Looking back at Bobby Parnell’s season

Bobby Parnell3Well, it seems all but apparent that Bobby Parnell’s fine season will be coming to an end this month.

According to MetsBlog, Parnell is not even close to resuming any baseball-related activities. Parnell was placed on the DL on August 6 with a neck injury. He had an epidural shot to alleviate the pain, but so far it has not worked. Parnell is going to get another shot soon and if that does not work, surgery is probably the next step in the process.

So, reading through the tea leaves, it’s all but certain Parnell’s season is over.

And what a season it was. Finally tapping his vast potential, Parnell blossomed this year as the Mets’ closer. No longer did he have to worry what kind of role he was going to have. The ninth inning job was all his from the start and he nailed his audition.

For the year, Parnell saved 22 games (blowing four saves) and in 49 games he posted a fantastic ERA (2.16), WHIP (1.00) and BAA (.211).

Parnell had a lot of success this year, mostly because, for once, he did not throw. This year he finally committed to pitching. In exchange for a dip in velocity, Parnell had better location on his fastball this year. He was also dazzling with his standout knuckle curve. He, in essence, became the complete package at closer.

While the Mets, for the most part, were struggling this year, Parnell shined. He was even the center of many trade rumors, as teams like Boston and Detroit needed help in the bullpen.

However, the Mets needed to be blown away, as they were not going to give up Parnell very easily. After years of trying to find a steady, reliable closer, they felt Parnell could be a mainstay in the bullpen for years to come.

While the absence of Parnell the last couple of weeks has been another drain for a team that seemingly is void of any good news lately (but hey, they have won two games in a row), this injury shouldn’t be too serious. Parnell should probably have no trouble reporting to Port St. Lucie in the spring.

While the Mets need to make some serious upgrades in the offseason, closer is one spot that does not have to be addressed, as Parnell—even in a shortened season—has showed he’s the future at the position.

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Mets have to be overwhelmed to trade Bobby Parnell

A lot has been said of late regarding the trade value of New York Mets’ closer Bobby Parnell. Considering the Mets-albeit playing good baseball of late-are not likely to contend for a playoff spot, it would be seem logical for them to dangle some of their expendable commodities.

However, is Parnell expendable?

General Manager Sandy Alderson has previously stated his intentions to keep Parnell, while rejecting overtures from other contending ball clubs. After all, a relief pitcher of Parnell’s caliber doesn’t grow on trees. Parnell is certainly pitching this year as if he’s not expendable.

Parnell is pitching lights out thus far, en route to having his best ever season with the Mets. In 40 games and 41 innings pitched, Parnell has 16 saves (out of 19 chances) to go along with a 2.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and .190 BAA. Parnell also has solid K (7.7 K/9) and BB (2.2 BB/9) rates while also factoring into nine decisions, as he has a 5-4 record. For a matter of reference, Jeremy Hefner has only four wins and Parnell is just one win behind Dillon Gee (six) and two wins behind Harvey (seven).

Teams like the Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers—who need bullpen help stat—could perhaps, offer a sweet enough deal for Parnell. But until that time, Alderson should hold onto Parnell, as he will be a valued commodity when the Mets will be able to contend.

So, what’s good enough value for Parnell?

It’s hard to say, but according to some, the players who may be on the block from Boston and Detroit are Jackie Bradley Jr. and Avisail Garcia, collectively. While there is a lot of upside in Bradley and Garcia’s games, they may not be prospects the Mets want to bank on in exchange for Parnell.

The players who could be game-changers and may ultimately sway Alderson’s mind could be the Sox’ Xander Bogaerts and the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos.

These two players could be impact players down the line and their potential could be enticing enough for Alderson to consider a deal for Parnell.

However, neither Boston nor Detroit will be likely to shop their most coveted assets, even if they need bullpen help in the worst way.  So, unless Alderson gets blown away at the deadline, he should keep Parnell and have him be part of the future core make-up of the Mets.

Making sense of the Mets’ closer issues

It was revealed this week that incumbent Mets’ closer Frank Francisco has elbow inflammation and his availability for Opening Day is in doubt. Apparently, Francisco was not able to rehab properly after he had surgery this offseason to remove bone spurs in his elbow because of personal issues.

