Is Bobby Parnell Finally Growing Up?

bobby parnell saveI have always been dubious about Bobby Parnell. Despite the electric fastball, he’s struggled with his command, control and composure on the mound. I always felt that Parnell had the most hittable 98-mph fastball in the history of the game. I personally was ready to give up on him last year, and suggested it was time to move on since he was due a hefty arbitration pay raise in the near future. It turns out I may have been hasty in writing Parnell off.

Prior to this year his stats backed up my assertion. His career 1.45 WHIP was anything but lockdown. Despite a brief cameo as the closer in 2011 that produced six saves, he didn’t look comfortable in the role. Something happened, however, when he took over the closer role last September: Parnell started to pitch effectively. He didn’t strike out batters at an elite clip, but he did enough to save three games, post a 0.933 WHIP and an ERA of 0.60. At the very least it was an encouraging sign.

He came into this year as the closer by default due to Frank Francisco‘s elbow injury. Nobody was pining for Francisco anyway, but if they were Parnell has made them forget him with his 8 saves, an ERA+ of 192 and stingy 1.93 ERA. Even the percentage of runners left on base – a huge issue in the past- is at a career-best of 77%.

I think Parnell’s maturation can be best illustrated during his sequence to Travis Hafner last night. After two 96-mph heaters, Parnell offered up consecutive sliders (according to or knuckle-curves (thanks Izzy), depending on how you look at it. The 1-2 knuckle-curve just missed, and set-up Hafner for the heater that led to the game-ending pop-up.

That wasn’t a caveman performance. It wasn’t Parnell wide-eyed on the mound throwing a fastball as hard as he can. He seemed poised even after the Ichiro walk. In the past that four-pitch walk would have signaled a major meltdown.

What is even more impressive is how this came during the bright lights of the Subway Series. Sure, the series doesn’t have the same juice as the late nineties, but fans and media treat it as something more than a regular season game. A blown save will put anyone under the microscope, doubly so for Parnell based on history.

Closers are volatile. They are also expensive and often don’t live up to big free-agent contracts. Parnell is under team control three more years until he hits free agency in 2016. This could turn out to be a good value for an organization that needs as much of it as it can get.

Perhaps the Mets found themselves the answer to the ninth inning. Maybe Bobby Parnell has finally grown up.