Why Parnell HAD TO Pitch to Ramirez

I’ve heard, seen, and experienced much debate over yesterday’s ninth inning situation of two outs, men on second and third, and Aramis Ramirez at the plate — enough debate, in fact, that I want to continue arguing here.

Believe me, I completely understand the percentages involved in avoiding the other team’s best hitter, with two outs, an open base, and a far lesser hitter in the on-deck circle. And, I fully admit that trying to win often involves playing percentages to your advantage — beginning with the way the starting lineup is set up and throughout the ballgame. But, in my opinion, there is a point where you have to finally stop with the percentages, stop avoiding what could be potentially dangerous situations, and go in and fight the ultimate battle — especially when you are trying to groom someone to be a closer.

Maybe if the Mets were two games behind in the Wild Card, I might feel differently about how the Ramirez vs. Bobby Parnell situation was approached. But even then, I’m not sure — mainly because I’d have an easier time sleeping at night knowing that the other team’s best hitter beat me, rather than seeing the other team’s worst hitter get a lucky, broken-bat blooper to win the game. Maybe that’s hardheaded stupidity, but that’s me — to me, putting my best vs. your best to find out who wins is the essence of sport.

Additionally, I’m never comfortable purposely filling up the bases and leaving the pitcher no margin for error, because it can easily turn the next hitter into better than he is, and thereby eliminate the advantage you just set up. Huh? Think about it: if the pitcher falls behind with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tie game, pressure mounts to throw strikes — and hittable pitches. I can’t find specific numbers to cover 9th inning, bases loaded, count splits, but if you look it up you will find out the following: the average 2011 NL hitter, in all situations, bats .252 with a .710 OPS; with the bases loaded, the average hitter’s numbers jump to .272/.731; when ahead on the count (regardless of runners on), the average joe hits .296 with a .950 OPS. Again, I can’t find the exact numbers, but based on these I’m going to guess that the average hitter’s stats jump significantly with the bases loaded AND ahead on the count. That said, if Parnell had walked Ramirez to load the bases, and started off Tony Campana 1-0, then Parnell may have effectively transformed Campana into someone who would be nearly as dangerous as Ramirez was in the second-and-third situation.

But putting aside my stubbornness and the stats for a moment, there is another reason why I wanted to see Parnell pitch to Ramirez in that situation: because the Mets are trying to find out and/or groom Parnell to be a closer. With that in mind, do you want to groom a closer who avoids hitters and situations? Perhaps my point can be made more clear with this question: do you think Mariano Rivera would be intentionally walking Aramis Ramirez there? Would Craig Kimbrel, Brian Wilson, or John Axford? Before you answer, let me give you another stat to consider: the top 10 NL saves leaders have combined to intentionally walk 11 batters. The only one of those 10 to issue more than 2 IBBs on the season is Drew Storen, who walked 3 intentionally. And not one IBB has been issued yet this season by J.J. Putz, Brian Wilson, and Francisco Cordero.

If the Mets are serious about turning flamethrower Bobby Parnell into a closer, then it is to their benefit to have him challenge the best hitters in the toughest situations — it’s the only way they (and he) will find out if he can really become a reliable MLB closer. Further, it’s the best way to build confidence. You can’t build confidence through avoidance — but you can develop it quickly by rising to, and overcoming, the toughest situations. Call it trial by fire, survival of the fittest, or what have you — the bottom line is, yesterday afternoon was a golden opportunity for the Mets and Parnell. It didn’t turn out well, but so what? It’s nearly mid-September and the season is effectively over — what do the Mets have to lose at this point?

What do you think? Do you want to see Parnell challenge hitters in these meaningless games, or would you prefer that Terry Collins “play the percentages” and make winning games the priority over developing the youngsters?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Izzy September 11, 2011 at 9:11 am
    Collins is man enough to admit that he should have walked the guy. Parnell is no Mariano rivera. He’s no Roberto Hernandez, he’s not even a Looper. , he’s not even a guy who did something good to be a closer. He’s Anthony Young. You don’t let a very mediocre pitcher get beat by a stud, when you can give him even ground to play on. Plus, you already saw him pitch to Zimmerman in the same type of situation and he failed. What would make anyone think that after years of not learning how to pitch well, he would have learned it in a week?
  2. Evelyn Abramson September 11, 2011 at 9:21 am
    I said Terry Collins should play for the win. The fans go the stadium and spend lots of money to see the team win, in that game they made a nice comeback so he needed to preserve this win, I’m a diehard METS fan and I wanted to see a win I’m watching them for a couple of hour and going to the stadium to see them win. Send Parnell back the minors or just get rid of him he suck plain and simple.
    • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 11:33 am
      I thought people go to Citi Field to get a Shake Shack burger?
    • Florian September 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm
      Believe it or not, at the moment, Parnell has the second best ratio of saves vs. total save situation: 50% (with 10 Saving Opportunities). Isringhausen has 64% (with 11 Saving Opportunities) – sadly, those are the best save percentages of the Mets this season (I gathered the data from http://www.baseball-reference.com).

