How Bobby Parnell thrives despite a .361 BABIP

In his three-plus seasons with the Mets, Bobby Parnell has always been a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde type of pitcher, in that we are never sure what kind of results to expect. But a few things have been rather consistent with the young fireballer. We know that Parnell is going to record a bunch of strikeouts and we know he is going to give up a ton of hits. But the 2012 edition may be taking things to a new level.

Coming into the season, Parnell had a lifetime 8.3 K/9 and a .342 BABIP. This year those numbers are 9.0 and .361, respectively. It’s somewhat of an unusual combination. Only 40 relievers – and I’m willing to wager that there are no starters who fit the bill – in MLB history have appeared in 40 games during a season and posted a K/9 of 9.0 or greater while posting a BABIP of .350 and up.

There are some really good relievers on this list, including Randy Myers, Lee Smith and Rick Aguilera. But there are more than a few stiffs, too. Old pal Ryota Igarashi performed this feat for the Mets last year, with a 9.78 K/9 and a .366 BABIP. Of course his overall numbers were pretty rotten, which led to an ERA+ of 79 and a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” exit from New York.

The worst season with our high K – high BABIP combo would be 2009 Brad Lidge, who had a 9.36 K/9, a .363 BABIP and a 59 ERA+.

The relievers on this list come in all forms. We have closers like Myers and Smith. There are set-up man like Bill Bray and Chad Fox. There are even LOOGYs like John Grabow and Wesley Wright. Perhaps one of the most interesting things is that there are only two pitchers to accomplish this feat twice and both guys had a really good year and a rotten year while qualifying.

Paul Shuey had the best ERA+ of any reliever on this list when he posted a 160 in the category while also notching an 11.60 K/9 and a .366 BABIP in 2001 for the Indians. Shuey also posted an ERA+ of 76 in 1997, when he had a 9.20 K/9 and a .367 BABIP.

The other two-time pitcher on this list is Scott Sauerbeck, who had a 115 ERA+ in 2000 when he had a 9.87 K/9 combined with a .365 BABIP. However, Sauerbeck followed up the next year with an 81 ERA+ despite his 11.35 K/9 (and .370 BABIP).

Shuey had eight seasons in the majors with at least 40 games and 1997 and 2001 were the only ones he posted a BABIP over .302 for the season. In fact, he had a lifetime .302 mark in the category. But he was always a good strikeout pitcher, with a lifetime 9.44 K/9.

Sauerbeck had seven years in the majors with at least 40 games and 2000 and 2001 were the only ones he allowed a BABIP over .316 for the season. His lifetime BABIP was .306 and he had a 9.06 K/9.

So, in Sauerbeck and Shuey we have two pitchers who had seasons where they had outliers in terms of BABIP to qualify for the list. Meanwhile, in his three seasons with at least 40 games pitched, Parnell has posted the following BABIPs: .331, .374 and .327 last year. Perhaps his current .361 is a bit of an outlier, but it does not stick out like a sore thumb like those for Sauerbeck and Shuey.

In Shuey’s high ERA+ season, he succeeded thanks to a 0.17 HR/9. In Sauerbeck’s better year, he had a 77 percent strand rate. If you are going to succeed despite an ultra-high BABIP, you better do an additional thing (besides strikeouts) at a really good rate. In their poor years, Sauerbeck had a 63.0 LOB% while Shuey had a 1.00 HR/9.

Here in 2012, Parnell is doing two things well. He has a 0.47 HR/9 and a 1.42 BB/9. The HR rate is beneath, but fairly close to his career rate, meaning it’s more or less what we expect from him. But the walk rate is definitely new territory for Parnell. In two of the past three years his BB/9 have been over 4.0 and he never had great walk rates in the minors, either.

Parnell was knocked around in his outing yesterday, as he allowed two earned runs to raise his ERA to 2.84 for the season. But that still checks in as a 129 ERA+, which would rank tied as the seventh-best mark in our high K – high BABIP combo list.

Interestingly, our list of 40 pitchers is evenly divided, with 20 posting an ERA+ of 100 or above and 20 at 97 or lower. If Parnell qualifies for this list at the end of the year, whether he places in the top half or bottom half is likely to depend on how his walk rate holds up. A strong walk rate will help counter-balance the ultra-high BABIP and allow Parnell to be an asset in the pen for the Mets.

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