Before you laugh and dismiss the idea that Bobby Parnell could finally put it all together this season, just hear me out. I’ve been watching the same Parnell that you have over the past few years, the wildly inconsistent flamethrower who’s always seemed to be trying to throw the ball through a brick wall. He got his chance to be the closer last year, and he — ahem — blew it. Now, though, it’s Bobby’s time.
I’m usually not in the business of making predictions, but here goes nothing: Bobby Parnell is going to have a breakout 2012 season. Here’s why:
1. His new curves: A slower pitch is exactly what Bobby Parnell has been lacking early in his career, and now he’s got one. Jason Isringhausen taught Parnell how to throw the curve last season, and Parnell has recently figured out how to use it. His fastball, splitter and slider all come in at 90+ mph, and since Parnell doesn’t have pinpoint location — to say the least — those three pitches haven’t cut it. Parnell needs to keep hitters off-balance, even if he is capable of hitting triple digits on the radar gun. Now hitters will know there’s a chance Bobby could drop the hammer, making his fastball appear even faster, and making his pitches much more difficult to square up.
2. No pressure: Depth isn’t exactly the 2012 Mets’ strong suit, but they do have plenty of potential closers. Coming into Spring Training, the options were Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez and Parnell — in that order. That certainly doesn’t bode well for Parnell’s ninth-inning chances, but it does is allow him to begin the season in a lower-pressure role, as Sandy Alderson recently pointed out. Parnell can build up his confidence in the sixth and seventh innings early in the season, when the fate of the team is not so squarely on his shoulders. Then, when it appears he’s found a rhythm, he can move into the later innings. The guys currently ahead of him in the pen are hardly Mariano Rivera, or even Francisco Rodriguez, so he should get his chance when he’s ready.
3. He gets it: Parnell admitted that he’s spent the last few years simply “throwing the s— out of the ball.” I could have told him that, but the fact that he’s acknowledged it is a huge step. “I’m a pitcher now instead of a thrower,” Parnell said. We’ve been waiting four years for him to make that transition. Now, at 27, it appears he’s matured. Parnell might finally have the poise and understanding of the game to make the most of his golden arm.
4. It’s working: He’s not just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk — and, at the same time, hardly walking anyone. Parnell hasn’t allowed a run in 9.1 innings this spring, and he’s only surrendered two free passes — about twice as good as his career BB/9 rate. While we all know not to put too much stock in spring numbers, and have seen Bobby go through impressive stretches before, he seems to have a much better gameplan than in the past, and is locating his pitches well.
Parnell looks ready to break out, and I have a hunch his success will continue when the games start to matter. For the sake of all Met fans, I hope he doesn’t prove me wrong.