Baseball is fun because it is streaky, unpredictable, and frustrating at times. Just like old players, young players have their struggles in the majors. That’s why nobody was speechless when Jarrod Parker began the season on a sour note. Although the media going into the season may have overhyped him, Parker would have been rather far down my list of young players who I would have predicted to slump out of the gate.
It was unfortunate timing for Parker as early-season struggles easily get the most attention from the media and coaching staffs because there is no other data to let the struggle hide behind. That said, the question about Parker is not about the last month as much so as it is about the next month(s) in the majors. Was Parker a one-hit wonder in 2012 or was Parker drafted correctly this season? After digging a bit deeper into the numbers, I think it’s fair to claim that the 47th overall pitcher in the preseason should be started in a lot more than 26% of leagues (courtesy of CBS Sports).
The first important sign is that slow starts are not something new for Parker. To the naked eye it would appear that Parker burst onto the scene last April as he posted a 2.88 ERA in one April start and 6 May starts. However, although his ERA skyrocketed in July, Parker was a much better pitcher in July than he was in April, May, and June. In May, Parker’s xFIP was 5.20 despite his low ERA. On the other hand, despite his 5.34 ERA in July, Parker’s xFIP was a much-improved 3.23. The main reason for the success was his ability to limit his walks, which is something he has struggled with this year.
The second point was well articulated by Brett Talley by pointing out that Parker should be striking more hitters out when just looking at how many swings and misses he is getting. Although he is currently significantly below league average in strikeout percentage, his whiff rates suggest he should actually be above league average. According to Brooks Baseball, none of Parker’s pitches are being whiffed at significantly less than last year. Parker’s changeup remains one of the games most affective as he’s gotten a swing-n-miss almost 25% of the time he has thrown it. We’ve actually seen a 2% drop in Parker’s contact rate against this season, which should not correspond with a drop in K-rate.
In addition, it appears Parker has lowered his release point back to where it was when he had the most success last season. It appears that Parker made a fairly significant change in his vertical release point last season. Although this is pure speculation, it appears that this season Parker struggled out of the gate and considered raising his arm angle back up again. Currently, it seems Parker has given up on the raised release point and has dropped it back down, perhaps even a nudge lower than where it was last season. This is encouraging because Parker had his most success with this lowered release point last year.
Finally, Parker has begun to put it all together despite an extremely small sample size. Although he technically has three straight quality starts, the last two are the ones you hope he grows off of. The key to Parker’s success in those starts was his ability to limit free passes and it will continue to be the key the rest of the way for Parker. Although the start to his season caused all to pause and think, I remain extremely encouraged about Parker and recommend buying low on the righty before it is too late.