarland learned the hard way just how fast things can fall apart for pitchers who pitch to contact. Though McFarland continued to have a groundball rate in excess of 60%, his soft-hit percentage dropped 5.9%. All of that, plus a bit more, was tacked on to his hard-hit percentage. With a 42.8% hard-hit percentage and a line drive rate at career-high 20.5%, McFarland’s season went about as one would expect.
With all the important numbers heading in the wrong direction, the Diamondbacks elected to decline their club option on McFarland for the 2020 season, instead giving him his $50,000 buyout. They then granted him free agency on October 31st. The Oakland A’s have since claimed him.