Mike analyzes the fallout of the K-Rod trade and the messy situation in Cincinnati.
When I realized my column this week landed on the final day of the All-Star break, my first thought was, “Hooray! No worrying that some closer will get bombed or hurt out in Seattle or San Diego at 2am ET, long after I’ve submitted the article.” That was quickly followed by, “Argh, there probably won’t be much news after four days of inactivity.” Well, so much for that, because the news of Francisco Rodriguez’ trade to Milwaukee was a bombshell. Neither Rodriguez nor John Axford are eligible for inclusion here since they’re owned in nearly every league, but I’ll still weigh in with my two cents: unless Brewers GM Doug Melvin has completely lost his mind, Axford should still be the closer. He’s simply been a better pitcher, and the Brewers won’t want to be on the hook for the $17.5m option Rodriguez will be in line for if he closes enough games.
Pitchers have gotten bent, causing hitters to complain about too much tail.
NEW YORK—Mets manager Terry Collins caught a glimpse of the evolution in relief pitcher Bobby Parnell.
It happened sometime last year when both were at Triple-A Buffalo, Collins as the team's minor league field coordinator, and Parnell as the ninth-round draft pick with a fastball that routinely tickles the triple digits. Collins had seen the flame-throwing type before, although during his time in the game, they have become much more common.
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The Mets' fireballing setup man can hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but it's his improved slider that he hopes will give him an unstoppable arsenal.
When your fastball has been clocked as high as 102.5 mph, you don’t necessarily need a plus secondary pitch. Much to the chagrin of National League hitters, Bobby Parnell has one, and it is getting better. The Mets closer-in-waiting has been fine-tuning his slider, and the offering may be what takes him from overpowering to almost unhittable.
The 26-year-old right-hander was already no fun to face in 2010, as he logged an 8.4 K/9 and an even more impressive 4.1 K/BB out of the New York bullpen. Despite an abnormally high .374 BABIP, his ERA was a strong 2.83. He promises to be an even bigger challenge for hitters this year with an improved slider augmenting his heater.
Better and Better
“His breaking ball is getting better, as I think everybody will see,” said Josh Thole, who has established himself as the Mets' primary catcher. “Toward the end of last year he started becoming more aggressive with it, and this year I feel he’s refined it a little bit. You can see how it has improved.
“He gets good action on his slider, down and in to lefties,” continued Thole. “He can use it as his put-away pitch. When you throw that hard, having a put-away pitch that you can bury in the ground and get some swings and misses—it’s a great thing to have in your repertoire.”
According to Mets skipper Terry Collins, the pitch could be a difference maker for the hard-throwing right-hander.
“He’s got one of those special arms where late in the game he can do some damage,” said Collins. “But he doesn’t have to throw 100. He’s worked very hard to make sure that his secondary pitches are effective, and I think that will really help him.
“You have to have something that breaks. Against major-league hitters, you need something that moves, you can’t go just fastball, changeup. You have to get something that’s going to go away from some of these guys, or in to some of these guys, so I think the slider is a good idea for him.”
More and More
Parnell threw his slider just 15.7 percent of the time last year, a number that should increase markedly in 2011. While a pair of outings represents far too small a sample size to give a meaningful projection, PitchFX data shows that he has thrown 41.4 percent sliders to the seven batters he has faced this season. The pitch has averaged 84.3 mph, down from 87.3 last year, and the increased frequency at which it been used has been by design.
“I’m throwing my slider more and in different counts than what I was used to,” explained Parnell late in spring training. “I’m using it as a pitch to get ahead of hitters instead of just trying to strike them out with. In the past it’s been an 0-2, 1-2 pitch and now I’ll even use it on the first pitch of a count."
“I’m trying to throw strikes with it more consistently," Parnell continued. "It’s the same slider, I’m just starting it out in a different location in order to throw it for a strike. I’m not going to float one in and give them something good to hit, but in the same respect, I’m not going to throw one in the dirt. I need to find that happy median and throw the same pitch that I throw on 0-2, for a strike.”
While opposing hitters can expect to see more sliders from Parnell, they can mostly stop worrying about his changeup. He hasn’t completely scrapped it, but it won’t be seen often.