      I agree with Joe here, Parnell was right in pitching to Ramirez. Two reasons:
      1. You have to take risks as a manager, and you have to work with what you have. You don’t want to risk Parnell pitching to Ramirez because you don’t want to risk losing? then you also should not bring in inexperienced players like Baxter, Schwinden, Stinson, Herrera, etc. You want players to grow, you expose them to the “real life” and not let them run away from challenges. Now that the Mets are out of competition, this is almost the only opportunity to be able to do that.
      2. The problem is not Parnell alone. Is he really more inept than the other players, who did not give him a big enough lead in the first place? So I don’t think the game was lost by Parnell alone. In fact, I think it is very hard to judge on average teams whether a player underperforms or still has potential. And even Roy Halladay gave big credits to his team after his last perfect game.

    • Florian September 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm
      Believe it or not, at the moment, Parnell has the second best ratio of saves vs. total save situation: 50% (with 10 Saving Opportunities). Isringhausen has 64% (with 11 Saving Opportunities) – sadly, those are the best save percentages of the Mets this season (I gathered the data from http://www.baseball-reference.com).

      I agree with Joe here, Parnell was right in pitching to Ramirez. Two reasons:
      1. You have to take risks as a manager, and you have to work with what you have. You don’t want to risk Parnell pitching to Ramirez because you don’t want to risk losing? then you also should not bring in inexperienced players like Baxter, Schwinden, Stinson, Herrera, etc. You want players to grow, you expose them to the “real life” and not let them run away from challenges. Now that the Mets are out of competition, this is almost the only opportunity to be able to do that.
      2. The problem is not Parnell alone. Is he really more inept than the other players, who did not give him a big enough lead in the first place? So I don’t think the game was lost by Parnell alone. In fact, I think it is very hard to judge on average teams whether a player underperforms or still has potential. And even Roy Halladay gave big credits to his team after his last perfect game.

  3. Devon September 11, 2011 at 9:21 am
    “With that in mind, do you want to groom a closer who avoids hitters and situations?”

    No. I want a closer who finishes games, but sometimes that involves avoiding Aramis Ramirez so you can pitch to some backup outfielder.

    • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 11:36 am
      Wouldn’t you rather find out that Parnell can’t succeed against good hitters now, in a meaningless September ballgame, rather than at some point in the future, when the game might mean something?

      I really don’t know what a player learns by avoiding a challenge, other than that he is not good enough and/or his manager has no confidence in him. Further, there is no way to improve one’s skills by avoidance.

  4. Joe September 11, 2011 at 10:13 am
    “do you think Mariano Rivera would be intentionally walking Aramis Ramirez there? Would Craig Kimbrel, Brian Wilson, or John Axford”

    Why even bring up these names? They aren’t here. The team has to work with what they got. Putting aside that even those guys do walk people sometimes, you have to work with what you have. IF Parnell shows he has what it takes, he can go after the guy to show how tough he is.

    There is some argument to go after him there, I guess, but if you want to win games, percentages are against you. And, if he fails, it doesn’t help his confidence much either.

    • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 11:59 am
      I bring up these names PRECISELY because you have to “work with what’s here”. And what’s here is Parnell, so, work with him.

      Was Brian Wilson a star closer from the get-go? Hardly. Was Heath Bell? Was J.J. Putz? Some guys take a while to “figure it out”, and there’s only one way to “figure it out”, and that’s through experience.

      And how does Parnell “shows he has what it takes” by regularly facing backup outfielders? There are 17 games left in the season, why pass over any opportunities to see what he can do against the best hitters?

      As for “Putting aside that even those guys do walk people sometimes …”, did you read the post and/or check the stats? Kimbrel has 1 intentional walk this year. Axford has 1. Wilson has 0. That doesn’t qualify as “sometimes” in my book — it’s “almost never”. Because as soon as you avoid a hitter, you are acknowledging that he’s better than you — and if Parnell is ever to become a closer (and maybe he’s not), then he has to have the mentality that no hitter is better than he.

      Using the strategy of purposely putting guys on base in the final inning of tight ballgames is not one used by championship teams. Is the goal to build a championship team or one that fits under a nice budget and might play meaningful games in September?

      • Joe September 12, 2011 at 12:32 am
        Parnell is a few steps away from “championship team” potential and trying to do too much with him now when every blown save hurts his confidence that much more (yeah, we can wish he had what it takes to shake it off, but darn if I don’t think he has it yet) is not so obviously the best move either. I think first he has to SAVE GAMES. Then, he can go mano-o-mano when it isn’t necessary. Yeah, there are people who beat ya, and even the best pitchers out there avoid them if possible.

        I said those people walk people (which includes pitching them carefully) and I have seen Rivera walk people, even intentionally, sure rarely. But, yeah, sorry, I don’t see Parnell as elite closer material. If he’s a middle range closer, I think that’s fine, and I bet they pitch around people at times.

        As to people wanting the Mets to win now, yeah, I guess I’m guilty of that. Many others. That helps explain why the owners don’t want to have a fire sale. Fans aren’t going to come to see a total AAA team out there and if they don’t come, how will the Mets have money to pay for the future? Put aside Madoff. A major market team is less likely to just pack it in, even in September.

        Maybe that’s the wrong mentality but when the Mets come back to tie or go ahead, like in the Brewers game, and if Parnell is tossed out there and, you know to see what he has, he pitches to Fielder with a base open, since we need to see what he has, instead of the the light hitting guy put in behind him via a double switch, blows the game, some of us can’t just be philosophical about it.

        • Joe Janish September 12, 2011 at 11:01 am
          re: “I said those people walk people (which includes pitching them carefully)” …. YES! That’s exactly what Parnell was supposed to be doing in that spot — he was supposed to pick around, but outside, the strike zone, and try to get Ramirez to swing and miss or make poor contact (which I made clear was the strategy in the game recap). That’s the benefit of having first base open — you don’t have to throw a strike. As it turned out, he threw a pretty good pitch, but not good enough. It was a learning experience that wouldn’t have occurred had he issued an IBB.

          As for the confidence factor, I MIGHT agree with you if Parnell were a young rookie. But he’s 27 years old, with 3 full seasons of MLB experience. If a bad game is going to shake his confidence now, he’s never going to make — which is another reason you throw him out there, let him fail, and see how he reacts next time out. Baseball is all about dealing with failure and holding on to your confidence — it’s that way from little league through MLB. It’s not like Parnell just started playing this game a few years ago; he’s had to handle the adversity of baseball for 15-20 years.

          And BTW, this was the whole point of hanging on to Isringhausen, wasn’t it? To teach the “kids” (Parnell is an old kid, btw) how to deal with the ups and downs of closing?

  5. Pedro Costa September 11, 2011 at 10:29 am
    The question is not if he should have walked the guy or not. The point is that Parnell SUCKS. He’s horrible. He should never pitch to someone at the Majors. I particularly think that a pitcher has to face the batter, specially your closer. That’s the point of beeing a closer – you are there to take the guys out. Like izzy said, who is Parnell? Why does the bloggers have such a love for him? He never did anything to be considered a Major pitcher. What to say about beeing a closer? He sucks, the Mets has already lost a lot of ballgames because of him and will continue to lose some more beacuse of him. That’s the point.
    • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 11:44 am
      OK, so what should the Mets do over the final 17 games of the season? Forfeit? Or does it make sense to try to see what they have currently? And how do you find out unless you throw people into situations of adversity and see how they react?

      I hope you don’t include me among the bloggers who “love” Bobby Parnell, because I don’t have any judgment on him at all. I see a guy who is intriguing because he has the rare, unteachable ability to throw 100 MPH. However, I also see someone who either throws that fastball straight as an arrow or can’t get it over the plate. I’m also not certain whether he can handle “pressure” situations such as the one yesterday, so I’m eager to see what he does when given the opportunity. If he continues to fail over the next 2-3 weeks, then at least we have an answer: he’s not a closer. Going into the winter realizing the Mets have to find a closer is better than finding that out next June.