“So, here we go again!”-says every Mets’ fan nationwide.

That being said, another familiar refrain is being echoed as we begin Spring Training in earnest: “Is this the year Bobby Parnell finally puts it all together?”

While Francisco recovers from his injury, Terry Collins once again has put his trust in Parnell to be his closer of choice. So, again we ask, is this year going to be any different for Parnell? Is he truly ready to put it all together and become a dominant closer?

In defense of Parnell, he did have his best year in 2012 and finished off the season in impressive fashion. Parnell had a career-best 2.49 ERA and struck out 61 batters in 68 innings. Parnell’s 8.0 K/9 rate in 2012 was down from year’s past. However, last year Parnell traded in velocity for better location and because of that approach he enjoyed his best season.  That growth and maturity is a reason why many have pinned high hopes on Parnell this year.

Also available for closing duties in the bullpen is the recently-signed Brandon Lyon. While Lyon is not an overpowering option, his craftiness has come in handy over the years and he has closed games in the past-with 2010 being the last year he closed games (saving 20 games with a 3.12 ERA with the Houston Astros). Overall, Lyon has 79 career saves.

So, will the current instability (at least the questionable health of Francisco) in the pen undermine the Mets’ chances to start out of the gate hot? For a team with many issues, uncertainty at the back end of the bullpen is something the Mets can live without it. On the flip side, it does give  Parnell a great chance to become the closer for good and dump the perpetual “closer of the future” tag.

After the Mets added added Francisco, Jon Rauch and Ramon Ramirez in 2012-which led to uninspiring results-the Mets added Lyon, LaTroy Hawkins and Scott Atchison this season to help reinvigorate the pen. While they can be helpful if they are healthy and on top of their game, the key for the Mets’ bullpen to succeed is for Parnell to step up and take the closer’s role and tackle it by the horns.

If Parnell does as much, it’s one less problem the Mets will have to worry about in 2013.

 

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.

Will Bobby Parnell seize this new opportunity at closing games?

In his first chance at closing a game in the absence of Frank Francisco, Bobby Parnell threw a flawless ninth inning and slammed the door shut, preserving the Mets 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Thursday night and recording his first save of the season.

So the age-old question arises once again. Is Parnell ready for closing duties this time around?

Stop me if you have heard this one before, but Parnell looks like a different pitcher this year. He seems to be trading in speed for better location with his fastball this year while also having trust in all of his pitches. As many have pointed out about him in the past, Parnell usually “throws” more than he “pitches”, but this year he is trying to reverse that sentiment.

So far this year Parnell is 1-1 with a 3.11 ERA. Parnell’s 1.28 WHIP leaves a little to be desired but in 32 innings pitched, Parnell has amassed 31 strikeouts, while issuing only eight walks. While Parnell does allow too many hits, he is not getting burned by the free passes this year. Last year, Parnell’s WHIP was 1.47 and for his career it is a shoddy 1.50, so the 1.28 mark he has this year is sterling in contrast.

For years, the only hurdle for Parnell to get past was the mental aspect of the game. It has been discussed ad nauseam, that once Parnell clears this obstacle of having a closer’s “mentality” then his game will take flight.

Parnell looks to be pitching with a lot more confidence this year and if wasn’t for him this year, then this already dreadful bullpen would be even lousier than they already are. And that is a hard concept to wrap your head around.

With Francisco on the DL, Parnell is about the only trusted arm in the Mets’ bullpen nowadays. With Tim Byrdak being just a lefty specialist (and he’s done a great job of being just that), Parnell has had to carry the load in the middle innings. Ramon Ramirez and Jon Rauch have been busts this season, while guys like Manny Acosta and D.J. Carrasco have been abominations this year.

With Francisco sidelined, and with oblique injuries being tricky to overcome, Parnell may get an extended look at closer as we approach the break. It may be now or never for Parnell to capitalize on his immense potential.

From the first looks of things, Parnell is ready for this latest opportunity. Here’s hoping that Parnell can pounce on this chance and help fortify a flailing bullpen.

If Parnell doesn’t succeed here now, then when will he?

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Bobby Parnell’s ugly outings highlight the need for Mejia in the pen

It was a weekend to forget for most on the Mets and Bobby Parnell is among those who would like to erase the games from both his memory and his stat line. Parnell pitched in the last two games of the series and gave up runs in both outings. His line for the two games: 1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR and a blown save.

The last two games were just a continuation of a recent stretch of poor pitching for Parnell. After starting off the year in dominating fashion, Parnell has hit tough times in his last 12 games. In that span he has a 7.27 ERA and a 1.962 WHIP. Parnell is 0-1 with 3 BS in those 12 games and the team is 5-7. Fortunately for him, Jon Rauch has been even worse which has deflected some negative attention from coming his way.

Parnell is doing what he always does – piling up strikeouts and hits allowed. In this recent stretch he has 9 Ks and 12 H in 8.2 IP. It’s not much different from his hot stretch to start the season, where in 18 IP he had 18 Ks and 20 H. The difference is that Parnell is giving up BB and HR now, too. In his hot stretch, he allowed just 3 BB and 1 HR in 18 IP. But in his last 8.2 IP, he’s surrendered 5 BB and 2 HR.

In his three previous seasons, Parnell has been consistently below average with his HR rate. Starting in 2009, he’s had HR/FB marks of: 7.6, 5.3 and 7.5 percent. After allowing a homer on Sunday, his rate in 2012 checks in at an above-average 13.0 percent. A normalized HR rate gives him an xFIP of 3.16 compared to a 3.71 actual ERA. Then remember that he’s been below average in the category previously and there’s hope that he will soon recover from this rough stretch.

The walks are more of a concern for Parnell going forward. Because he gives up so many hits, Parnell really needs to limit his free passes. In two of the past three years, Parnell’s BB/9 rate has been over 4.0 and the one year it wasn’t – 2010 (2.06 BB/9) – was his best year in the majors, as he posted a 2.83 ERA and a 2.54 xFIP that season.

In his first 20 IP, Parnell had a 1.5 BB/9 and a 2.00 ERA. In his last 8.2 IP, he has a 5.2 BB/9 and a 7.27 ERA.

The overall result in 2012 is a pitcher very similar to the one we saw in 2011, when his performance was one of the main reasons that Sandy Alderson spent most of his money on the bullpen in the offseason. Last year Parnell had a 3.64 ERA and a 1.466 WHIP and this year he has a 3.71 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP.

The Mets could live with this performance if Rauch wasn’t a stiff, Ramon Ramirez wasn’t having his worst year since 2007 and if Tim Byrdak could be effective in stints where he faced more than one batter. The simple truth is that the Mets need Parnell to be the guy he was early in the year so they can have an effective bridge to the ninth inning.

While the 2012 Mets need that from Parnell, it’s far from a sure thing that he can provide that for the team. And that is why the Mets find themselves in the unfortunate position of moving Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen. Despite having a 1.13 ERA in three starts at Triple-A since his promotion, the Mets need Mejia in the bullpen, hopefully as a power arm in the 7th and 8th innings.

Perhaps Mejia can succeed where Acosta, Carrasco, Parnell, Ramirez (both Elvin and Ramon) and Rauch have failed. In the interim, let’s get Pedro Beato in Flushing sooner rather than later.

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.

Bobby Parnell shines on a miserable day for the Mets

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.

Should Bobby Parnell open the year as Triple-A closer?

The Mets spent the majority of their offseason budget bringing in three relievers to shore up the back end of their bullpen. In the imperfect setting of Spring Training, none of the three new relievers has an ERA below 6.00 in Grapefruit League play. Meanwhile, Bobby Parnell, the guy that Sandy Alderson bent over backwards to remove from high-leverage innings, has yet to give up a run in eight games. In 7.1 IP so far this Spring, Parnell has allowed 4 H, 2 BB and has 8 Ks.

Parnell is tantalizing because he can throw 100 mph but it has always been a good news/bad news type of thing. The good news is that his fastball has led to an impressive 8.3 K/9 ratio in his career, including a 9.7 mark last year. The bad news is that when batters make contact, they reach base at a surprisingly high rate. Parnell’s has a .342 BABIP in the majors. Combine that with a 4.0 BB/9 and the result is a ton of baserunners against a guy that seems like he should be a shutdown reliever.