“My changeup is still there,” said Parnell, “but it’s more of a third pitch now. In my situation, having two good pitches is better than having three average pitches, so I’m focusing on fastball-slider. If I’m facing somebody who has seen me several times, my split-finger changeup is something I might pull out of my pocket, but only on occasion.”
Faster and Faster
Parnell averaged 96.4 mph with his fastball last season, hitting triple digits numerous times. Even with the improved slider, it remains his signature pitch, as only five hurlers threw it with a higher average velocity in 2010. Despite that, the flamethrower downplays the importance of his radar gun readings.
“Velocity really isn’t all that important,” opined Parnell. “It’s a side factor for me, I think, more than anything. I have to focus on location and pitch movement to be successful. Velocity comes secondary.
“My four-seamer is going to run a little bit in on a righty, and the more you can make it move, the harder it is on the hitter to see it and hit it. Movement is very important for me, more so than velocity.”
Thole doesn‘t necessarily disagree, but he knows what makes Parnell such an intimidating presence on the mound.
“His fastball is hard,” said Thole. “Not too many guys can say they throw 100 mph. When you’re throwing a heavy ball like he does, it makes it tough on the hitters. He throws a sinker, too, where he takes a little off his velocity, but when you’re throwing a sinker at 96 and then you can go up top at the letters with a 100-mph fastball, you’re going to get a lot of swings and misses. Then you add in the slider, and what you have is a guy you’d rather not face.”
Hot Spots looks towards 2011 with a check of NL relievers worth using a keeper spot on.
As you've probably noticed from my Hot Spots cohorts this week, we're using September to look towards next year. This week is the NL, and next week we'll cover the the AL. Now, I like to think that the weekly Hot Spots pieces have been pretty useful this season, but if it's taught me anything, it's that trying to predict saves from the lower level of relievers even a week in advance can be a difficult pursuit. That gets multiplied exponentially when talking about looking ahead to the following season, particularly because - as usual - I won't be wasting your time pointing out that Heath Bell and Mariano Rivera are really good at closing. So the guys we're looking at today don't necessarily enter 2011 as the undisputed closers on their teams (they can't, really, if they're to be "value picks"), but rather are young up-and-comers, lightly owned in fantasy, who have the right mix of talent and opportunity to make them interesting for next year.
Lee Panas takes a look at battles in the Cubs and Mets bullpens.
Despite not being able to hit the side of a barn with his pitches, Carlos Marmol will enter the season as the Cubs closer. Angel Guzman came into camp as the leading candidate to set up Marmol, but the brittle right-hander is now likely out for the season with a shoulder injury. That combined with the trade of Aaron Heilman and the loss of Kevin Gregg to free agency has left the Cubs scrambling to find an eighth inning reliever. One candidate is Esmailin Caridad, who impressed the Cubs with a 1.40 ERA and 17/3 K/BB ratio in a 19-inning stint late last season. The twenty-six-year-old right-hander worked strictly as a starter at Triple-A Iowa posting a 4.02 SIERA. With further development, Caridad has a good chance to outperform his 4.64 PECOTAERA estimate in 2010.
One might guess from John Grabow’s platoon split – a .714 OPS versus right-handed batters and a .609 OPS versus left-handed batters since 2007 – that the southpaw would be best suited to a specialist role. Instead, he has been used frequently against all kinds of batters amassing 148 innings over the past two years. His 3.33 and 3.08 WXRLs in 2008 and 2009 respectively show that he has responded well to high leverage situations.
The short list of lefty no-hitters in Red Sox history serves a reminder that talent trumps environment.
As Will Carroll wrote last night in Unfiltered, sometimes a no-hitter is more than a no-hitter. Jon Lester's thorough blanking of the Kansas City Royals on Monday night certainly qualifies as such. No-hitters have achieved often enough by pitchers both distinguished and less so that it's safe to say that these events, as wonderful as they are, are governed by pure chance. Unless you're Ron Necciai pitching a 27-strikeout no-hitter (in the Appalachian League, alas), the pitcher is subject to the same laws on balls in play that affect every other ballgame: if the ball is hit near where someone happens to be standing, it's an out, and the pitcher looks brilliant. If it's hit three feet behind the pitcher's mound and the batter has some speed, bye-bye history.