Three Ways Bobby Parnell Can Improve

A few weeks ago we discussed Bobby Parnell as question #3 in Mets spring training. The question was whether the fireballing righthander would take a step forward as a MLB pitcher — i.e., evolve into a bonafide setup man (or, dare I say, closer?) — or has he reached his ceiling?

I would like to believe there is more effectiveness trapped inside Bobby Parnell‘s right arm, and he need only focus on a few things to raise his game to a new level. In fact, three things:

1. Consistently fire the four-seam fastball to one spot: up and in to a righthanded hitter / up and away to a lefty.
I like to call this “John Maine Strategy”. Remember the Maine? The former Mets pitcher, not the naval vessel. His awful mechanics damaged his arm and prevented him from having good command — the only spot he could hit consistently was up and in, which just happened to be a great placement for swings and misses by batters from both sides of the plate. Ironically, Maine’s fatal flaw is what made him effective — until his velocity dropped.

If Bobby Parnell focuses all spring on hitting that one spot with his 100-MPH fastball, and can learn to hit it whenever he wants, he could be devastating. It could be the “out” pitch he’s been so sorely lacking — the one that gets him into the double-digits in K/9. And luckily, you don’t have to have “bad” mechanics to hit that spot — you merely need to practice. Not many pitchers can be effective throwing to that particular spot; it’s a luxury afforded mainly to those who throw 95+ MPH — which Parnell does. An added benefit is that when he’s slightly off in his location, the ball might veer frighteningly close to the batter’s chin; a little fear can go a long way toward effectiveness. If I were Dan Warthen, I’d tell Bobby to spend 90% of his bullpen sessions firing away at that one spot, until he could hit it with his eyes closed.

2. Rediscover his sinker.
Of course, a pitcher can’t throw to one spot every single time; eventually, batters will lay off or adjust. So I’d like to see Parnell rediscover the sinker he used as a minor league starter. What happened to that pitch? Maybe he needs to change his grip, and/or take a little off. Whatever it is, he used to be able to throw a heavy sinker — for strikes — so there’s reason to believe he can do it again. Parnell’s troubles come when he leaves straight-as-an-arrow fastballs a little too high in the zone, and a sinker — even if it’s “only” thrown around 90-92 MPH — would induce more ground balls and help prevent extra-base hits.

3. Against righthanded hitters, throw the slider low and off the outside corner of home plate.
With his heat, Parnell should be a strikeout machine. Throwing up and in to righties / up and away to lefties is one method of getting there. The second is a properly placed slider — off the plate and low. Too often we’ve seen Parnell try to throw the slider in the strike zone; that should never, ever happen. The slider is not an off-speed pitch and shouldn’t be used as one — it is a “put away” pitch, a strikeout pitch. Especially for someone who consistently “brings it” at 97-100 MPH, the slider should be reserved for rare occasions: to obtain a strikeout. The safest way to get Ks from sliders is to “slide” it off the outside half of the plate. This way, no harm done if you miss your spot. Instead of trying to spot the slider in various parts of the strike zone, Parnell should focus specifically on one location: down and away. And, it should be used almost exclusively against righthanded hitters.

Easy enough, right? Of course not; if it were that easy, all batters would hit .190. And if Parnell were able to accomplish all three of the above, he still might not be an outstanding reliever — but, I believe he’d be better than he’s been in the past.

I have no idea what Parnell will be working on this spring, but if it were up to me, I’d make his routine laser-focused on the above, with the end goal of having a lights-out one-inning guy to shut the door in the 7th or 8th inning.

What do you think? Am I off my rocker? Is there something else Parnell needs to work on? Should he just continue doing what he’s been doing? Answer in the comments.

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. gary s. February 22, 2012 at 10:19 am
    He’s like a wideout with great speed and bricks for hands.I don’t expect much to change
  2. George February 22, 2012 at 11:24 am
    If I were Parnell, I would throw slider low and away to get right handed batters to chase.

    Could Parnell develop a cutter like Jon Niese or Mariano Rivera? I think high velocity with a cutter could be a good combo.

    • Joe Janish February 22, 2012 at 11:55 am
      He has already experimented with the cutter and failed. He leaves it up in the zone and over the heart of the plate. Few people can throw it like Mo, but seemingly everyone putzes around trying it.

      A cutter is a few MPH slower than a fastball, so by throwing it Parnell “speeds up” the hitter’s bat. When you can throw that hard, you want to keep that advantage, not give it away. I think it’s a bad idea to try to continue developing it — he should spend that time spotting the 98-101 MPH fastball instead.

