“You used to be Mel Clark.”
“Yeah. I used to be.”
The curiously abstruse case of Manny Parra can be summarized by the above quote from J.P. and Mel Clark in the movie Angels in the Outfield, except for one looming technicality: Manny Parra never really was Manny Parra.
Once ranked the as the 32nd top prospect in all of baseball and the owner of a perfect game with AAA Nashville Sounds, Parra’s upside was immense. He and his right-handed counterpart Yovani Gallardo projected to create a formidable 1-2 punch at the head of Milwaukee’s rotation for years.
In his first Major League season, Parra, 29, found relative success as a double digit game winner. His era and FIP were both respectable, coming in at 4.39 and 4.16, respectively. In only 29 starts, Parra posted a 2.3 WAR, signifying he was more valuable than the average player, even as a rookie. The Brewers made the Playoffs and Parra’s future looked bright.
Then the calendar flipped to 2009.
A 6.36 era a horrid 1.829 WHIP, and an era+ of 65 (100 is the MLB average for era+, to put it in perspective) punctuated the nightmare that was 2009 for Parra. In 2010, then-manager Ken Macha responded to the calls of many and most Brewers fans by moving Parra to the bullpen, only for the once-prized prospect to implode there as well. He, once again, struggled mightily with command. His BB/9 rate was 4.65 and he threw 14 wild pitches, only two seasons removed from his league-leading total of 17. Parra somehow managed to start 16 games for a team with an abysmal rotation, posting a 5.02 era and a 3-10 record.
Needless to say, Manny Parra’s time as a starter is over. He is out of Minor League options after rehabbing from elbow surgery in 2011. The southpaw is expected to make the roster as a member of the bullpen, quite possibly being the only lefty in the ‘pen.
Parra has the pitches that could make him successful in the bullpen. As a starter, the first time through the order wasn’t Parra’s demise; his struggles with command and hitters’ adjustments are what has led to a career 5.16 and 8.63 era in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively. In 36 career games as a reliever, Parra holds a 3.19 era, showing he can be effective when used properly.
And when I say “properly”, I mean it. Parra’s struggles come when he walks batters and gets behind, disallowing him from using his nasty splitter. A career 4.50 BB/9 rate shows that, on average, Parra will walk at least one batter every two innings. And in baseball, you play the averages, sticking to a sabermetric principle. Even if he throws a scoreless sixth inning doesn’t mean he will repeat his success in the seventh. When Parra gets behind, he is forced to throw his fastball, with which he has a career wFB of -75.2. I repeat: negative seventy-five point two.
Unless Parra finds some form of a divine afflatus, his proper use will be as a one-inning reliever, at the most. His splitter in the low-90’s
is his “strikeout pitch” and the key to most of his success. The goal of the splitter, however, isn’t meant to be thrown for a strike. When he can’t get ahead with his fastball, curve, or changeup, Parra finds himself in trouble more times than not.
But as a reliever, he only sees a handful of batters and can show the hitter any one of his pitches at any given time, thus placing Parra at an advantage. With two strikes on them, batters hit well under .200 against Parra and his splitter.
By looking at Parra’s career BABIP, there are signals that he may have been more unlucky than other pitchers in the past. He has a career BABIP of .336, compared to a league average around .297 over the past few years. A high BABIP also shows too much of a reliance on the strikeout, as Parra has a career K/9 rate of 8.28
If effective as a “when-needed” bullpen arm, Parra can eventually work his way into a meaningful role.
2012 RtB Predictions: 41 G, 50 IP, 2-4, 4.05 era, .286 BABIP, no perfect games