As Parnell has learned, and countless other pitchers before him have found out, there is more to succeeding in the majors than gas. Michael Baron of MetsBlog reports that Parnell “appears to have backed off throwing it as hard as he can and developed better command and control.” Andrew Keh of the New York Times reported that Parnell spent the offseason working on a knuckle-curve and Josh Thole thinks the reliever has “enough of a handle on the pitch now to throw it consistently for strikes.”

So, are these just your typical Spring Training fluff pieces or is Parnell really adding to his repertoire while also sacrificing velocity for command?

Either way, Parnell has gone from a pitcher fighting for a roster spot to one likely to open the season in the majors. The question is if it is better for Parnell (and the Mets) for him to be throwing gas in the sixth or seventh innings in New York or working on getting used to being a closer in the minors.

One of the places where there is still a big disagreement between the stereotypical “scouts” and “stats” camps is with a closer. Those in the latter group believe that any reliever who can pitch successfully in the eighth inning can do the same in the ninth. The former camp believes there is a different skill set required to close out games and not every successful setup man has the right stuff to be a good closer.

Parnell struggled when he was elevated to being a closer last year. In his career as a reliever, Parnell has a 3.22 ERA in the 6th-8th innings while he has a 4.15 ERA in the 9th inning. Of course he has 114.2 IP in innings 6-8 compared to 30.1 IP in the ninth. It seems far from settled if Parnell currently lacks the skills to be a closer or if the results we have seen so far in the ninth inning are merely skewed due to small sample size issues.

What we can say for sure is that of the 23 relievers in MLB history to record 300 Saves, only two had a higher BB/9 than Parnell’s 4.0 career mark – Francisco Cordero at 4.09 and Randy Myers at 4.03. And none of those 23 elite closers came close to Parnell’s .342 BABIP. Only four of the 23 relievers had a mark above .300, with Doug Jones’ .313 BABIP the highest in our sample.

It is my belief that the skill that Parnell needs to develop to be a successful closer is not anything related to pitching in the ninth inning but rather he needs to simply cut down on his baserunners. Even John Franco, who Mets fans will tell you was always pitching out of trouble, had a 3.58 BB/9 and a .297 BABIP. So, if Parnell can shave a half of walk per nine and reduce his BABIP 45 points – he can improve to the point of being a tightrope walker like Franco.

Right now, Parnell simply is not a good enough pitcher to be an elite closer. However, he is a good enough pitcher to be on a major league roster. I believe there’s still room for debate if it is better for Parnell and the Mets whether he begins the year in the majors or the minors. Spring Training fluff pieces or not – Parnell should be working on his command and it would be wonderful if he came up with a solid off-speed pitch to complement his heater.

A strong argument can be made that he’s better off doing these things in Buffalo. The majors is not necessarily the best place to be learning these types of things. But in my mind, the benefit of having Parnell in Triple-A is to get him away from the bright lights of New York City to work on these necessary improvements – not so that he can pitch the ninth inning of games.

Some may view this as a “Chicken and the Egg” scenario, that Parnell’s lack of closing experience leads to his baserunners and the only way to fix the latter is to get the former. But if we remove Parnell’s ninth inning performances, we see he still has a 1.494 career WHIP. None of the 22 relievers last year that saved 25 or more games had a WHIP that high and 20 of those pitchers had a WHIP of 1.276 or lower.

My preference is to see Parnell pitch in the majors rather than the minors. Then we can see if he really is trading speed for accuracy and if his knuckle-curve is a legitimate major league pitch. My concern is that if he goes to the minors, he could be succeeding due to his current ability and not because he is incorporating these very necessary changes.

I would rather see Parnell succeed in the seventh inning in Citi Field than the ninth inning in Triple-A. I think getting major league hitters out is more important than racking up saves in the minors. 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.

Bobby Parnell: He is who we thought he was

Bobby Parnell came on in the ninth inning yesterday with a 4-3 lead after the Mets put up four runs in the bottom of the eighth. A leadoff error by David Wright led to two unearned runs and a crushing 5-4 loss. It was the third blown save this month in seven games for Parnell. By contrast, Francisco Rodriguez was 26-for-29 in save opportunities before being dealt to the Brewers.

