Last night, Bobby Parnell made his first major league start for the New York Mets against the San Diego Padres. A young, tall, hard-tossing righty who came up the minor league track as a starter before moving to the pen in the majors last year, Parnell got the nod while starting in place of an injured Jon Niese. Here was his line for the night:
2 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K
Not pretty, especially since Parnell threw 68 pitches. The Mets claimed that they were pretty desperate for starting pitching given that three of their regular rotation guys (John Maine, Fernando Nieve, and Niese) are currently on the disabled list, and that they were going to see if Parnell had what it takes to be a major league starting pitcher. The problem is that Parnell hasn’t shown enough in the major leagues to have deserved a start.
Full disclosure: I’m a Mets fan who has watched nearly every game of the season (you can send Advil, alcohol, and a “So Sorry” wreath to my house anytime). While Parnell has put up some respectable numbers, they are, for the most part, superficial. After last night’s start, Parnell has a respectable 3.94 ERA while striking out 7.31 batters per nine innings. However, his peripherals leave a lot to be desired. He’s walked 27 batters in 48 innings (along with three hit by pitches). His FIP of 3.74 looks nice, but as Shawn Hoffman reminded us this past week, it is much better to look at xFIP, readily available here at The Hardball Times, because homerun rates tend to stabilize. Parnell has a 4.85 xFIP on the season thanks in part to giving up just two dingers on the year. He also has left 74.8% of runners on base, exponentially helping keep his ERA down. I’m guessing ZiPS is aware of this, because they have him on pace for a 5.06 ERA for the rest of the season, even though his BABIP (.355) would suggest he’s been relatively unlucky.
Parnell’s minor league career indicated he could be a starting pitcher (92 career starts), but he never had all that much success on the farm. His best year in Double-A was last season, where he had a 4.30 ERA. However, neither his 4.68 FIP nor his tRA+ of 90 were all that impressive for a 23 year-old. On a more nuanced level, Parnell has clearly had problems with control. He repeatedly gets behind in the count, making his HR/FB rate of 3.4% all the more impressive. Fangraphs also has him throwing 79.5% fastballs and 16.5% sliders, and it is extremely hard to be an effective starting pitcher when you basically throw just two pitches. And when you are wild as well, it makes for a terrible combo.
However, I by no means do I think Parnell is a bad pitcher. Back in June, he told ESPN the following:
“I’m still working on controlling my changeup and making my slider more consistent…but everything is about staying ahead of hitters and getting in good counts, so as long as I do that, I think I’ll be fine.”
Unfortunately, he hasn’t done either thus far, throwing his changeup 2.9% of the time and walking too many batters. However, his fastball has reached 100 MPH this year (according to the gun at Fenway) and his slider has been filthy. His stuff is great, and for a 24 year-old reliever who throws hard command is usually an issue. If he can work on throwing strikes and his off-speed stuff more effectively he can have a nice career as a reliever in the big leagues. But he just doesn’t seem to have the stuff to be a successful starting pitcher, and the Mets should really know better.