2011 Season In Review: Bobby Parnell

The New York Mets as a whole went 77-85 in 2011. As suggested by the sub-par record, there were a fair share of ups and downs throughout the season. “2011 Season in Review,” which will be an on-going series, will analysis every single Mets player that picked up a ball or glove in 2011, for better or worse. This particular “2011 Season in Review” will take a look at reliever Bobby Parnell.

In his third full big-league season, Bobby Parnell had Mets fans asking the age-old question: Shouldn’t anyone who throws 100 mph be able to be a major league closer?  While the jury is still out on Parnell, he continues to prove that it’s not that easy.

Coming into the year, there was reason to believe Parnell, 27, was well on his way.  In 41 appearances in 2010, he had compiled a 2.83 ERA, struck out nearly a batter per inning, walked just eight batters and allowed one home run.  He had hit 102.5 mph in August.  His year was cut a bit short due to elbow inflammation, but he began 2011 healthy.  We all knew Sandy Alderson would try to get rid of closer Francisco Rodriguez and his vesting option before the trade deadline, and we all wondered if the flame-throwing North Carolina native was next in line.

Bobby P’s candidacy got off to a rocky start.  In 7.1 innings in April, he fanned 11 but also walked five, gave up two home runs, had a 6.14 ERA and allowed all five of his inherited runners to score. On April 21, we learned that Parnell was suffering from blood clotting in his throwing hand, and he was placed on the DL.  (That same day, Angel Pagan went on the DL with a strained oblique, Jason Bay came off the DL, and Jason Pridie was called up.)

Parnell spent May 11 to May 29 at AAA Buffalo before returning to action on May 31.  In June, he was impressive.  Highlights included striking out five Atlanta Braves in two scoreless innings on June 15, and, in a June 29 appearance, reaching 100, 101, 103, 103, 102 and 102 on consecutive pitches to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.  He continued his success in early July, and heading into the All-Star break he had lowered his ERA to 2.92.  He struck out at least one batter in 12 straight July appearances.  And yet, alarmingly, he allowed two or more hits in five of those 12 outings.  In 24.2 innings before the break, he struck out 1.25 batters per inning, but his WHIP was 1.34.

Then, on July 13, K-Rod was traded to the Brewers.  Many speculated that Parnell would immediately become the new closer.  Not so fast, said manager Terry Collins.  Jason Isringhausen, who is older than Parnell by 12 years and a day, got the nod and earned five saves and a win in his first six outings in the role.

Meanwhile, Parnell confirmed Collins’ decision, struggling mightily from July 20 to August 15.  In that span, Parnell pitched 13 innings, and compiled these ugly figures: 11 ER, 20 H, 7 BB, 3 losses — and of course, 16 K’s.  And yet, strangely, on August 15 —  a day in which Parnell blew a save before Isringhausen recorded his career 300th — Collins chose to announce that the closer job was soon to be Parnell’s.

After a few scoreless 8th innings, Parnell recorded his first save of the year on August 24, and proceeded to convert his next three save opportunities.  But he faltered in early September, blowing three saves and getting tagged with two losses.

The roller coaster ride ended on a high note, as Parnell finished the year with 11 straight scoreless appearances.  His final 2011 line: 59.1 innings, 3.64 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 64 K, 27 BB, 4 HR, 6 SV, 6 blown saves.

The ERA, WHIP, and blown saves are disconcerting.  In a way, we are left feeling the same way about Bobby as we did a year ago — we know his golden arm alone can only take him so far, and we are unsure if he’ll ever put it all together.  A year later, that means Parnell is running out of time.

In the last couple days, there have been reports that the Mets will seek a closer on the free-agent market this winter.  (Options include Heath Bell, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Ryan Madson, and maybe — but probably not — K-Rod.)

If Parnell is the Mets’ closer of the future, he has yet to show it.

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