>Do you know who pitched the fifth-most innings for the 2009 Mets? I’ll give you the first four and then see if you can get #5:
Tom Seaver – 273.1 IP
Jerry Koosman – 241 IP
Gary Gentry – 233.2 IP
Don Cardwell – 152.1 IP – hey wait, this isn’t right. These are the 1969 Mets. Sorry about that. Fast-forward to 2009:
Mike Pelfrey – 184.1 IP
Johan Santana – 166.2 IP
Livan Hernandez – 135 IP
Tim Redding – 122 IP
This mystery pitcher threw 88.1 innings, during which he struck out 74 batters, walked 46, surrendered 101 hits and 8 home runs.
He went 4-8 with a 5.30 ERA, partially because suffered from a .347 BABIP, but also because he walked 4.69 batters per nine innings. Combine both and you get a lot of baserunners, and thus a lot of runs surrendered.
The average velocity of this pitcher’s fastball was 94.6 MPH, 17th fastest in the National League (min. 40IP), second fastest on the Mets behind Brian Stokes. (Hint: this means that the mystery pitcher isn’t Brian Stokes.)
If you haven’t guessed by now, the “mystery pitcher” is Bobby Parnell, who spent more time on the mound for the Mets in 2009 than any of John Maine, Oliver Perez, Jon Niese, Frankie Rodriguez, Nelson Figueroa, or Pedro Feliciano.
I want to bring up Bobby Parnell because the Mets have yet to sign any starting pitchers this offseason – unless you want to count former SP Kelvim Escobar, who the Mets claim will be used in a set-up role. Should the Mets not sign another starter – unlikely, but possible – the Mets rotation, as currently constructed, looks like this:
Johan Santana – The Ace
Mike Pelfrey – The 7 of Clubs
John Maine – The 7 of Diamonds
Jon Niese – The Wild Card
Oliver Perez – Rules to Draw Poker.
Four of these five pitchers are coming off injury-plagued seasons, and two of them, Maine and Santana, are coming back from arm injuries. Mike Pelfrey, though seemingly ineffective, was more a victim of the Mets poor infield defense – Castillo is probably the worst defensive second basemen in baseball, the usually steady Wright was the worst defensive third baseman in 2009, and none of Alex Cora/Ramon Martinez/Anderson Hernandez are shortstops – than his own pitching abilities. However, I also don’t think he can be called a known quantity; Pelfrey is especially susceptible to the quality of his defense because he doesn’t strike out many hitters. So, whether or not you want to count big Pelf, the projected 2010 Mets starting rotation has four or five question marks instead of four or five reliable pitchers.
But maybe everyone stays healthy for the Mets. Maybe Maine and Perez regain their 2007 forms, Niese turns out to be a big league starter, Santana’s elbow doesn’t explode, and Mike Pelfrey has a big year after Luis Castillo wins the lottery and retires – or maybe none of that happens. The Mets are thin in starting pitcher depth (surprise), with their top prospects only reaching the AA level in 2009. Should a starting pitcher get injured – and due to the fact that the human body really isn’t designed to throw a baseball at maximum effort thousands of times over the course of six months, this is very likely – Bobby Parnell is high on the Mets depth chart. On one hand, the Mets appear disinclined to go back to Parnell after he failed to impress during “True Life: I Want to be a Mets Starting Pitcher”, but on the other hand, who else is there? Nelson Figueroa? Then who? Parnell is at least #6 or #7 on the Mets current starting pitching depth chart.
So how would Parnell perform as a full time ML starter in 2010, however unlikely or likely that might be? I don’t think Met fans need to look that far to find a comparable player: Bobby Parnell and Mike Pelfrey are fairly similar pitchers. There are a couple of obvious differences: Pelfrey is physically much bigger (6-7, 230lb to Parnell’s 6-4, 200lb) and has the mega-Scott-Boras-prospect aura surrounding him. Pelfrey walks fewer batters (3.40 career BB/9 to 4.63), but Parnell strikes out more (7.43 career K/9 to 5.13) – because Parnell is a much harder thrower than Pelfrey.
Now for the similarities. All of these are career numbers:
Both Pelf and Parn are one-pitch pitchers: while most pitchers throw their fastballs 60% of the time, Pelfrey and Parnell rely on theirs about 75% of the time. Neither has strong secondary pitches. They have similar Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers because their K/BB and HR/9, the components of FIP, are nearly identical; Parnell has a much lower tRA because of his suppressed line drive rate (16.2%). Both pitchers trend towards being ground ball pitchers, thus their 2009 ERA’s were much higher than their FIP’s in part because of the Mets’ infield defense. You know how NFL quarterbacks buy each one of their offensive linemen a gift, something nice like a watch, at the end of the year to say “thanks for having my back, big guy”? Ground ball pitchers Pelfrey, Parnell, and Sean Green should have gotten together and egged David Wright and Luis Castillo’s cars. Pelfrey and Parnell were both somewhat unlucky in 2009 – expect their ERA’s to improve in 2010, especially if the Mets can dump the “Range-less Wonder of the NL East”, Luis Castillo.
Outside of getting a better defense behind him, Bobby Parnell can find success in the Majors by lowering his walk rate – 4.63 BB/9 is a lot of free passes. His minor league walk rate is about a full BB/9 lower – right around the major league average – so there is hope for Parnell. Outside of the walks though, I don’t see anything else holding Parnell back from being a successful major league pitcher. Despite pitching with basically just a fastball, Parnell’s strikeouts are higher than the major league average. Strikeouts are the best indicator of future major league success – so looking at Parnell and Pelfrey through just the window of strikeouts, there could be more hope for Parnell than there is for Pelfrey. Above average strikeouts and home run rate plus average walk equals an above average pitcher, and I think Parnell is capable of doing all those things.
Most of the time the Parnell in the rotation experiment looked terrible – but look at Mike Pelfrey’s starts in 2006 and 2007. You see a lot of the same things – 4/5/6 inning starts, 4 or 5 runs, an ERA around 5.50. Whatever it is one-pitch starters need to do to stay in games longer, Pelfrey seems to have figured it out and Parnell has not. Outside of that, Pelfrey and Parnell put up almost identical peripherals – granted, Pelfrey has done so in almost 500 major league innings and Parnell in around 90, making Pelfrey a more known quality, but they are otherwise similar. Excluding height and the prospect tag, I don’t see much separating Bobby Parnell and Mike Pelfrey.
Bobby Parnell image from here: