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.”
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