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?