Rodriguez was an established closer while Parnell is getting on-the-job training so perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two players in this regard. What is fair is to ask if the Mets are expecting too much from their young fireballing reliever. When Rodriguez left, Jason Isringhausen was used as the closer until he recorded his 300th career save in the third week of August. Then Parnell took over the role.

Here’s how Parnell’s done in save situations since taking over as the closer:

8/24 – Started ninth inning with 3-run lead and picked up the save.
8/29 (G1) – Started ninth inning with 2-run lead. Allowed a run but picked up the save.
8/31 – Started ninth inning with a 1-run lead and picked up the save.
9/1 – Entered with two outs and a three-run lead, allowed inherited runner to score but picked up save.
9/3 – Started ninth with 1-run lead, allowed two runs to pick up blown save and loss
9/4 – Started ninth with 3-run lead and picked up the save.
9/6 – Started ninth with 2-run lead, allowed two runs and picked up a blown save.
9/10 – Stared ninth with 1-run lead, allowed two unearned runs for blown save and loss.

When Parnell entered the game with a 3-run lead, he is 3-for-3 in save opportunities. When he enters with a 2-run lead, he’s 1-for-2 in save opportunities. When he enters with a 1-run lead, he’s 1-for-3 in save opportunities with two losses.

For whatever reason – and you can certainly say small sample size – Parnell’s struggles have increased in direct proportion to how difficult the save chance is. In hindsight, perhaps Parnell should have been given the chance to get some 3-run saves under his belt before taking over the full-time responsibilities of closer. Maybe more of an extended breaking-in process in the closer’s role would have been beneficial.

However, that is pure speculation. Instead, let’s look for a more objective view of Parnell’s season. Because he throws 100 mph, Parnell seems like a closer waiting to happen. But results matter more than pure velocity and for the most part what Parnell has achieved in 2011 is right in line with what we should expect given his history in the majors.

Coming into the year, Parnell had 128.1 IP in the majors, with all but five of those coming in the 2009-10 seasons. So far in 2011, he has 51.1 IP or a little less than half of what he had done previously. Let’s compare what Parnell has done this year versus what his career numbers are, to see if he is significantly under or over-achieving in any category.

2011 Lifetime
K/9 9.99 8.37
BB/9 4.38 4.06
HR/9 0.70 065
BABIP .351 .342
LOB% 70.2 69.4
GB% 50.7 49.6
HR/FB 8.5 7.4
ERA 4.21 4.51
FIP 3.39 3.61
xFIP 3.52 3.92

There’s virtually no category where you could say Parnell was underperforming this year. His walks are up a non-trivial amount from his career average but that has more to do with an outlier performance last year in the category, where he allowed 2.06 BB/9. In the minor leagues, Parnell has a career 3.9 BB/9 and in his time in the majors excluding 2010, he has a 4.54 BB/9. His HR/FB rate is up but still comfortably below what we consider normal in the category.

The one thing that does jump out is his strikeout rate but his performance in 2011 is better than what we would normally expect. However, I don’t think we should be too surprised that a young pitcher who lights up the radar gun has a high K/9 rate.

Essentially, Parnell in 2011 is exactly who we (and by that I mean anyone who examines his career record in the majors) thought he was. Yes, he throws really hard and strikes out a bunch of guys. But he also has poor control and is very hittable when batters make contact.

One thing that is disturbing is that 2011 is shaping up as the third straight year where Parnell has posted an ERA higher than his FIP or xFIP. For a comparison, Mariano Rivera has had an ERA below the estimators in nine of the 10 years for which we have data and the year where he didn’t, his ERA was 3.15 compared to a 2.92 xFIP.

Again, perhaps it’s not fair to compare Parnell to the greatest short-inning reliever in history. Instead, let’s compare him to another hard thrower – Kyle Farnsworth. Much like Parnell, Farnsworth is another guy who lights up the radar gun and is a player that everyone looks at like a guy born to be a closer. Five times in his career his average fastball velocity was at 96 or above.

