During the spring of 2010, Robert Parnell was the backup to the backup to the backup (and possibly to the backup) setup man. The Mets had figured on Kelvim Escobar as the 8th inning guy (before learning the only object he could firmly hold in his hand was a pen to sign a $1.25M contract), but also imported flamethrower Ryota Igarashi just in case Escobar couldn’t grip a baseball, counted on Sean Green as a third alternative, and signed Kiko Calero as their “just in case” setup man – with Parnell penciled in as the “if all else fails” option.
As it was, the Mets quickly found their way to “all else fails”, and Parnell was not quite up to the task. The hard-throwing righty didn’t even make the Opening Day roster, despite showing flashes of brilliance as a late-inning reliever and late-season starter in 2009 (sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Can you say “Jenrry Mejia”?). He began the season in AAA Buffalo, posting a fat 4.14 ERA but an acceptable 1.28 WHIP and impressive 42 Ks in 41 IP through 24 games. He made his first 2010 MLB appearance in a laugher against the Tigers on June 23rd, throwing high heat but requiring 21 pitches to get 3 outs with an 8-run lead. He finished the season with a shiny 2.83 ERA and 33 Ks in 35 IP but allowed a disturbing 41 hits – a concerning issue for someone who can touch triple digits. Without doubt, Parnell was much better at finding the strike zone in his sophomore season than he was as a rookie, but he was also much more hittable. His biggest problem was that when his fastball ran into the upper 90s, it lacked movement; it was as straight as an arrow, reminiscent of the early days of Heath Bell. Unlike Heath Bell, Parnell had no secondary pitches to fall back on, other than an inconsistent slider that looked hellacious once in every ten tries, but was flat and fat in around 60 to 70% of the time.
Bobby Parnell has a gift that few on this planet own: the ability to reach triple digits on the radar gun. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not a guarantee of success – particularly if it a) lacks movement; b) cannot be controlled; and c) has no consistent complementary pitch to keep hitters guessing.
Does that mean the Mets should give up on Parnell? Absolutely not. In the past, the Mets made egregious errors in trading away similarly gifted flamethrowers such as Bell, Matt Lindstrom, and Henry Owens. The bottom line is that young men who throw 100-MPH fastballs do not grow on trees, and if you have one who can come close to the plate the majority of the time, you hold on to him for as long as you can in the hopes that he’ll eventually “figure it out”. Parnell may never “figure it out”, but if he does, the Mets will have an electrifying reliever with dominant closer potential – a type of reliever you might compare to Brad Lidge or John Wetteland. At the very worst, he’ll be on the level of Lindstrom / Owens, which is still a valuable asset in any MLB bullpen.