Monday was a day to forget for the Mets, as they lost a doubleheader to the Giants by a combined 13-3 score. After losing two doubleheaders last year in April, most members of the Mets should be willing to forego twinbills before May for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the one player who might feel otherwise is Bobby Parnell, who appeared in both games yesterday and had 4 Ks in 2 IP and did not allow a run.
In his previous outing on April 18th, Parnell gave up two runs. But Terry Collins did not feel the need to get him in the game right away, as he had to wait four days to get back on the horse. In the first game, Parnell came on in the eighth inning, put two runners on base, but got a groundout to end the inning. In the second game he struck out the side in the ninth inning.
After seven appearances, Parnell sits with a 3.38 ERA. He’s allowed just 2 BB and has 13 Ks in 8 IP. That’s a 14.63 K/9 and a 2.25 BB/9 which translates to a 1.44 xFIP. There were rumors that Parnell had to win a job in Spring Training. He was lights out in Grapefruit League play and has carried over that strong Spring performance through the first three weeks of the regular season.
Parnell lights up the radar gun yet he has struggled in the majors because when batters do make contact, they tend to reach base at an advanced clip. He further compounds the problem by allowing more walks than you would prefer from any pitcher, much less a late-inning man. In his first seven appearances, Parnell has a .476 BABIP, which illustrates the first problem. But so far he is keeping the walks to a minimum and has escaped further damage.
During Spring Training there were two stories going on about Parnell. The first was that he was not throwing as hard as he did in the past, instead he was aiming to improve his control. And the other was that he was introducing a knuckle-curve to his arsenal. Previously it was noted that he had a 2.25 BB/9, down from last year’s 4.10 mark. And his improved command is accompanied by a drop in velocity. Last year Parnell averaged 97.2 with his fastball and this year his average reading has dropped two full miles, down to 95.2 mph.
Clearly, Parnell still has plenty of giddyup on his fastball, as his 13 Ks will testify. But is that due to his fastball or has the rumored knuckle-curve been the pitch responsible?
According to the Pitchf/x classifications, Parnell is not throwing a knuckle-curve. However, he is throwing a curve ball 20.9% of the time after not throwing a hook in 2011, so this is likely the pitch in question. It has been a good swing-and-miss offering for Parnell, as opposing batters whiff on the pitch 12.1 percent of the time.
When he struck out the side in Game Two yesterday, Parnell threw 18 pitches and five of them were his new breaking ball. According to the info over at Brooks Baseball, he threw it twice to Melky Cabrera, on the second and sixth pitch of a seven-pitch AB, but both times it was out of the strike zone. Parnell started off Pablo Sandoval with the pitch and got a foul ball. He used the same pattern against Nate Schierholtz and also got a foul. Finally, he put away Hector Sanchez with the curve, fanning the rookie with a swinging strike.
In the early going, it appears that both of the Spring Training stories about Parnell are true. He is trading velocity for command and he has added some type of breaking pitch. It’s harder to say which one has been more important to his early-season success. Certainly, his willingness to throw the curve often and at any time in the count gives hitters another weapon to fear.
Even with the change in his arsenal, Parnell’s batted ball profile is still similar to a year ago. Last year he had a 1.58 GB/FB ratio compared to a 1.50 mark this year. But a deeper look at the numbers show him with a 25.0 LD%, up significantly from last year’s 17.5 mark. Also, throughout his career, Parnell has done an excellent job inducing infield pop-ups, placing in double-digits each of his four previous years in the majors. But so far in 2012, he has not gotten a single one of these, which are nearly always converted into an out.
Of course, we are dealing with tiny sample sizes at this point in time. But we can only go off the data we have. If Parnell experiences regression in both his line drive rate and with his IFFB%, his extremely elevated BABIP will go down significantly. Hopefully then his actual results (3.38 ERA) will catch up to his peripherals (1.44 xFIP).
Back on March 27th, I wrote the following about Parnell:
If these Spring Training stories turn out to be regular season realities, then I envision Parnell working his way back to being the Mets’ primary setup man by the end of the year and in solid position to take over the closer’s spot on the team in 2014.
The early results on Parnell’s changes are encouraging and the take away should be that Parnell seems to be a much-improved pitcher based on the changes he made since the end of last year.