      However, you have already made the judgment that Parnell is not fit, and that’s cool. Do you have a suggestion as to whom should be closing Mets games for the remainder of the year?

  6. Paul September 11, 2011 at 11:52 am
    I’ve seen enough of Bobby Parnell to know I will never be comfortable with him as the Mets’ closer. I’m fine with letting him finish out the season, but I think Sandy Alderson needs to find someone else during the winter.

    I would have walked Aramis Ramirez yesterday. (To be fair, I probably would have called for the walk if K-Rod was still around, too.)

  7. kranepool September 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm
    I see your point Joe and true let’s see what Parnell has in the toughest situation if he has the stones to close out a tough game. But in that situation where the team came back in the 8th I’d have liked to have seen Ramirez walked and take my chances with Campano.
  8. felixmilan September 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm
    It’s easier to say in hindsight, but I was screaming at the TV for Collins to walk Ramirez. The bottom line is you put your young pitcher/closer in a position to succeed, namely get the save or the W.

    In this case the book clearly says you walk the bases loaded to set up a force at any base, Campana has NO home runs (I think), so why not just LET him hit the ball somewhere?

    Bad play, IMO

  9. NormE September 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm
    I agree with pitching to Ramirez. I never like to walk the bases loaded. Even more, the game was inconsequential to the Mets season. It was more important
    to hold Parnell’s feet to the fire. That’s why Duda is in right and Evans is playing first (not that we have many other choices). When you are out of the race in September you
    have to find out what you’ve got for the future.
    A better argument could be made for having Stinson pitch in that inning rather than Parnell. Again, the rationale is to find out who can get the job done.
    • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm
      Thanks Norm.

      What is fascinating — and I mean that sincerely, not to be snide — is that there definitely is a division in the Mets fan base, with one side seeing every single game as one that should be won, and the other side feeling that development should have priority over winning at this point in this dreadful season.

      Being of the latter group, it should not be taken to mean that development is more important than winning — I believe you have to learn to win as part of development, and that learning and winning should go hand in hand. However, I don’t necessarily believe that “learning how to win” is the same as a manager playing every single percentage he can to influence the outcome of a particular ballgame. Rather, I believe that the players have to be put into situations where they must act as “winners” — basically, sink or swim. Those who swim in September, you can consider for next year. Those who sink, you try to find a new role or organization for them.

      Taking it from the perspective of the manager’s decisions, I understand why people want to play the percentages / “play by the book”. But when the team is days away from elimination, I’d rather see youngsters tested — because if as a result of managerial decisions the Mets win 3 or 4 more games out of the last 17, how is that going to have an impact on 2012 and beyond? Is it really going to make a huge difference for the Mets’ future if they finish 82-80, 81-81, 80-82, or 78-84? The final season won-loss record means nothing to future performance of any of the 25 players (though it may influence the next contracts of the manager and the GM).

      • Herman Metsville September 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm
        I disagree with your comment about the lack of importance of the Mets’ final record this year. Psychologically, it is very important that in Terry Collins’ first year as manager that the Mets finish better than last year — this means at least around .500 or better. I do agree with you about the dangers of overplaying the percentages. I think all year Collins played the percentages too much — like he was afraid to make a mistake. As for Parnell, he has the velocity to be a good closer, but I’m not sure he has the right temperament. Compare him to Jason Isringhausen — even though he’s way past his prime, he exudes confidence out there, and is not afraid to throw that devastating curve ball in any situation.
        • Joe Janish September 11, 2011 at 7:26 pm
          I disagree about the psychological importance, particularly when this team has already seen significant changes in personnel during the season, and is likely to see more significant changes over the winter.

          Reyes likely isn’t coming back — and if he doesn’t, whatever record the Mets finish with, it’s not going to have any kind of influence on the psyche compared to the impact of losing the team’s most dynamic player (as well as already losing Beltran and a true closer in K-Rod). In fact, I would argue that the Mets would be better off psychologically if their record turns out a little worse than a little better, so that the 2012 expectations are low. Looking at this team’s so-so pitching and lack of power, they’re going to have a tough time next year.

  10. SiddFinch September 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm
    Parnell definitely needed to pitch to Ramirez in that situation. If he’s going to be the closer of the future you need to give him the chance to challenge a team’s best hitter.
  11. Vance September 12, 2011 at 10:36 pm
    Very insightful. Thank you.

    I was caught up in the trees and not seeing the forest.