On the surface, Bobby Parnell as a closer makes perfect sense. The New York Mets reliever has a fastball that averages 97.1 MHP, and often touches over 100. The righty also throws a slider (87.7 MPH), and on occasion, a change-up (91.2 MPH). Parnell’s 11.12 K/9 more than illustrates his prime ability to sit-down hitters too. However, his 4.31 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 10.4 Hits/9, and 3.9 BB/9 suggest he would be more of a migraine than anything else–especially, a closer.
It’s possible some of Parnell’s struggles are a result of the cards he’s been dealt. As an extreme groundball pitcher, Parnell doesn’t appear to receive a ton of help from the Mets defense. The righty owns a great 49.5% groundball rate, yet his .381 BABIP means too many of those grounders are resulting in hits. Even though Parnell’s BABIP is extremely high, one has to consider that his career BABIP is .348. So maybe the Mets fielders shouldn’t shoulder all, or even most the blame.
In addition to giving-up too many hits (10.4 Hits/9), Parnell also sports a un-closer-like 4.31 ERA. Then again, the reliever’s 3.07 xFIP suggests his ERA is a bit inflated. Contrasting surface and peripheral run-measurements aside, it’s important to note how Parnell has performed month-to-month. His sparking June (1.50 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB) doesn’t quite hide the rest of his abysmal months in 2011. Parnell’s April (6.14 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 2.20 K/BB), July (4.97 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 3.75 K/BB), and August (6.43 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB) don’t indicate how inconsistent he is, but rather, how consistently mediocre he might be.
Another closer realm Parnell toils with is the “clutch” factor. In terms of “clutchness,” Parnell has found it difficult to find much-needed outs. The hard-thrower has struggled with men on-base (.299/.378/.356 line) and with runners in scoring position (.300/.373/.367 line). The fact that runners are sure to cross home-plate if and when they reach base, certainly doesn’t bode well for a pitcher who is supposed to save the game–not cough it up.
If anything, Parnell’s possible mediocrity is perfectly illustrated by his blazing, albeit extremely straight fastball. No one will argue Parnell’s heater consistently clocks above most other pitcher’s fastballs, but Parnell’s has only been worth -1.0 runs above average this season. In fact, Parnell’s fastball is ranked the 15th worst in terms of runs above average among relievers in the National League. Considering Parnell throws his fastball 73.7% of the time, his hittability can’t really be blamed on the Mets defense. In addition, when he’s not throwing his substandard fastball, his secondary and tertiary pitches aren’t particularly effective either (slider is worth 2.1 runs above average and change-up is worth -0.6 runs above average). It almost doesn’t matter if the guy has three pitches if only one of them is mildly effective (his slider), and he doesn’t even throw it the majority of the time (25.6%).
Given the recent news about the Mets turning to Parnell (now that Jason Isringhausen collected his 300th save), the Parnell era has more or less began. This last chunk of the 2011 season will surely serve as the basis for whether Sandy Alderson hands Parnell the closing job in 2012, or finds a more experienced replacement via free agency or trade. It’s only natural for Mets fans to want their next closer to be from within the farm, but Bobby Parnell might have too many hurdles to clear in order to ever become a reliable late-inning arm.