  3. DaveSchneck February 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm
    Joe’s point are all solid. I also reckon that Parnell should benefit from the depth of the pen this year to hone his skills prior to the 8th and 9th innings. He seems to lack some confidence, especially when things don’t go well. Hopefully he will improve upon that with better command.
  4. Paul Festa February 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm
    Everything he throws is more or less one speed. He needs a changeup to keep from being so predictable.
  5. derek February 23, 2012 at 12:26 pm
    just needs to practice throwing low and away…..what hitter is gonna be able to take a 100+ fastball low and away and pull it… he will get plenty of broken bats..

    if he cant do it …he will be juan acevedo part 2….guy that can throw 100 and get no one out….but will hang around a few yrs cause he throws hard….

  6. argonbunnies February 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm
    Joe, either I inspired you, or we were on the same page all along. Your #1 is exactly what I said in the earlier Parnell thread.

    One difference, though. I think down-and-away to lefties would play better than up-and-away to lefties. Up-and-in is better to righties, but Parnell’s had much more trouble with lefties; I think down-and-in to righties at 99mph will suffice.

    • Joe Janish February 24, 2012 at 11:39 am
      Agreed — down and away to lefties would play better; the problem is that it’s very difficult to do that by a righthander without taking something off the velocity — usually in the form of either a sinker or a change-up. Parnell had a sinker at some point in his pro career but I haven’t seen the action on it since he’s been in MLB, so not sure whether that’s the pitch he can/should be using vs. lefties. The method behind my madness is to work with what Parnell already can do — and that’s throw crazy hard — so my theory is that he can “climb the ladder” to get lefties out. It did work for Maine, maybe it can work for him too.
      • argonbunnies February 24, 2012 at 7:12 pm
        Huh! I know climbing the ladder boosts velocity a teeny bit, but this is the first time I’ve heard that it’s hard for power pitchers to throw their 4-seamers down.

        I can think of pitchers who did it with regularity, but they’re all exceptional — Schilling, Clemens, etc. Josh Johnson throws 97 downstairs; I have no idea if that’s a 4-seamer or 2-seamer. But yeah, not a lot of set-up guys who can do it. Fair point.

        • Joe Janish February 25, 2012 at 12:43 am
          If it was easy for Parnell to throw his 99-MPH fastball at the knees, he’d be the righthanded Billy Wagner and saving 40+ games a year.

          I don’t know that it’s difficult for a hard thrower in general to locate a four-seamer down. My point was more toward getting actual sink and/or lateral movement in that direction — and that requires getting some extra pressure on the opposite side of the ball. Such “drag” results in slightly less MPH. Does that make sense?

        • argonbunnies February 26, 2012 at 1:11 am
          Makes perfect sense, but now I don’t know what we’re talking about.

          I was simply thinking that, if Bobby can be taught to hit one spot with his best fastball, that spot might be better down than up.

          Whether his “best” fastball is 99 and straight or 94 and moving strikes me as a separate issue.

          Or are you saying that straight 99 up is better than straight 97* down?

          *assuming 2mph lost for simple angle of high vs low

        • Joe Janish February 27, 2012 at 10:26 am
          I’m saying that it appears to me that Bobby Parnell would have a really, really hard time consistently hitting a spot down, but shouldn’t have too much trouble hitting a spot up. I base this not on any scientific research or data, but rather on what my eyes have seen of Parnell.

          Also, a 95-97-MPH fastball down (yes, you’re correct, MPH are lost because a sinking ball is one that is losing velocity) is generally not as effective as a “swing and miss” pitch as a 98-100 MPH fastball up. In a one-inning role, and owning that kind of velocity, I think it makes more sense for Parnell to go for the Ks.

  7. NCMets February 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    With all due respect, why would he want to throw a fastball up and away to lefties? Up and in or low and away I could understand but you can get “lucky” and hit a 100MPH fastball up and away
    • Joe Janish February 25, 2012 at 12:37 am
      There is a generalized theory that a majority of lefthanded hitters are “strong” hitting pitches low-and-in due to their supposed swing path. If you accept that generalization, then such swing path would make it very difficult to hit a ball in the exact opposite location — up and away.

      If you don’t believe in that generalization, you might subscribe to another theory that most pro hitters start their swing by sending their hands down toward impact with the baseball — which is generally below the chest — because it’s the fastest route and it imparts backspin on the ball. It’s very difficult to adjust such a swing to make contact at a higher plane. When a batter does make that adjustment, the hands generally have drop down and move up to the point of impact — which causes a loop and slows down the bat. Slower bat + 99 MPH fastball often results in a batter unable to “catch up” to the baseball.

      Again, this is all theory and generalization. There is the other theory that a ball at eye level is easier to see and therefore SHOULD be easier to hit. In reality, though, most hitters focus their practice and repetition on pitches lower, because that’s where most pitchers try to locate.