Farnsworth posted an ERA lower than his estimators just one time in the first eight years for which we have data. However, Farnsworth’s ERA was 3.34 last year compared to a 3.49 xFIP and so far this year he has a 2.32 ERA and a 3.27 xFIP. At age 35, Farnsworth has finally reached the 20-save plateau in his career in 2011.

Yes, ERA and Saves are not the best ways to measure a reliever. But we already looked at Parnell’s peripherals earlier. Either way, the result is the same. No matter how much we may want Parnell to be a closer, his overall body of work suggests he’s not good enough for the role right now. At 26, Parnell still has plenty of time to grow into being a solid closer. But we should expect the transition to take quite some time, perhaps even years.

Everyone wants a shut-down closer, one guy who can come in and record a 40-save season. But assuming the Mets don’t spend money on a free agent closer in the offseason, which certainly seems like a logical assumption, then perhaps the best thing for the 2012 Mets would be to have co-closers.

Isringhausen is mulling a return for 2012 and if he does come back then he would seem to be an ideal guy to share closing duties with Parnell. Isringhausen gets the 1 and 2-run saves while Parnell gets the 3-run saves and whatever other save opportunities arise on days when Isringhausen is unavailable.

This plan puts Parnell in the best position to succeed. And from what we saw of Isringhausen this year, he either has it or he doesn’t – so it should make little difference to him that he ends up with the toughest of the save opportunities. An Isringhausen-Parnell closer combo is far from ideal, but it may be the best thing for the cash-strapped Mets, in addition to being the best thing for Parnell.

Could Manny Acosta be Mets’ 2012 closer?

Shudder to just think of it a couple of months ago. After a horrible start,  Manny Acosta has been lights out lately.  Which begs the question: Can Acosta assume the role of closer for the 2012 Mets?

It goes without saying that Acosta has thoroughly been the Mets most consistent and reliable arm out of the bullpen for the better part of two months. In his last 29 outings (consisting of 29.2 innings) Acosta has only surrendered six runs (four earned) on 23 hits. In that span, Acosta also has an amazing 34 strikeouts to just seven walks allowed.

Clearly, Acosta is on top of his game. He has harnessed his stuff quite nicely and is commanding the strike zone like no other time in his time with the Mets. Acosta is just brimming with confidence.

In his first attempt as closer on Wednesday, Acosta came in with a 1-0 lead and made quick work of the Marlins, striking out two batters while hardly breaking a sweat.

Again, it begs the question, can Acosta really be the Mets closer in 2012?

Most will scoff at the notion, but can anyone really be satisfied with Bobby Parnell’s audition? Parnell, has and will be given every opportunity to cement his status as the Mets closer of the future. But the more and more we see Parnell struggle, one might be inclined to think that he just may not have the mental toughness to handle this job.

Sure, Acosta, in his two years with the Mets, has sporadically shown flashes of brilliance, but more times than not he has left Mets’ fans disappointed. I would be hard-pressed to argue with that notion.

However, maybe just maybe Acosta has figured how to trust his fastball and his secondary pitches enough that he now ‘gets’ it. Acosta’s poise and presence on the mound these days is very calming. Acosta hardly gets rattled and is now thriving in high leverage situations.

For a closer to be successful, one must have a great ability to make batters swing and miss, which Acosta has done in spades in the last two-plus months.

Acosta is no over-the-hill pitcher either. At age 30, he has plenty of gas in the tank. And with the Mets in a cost-cutting budget mode, the arbitration eligible Acosta will be quite the cheap investment.

Don’t expect Sandy Alderson to go spending any money on a closer, especially after fighting tooth and nail to free himself from a crippling contract that ex-closer Francisco Rodriguez was entitled too.

So, the quest to become the 2012 Mets closer will likely come down to Acosta and Parnell. While Jason Isringhausen has made for a good story, he will not be the closer for the Mets next year (or any team for that matter). Another option could be Pedro Beato. However, Beato has hit a wall and is just now coming out of his funk. It’s doubtful that the Mets will entrust Beato with that kind of pressure, at least not initially.

Parnell has to figure this game out and do it fast. His chances of being a major league closer are becoming slimmer and slimmer with each blown save (having blown four in nine chances).

Parnell may be the natural choice for closer. Acosta might just be the better choice.

