Are Bobby Parnell’s 2012 improvements real or a mirage?

On Sunday Bobby Parnell came in a game in the sixth inning for the first time since April 18th. He had gone four days without pitching but retired the side in order and lowered his ERA to 2.96 for the season. In a year where the bullpen has been justifiably criticized, Parnell has been a solid performer throughout the entire season.

Coming into the year, the Spring Training fluff pieces said that Parnell had a new breaking ball and that he was going to sacrifice velocity for control. And with the season in the home stretch, we can see that both of these stories were true. After throwing a slider earlier in his major league career, Parnell has been utilizing a curve (sometimes referred to as a knuckle-curve). And his average fastball velocity has gone from 97.2 to 95.8 mph.

Previously in the majors, Parnell established that he was going to strike out a lot of guys and allow a lot of baserunners. With the changes to his pitching approach, Parnell has kept his high strikeout rate. He came into the season with a lifetime average of 8.34 K/9 and currently holds an 8.56 rate. But what has been most impressive has been what’s happened with his baserunners. Lifetime he had a 1.54 WHIP prior to this season and he now carries a 1.30 mark in the category.

Parnell had a history of both high BABIPs and high BB/9 totals. His .335 BABIP over the 2008-2011 seasons was the second-highest mark among relievers with at least 100 IP. But here in 2012, his BABIP checks in at .317, a career-low. Where he has really made strides is in his walk rate. Parnell had a 3.98 BB/9 average over his previous MLB career, but has a 2.47 mark here in 2012.

After posting lower than average HR/FB rates throughout his career, Parnell has a normal 10.3 rate here in 2012. But we see that an increase in his ground ball rate has kept his HR/9 at his career rates. After posting a 50.6 ground ball rate in 2011, Parnell has a career-best 62.0 GB% this year. So despite the higher rate of fly balls leaving the park, his 0.66 HR/9 tracks nicely with his 0.61 mark of a season ago and his 0.63 lifetime rate in the category.

The Spring Training stories were real and the results have been tangible for Parnell. Ideally you want a pitcher to strike batters out, keep the ball in the park and limit walks. Parnell has maintained his high strikeout rate and solid HR/9 marks. And he’s really improved both his walks and his baserunners allowed.

Parnell entered this season with a lifetime ERA of 4.35 and he has not had a monthly ERA higher than 3.60 (July) here in 2012. His only bad stretch of the year (12 G, 8.2 IP, 7 ER, 5 BB, 9 Ks) came over parts of May and June. Besides, in his last 29 games, Parnell has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP, thanks to allowing just 7 BB and 24 H in 28 IP. He’s allowed just 1 HR and has 25 Ks in this time span.

Now the question becomes: Are these improvements real or just a 54.2 IP mirage? Recall that in 2010, Parnell had a 2.06 BB/9 which led to a 2.83 ERA but he followed that up with a 4.10 BB/9 and 3.64 ERA season in 2011.

Also, consider this: Parnell has a huge H/R split this year. Here are the numbers:


Split ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BF WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Home 1.69 28 7 1 26.2 20 6 5 1 6 1 23 0 104 0.975 7.8 3.83
Away 4.18 32 11 3 28.0 36 16 13 3 9 0 29 1 132 1.607 9.3 3.22

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2012.

These numbers can shake your belief in Parnell’s 2012 season being a step forward. Those road numbers are not good and look even worse than his 2011 overall numbers. But to me the reason not to fret about his road numbers are a look at his walk rate. Even in this bad run, Parnell has a 2.89 BB/9. It appears that he had some bad BABIP luck in a few road outings.

Parnell has nine games where he’s allowed three or more hits and as you would probably guess, seven of those have come on the road. Yet he’s had 29 games where he has not allowed a hit in an appearance and 14 of those have come at home and 15 on the road. If there was really something to this split, you would think he would have noticeably more hitless outings at home and that is just not the case.

The bottom line is that 54.2 IP is not a big sample and then cutting that in half only causes more problems. We cannot say for sure if Parnell’s improvements this year are real or a fluke. However, given that we know he has made two big changes to his pitching approach, we might want to side on this being real, unlike what he did in 2010. Of course the proof will come in the following seasons, to see if he can maintain his improved walk rate and average on balls in play.

8 comments for “Are Bobby Parnell’s 2012 improvements real or a mirage?

  1. September 3, 2012 at 10:46 am

    He hasn’t been consistent, something I can tell you from watching games, but he has been a lot better than most of his colleagues. He’s definitely part of a winning pen, but I don’t know what stops him from always having the dominant makeup to close.

  2. Name
    September 3, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Bobby Parnell… is just an enigma. Here is a guy who can throw cheddar, yet he has given up so many bloops, blips, and squibblers. I don’t know if his fastball is just that hittable, or if he is just that unlucky. For some reason to, he also struggles in high leverage situtations. I’m not a proponent that someone who works in the 8th can’t work in the 9th, but there is something about Parnell that causes him to fail in high leverage situations.

  3. NormE
    September 3, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Parnell is going to be 28 years old this week. He is finally showing some maturation as a pitcher. As he continues to mix his breaking ball with his heater he has become more effective. From his body language he appears more relaxed, which helps his command and gives greater movement to his fastball. Can he ever get over the hump and become a reliable closer? Maybe, may be not, but there’s nothing wrong with being a good set-up man except that the money isn’t as good.

  4. Trump
    September 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Here’s what you need to do:

    Take all your stats and all your splits and wad them up and throw them in the trash. Here’s the truth about this guy: HE CRUMBLES UNDER PRESSURE. He’s also a bit of an idiot in that he’s been here how long and it still hasn’t dawned on him that in game situations, he should throw something besides the laser-straight FB down the heart of the plate. Why do we want a guy who has to be babied in how he’s handled? I’m tired of guys on this team crumbling under pressure. I guess most of you aren’t. Well good luck with that one

  5. Metsense
    September 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    After four major league campaigns, I can accept Parnell for his record and what he is: an inexpensive, reliable 7th-8th inning set up man. If he can do that for the next few years I would be satisfied. He isn’t a free agent until 2016. There are many Met minor league pitchers that are going to be pushing Parnell for his job in the future and when one of them takes it from him the Mets can trade Bobby and keep the less expensive and more talented pitcher. It will be a nice evolution for the Mets.

  6. Mack Ade
    September 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    IMO, there are two things wrong with Bobby’s game.

    1. His fastball doesn’t consistently move. Major league batters can take batting practice all day on straight heat. It’s no big thing at that level unless the ball does something before it hits the glove. If if doesn’t, it hits that bat and goes in the other direction at the same speed.

    2. He doesn’t have the moxie (look it up, kids). I don’t care how much he grows a beard. The boy just lacks the self-assuredness and self-confidence to succeed at this level.

  7. Chris F
    September 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I couldn’t agree more

  8. Don C.
    September 4, 2012 at 12:34 am

    I agree with Trump and Mack Ade. Another note on Parnell. He doesn’t pitch inside. His pitches are always down the middle or on the outside corner. He needs to pitch up and in on some batters and have them fear his 95+ mph fastball. He gets another year by default unless he could be packaged with other players in a trade. He’s a 7th inning pitcher at best, in non-pressure situations, because as Trump stated before, he folds like a wet napkin in pressure situations. I’ve seen enough and he’s had plenty of chances. In defense of him, he might also be getting poor coaching. FB pitchers like Parnell should be challenging batters inside first to try to tie them up. Batters should be afraid to face his heat, but they aren’t.

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