Mets Notes: Acosta v. Parnell, Pagan’s 2012 status and Duda magic

Manny Acosta pitched two scoreless innings last night and struck out five of the seven batters he faced. After giving up 9 ER in his first 7.1 IP with the Mets this year, Acosta has allowed just 4 ER in his last 27.2 IP. He has a 1.30 ERA in that stretch with 7 BB and 31 Ks. Manager Terry Collins has finally allowed Acosta to pitch more meaningful innings but that seemingly has more to do with the implosion of other relievers than the success Acosta has achieved.

The Mets continue to give Bobby Parnell every chance to be a successful late-inning reliever despite a track record no better than Acosta’s. Parnell was gifted the eighth-inning role out of Spring Training this year while Acosta was exposed to waivers. Both pitched well in 2010 for the Mets but Acosta had a 1.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in ST while Parnell had a 4.09 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Parnell blew the save in last night’s game and picked up the loss. He has a 4.18 ERA on the year with a 1.54 WHIP. But because he can throw the ball 100 mph he gets every chance to perform in key situations. Acosta cannot reach triple-digits with his fastball, but with an average fastball velocity of 94.4 and a K/9 of 9.0 this year, it’s not like Acosta has anything for which to apologize.

In the last two seasons, here’s how Acosta and Parnell have produced for the Mets:

IP ERA WHIP K/9 HR BB K
Manny Acosta 74.2 3.13 1.232 9.3 10 28 77
Bobby Parnell 82.1 3.61 1.482 9.4 5 29 86

When he was struggling earlier this season, Acosta allowed 4 HR in his first 7.1 IP. He definitely has some gopher-ball tendencies, but even with that, he still has a better ERA than Parnell. It’s time for Mets fans to embrace Acosta and it’s time for management to make sure he is on the 2012 team. While he did not come up through the farm system like Parnell did (and is four years older, too), Acosta has earned the right to be used regularly in key situations.

HAS ANGEL EARNED HIS WINGS?: There has been a lot of speculation that the Mets will look to save money by non-tendering Angel Pagan in the offseason. Mets fans had high hopes for Pagan coming into the season and quite frankly he has not reached expectations. However, in his last 165 PA, Pagan has a .299/.323/.433 line. A .756 OPS would put him comfortably in the middle of the pack among full-time center fielders.

But it’s not his offense that may lead to the end of his Mets career. Baseball-Reference shows Pagan with a -0.9 dWAR this year. FanGraphs shows his RZR of .917 as ranking 15th among 20 full-time CF and his -17.8 UZR/150 ranks dead last. The Mets are 47-55 when Pagan starts in CF and are 16-9 when Jason Pridie starts there, despite Pridie’s inferior offensive numbers.

It should be pointed out that Pridie’s starts came while the team had Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the lineup and the Mets were playing their best ball of the season. But that does not take away from the fact that Pagan has had a poor defensive season. Under previous management, Pagan might be a cinch to return in 2012. But under Sandy Alderson, no one should take that for a given.

R.A. ROLLS ON: The Mets started R.A. Dickey on short rest Friday night and he responded with a Quality Start and picked up the win. It was the second straight victory for Dickey and the first time all year he had won consecutive decisions, much less back-to-back starts. Wins have been hard to come by for Dickey this season. After a rough beginning of the year, he has a 3.01 ERA in his last 20 starts but is just 6-6 in that span.

HOME SWEET HOME?: Of the remaining 25 games in the season, the Mets play 15 home games. For most teams that would be a welcome schedule; however, the 2011 Mets have played better on the road. This year they have a 37-34 road record, tied with the Diamondbacks for the fourth-best away record. But at Citi Field the Mets are 30-36, which ranks 13th in the 16-team NL. Last year the Mets were 47-34 at home and 32-49 on the road.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Lucas Duda’s RBI single in the seventh inning snapped a 2–2 tie and plated the decisive run in the Mets’ 3–2 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night. Duda had a .517 batting average from the seventh inning on in August, recording 15 hits in 29 late-inning at-bats and driving in 13 runs. That was the most late-inning RBIs for any major-league player in August and the only major-league player with a higher late-inning batting average in the month (minimum: 25 plate appearances) was Casey Kotchman (16 for 30, .533).