FanPost

Bobby Parnell and the Anxiety of Watching Closers

Bobby_parnell_medium

via cdn3.sbnation.com

Now, before you all get turned off by another article about closers, let me explain what this piece is meant to be. I was inspired to write because many people in game threads and other articles were dumping on Bobby Parnell as being not good enough or somehow unworthy of being closer during his recent stint as 9th inning man. Now, Cap’t Fastball was certainly shaky at times, but I was wondering if he was really that bad. The numbers suggest he wasn’t (SSS caveats apply of course), and moreover that in general he’s been pretty good this season. So I started thinking about other men I have seen anointed as Mets closer, and I couldn’t think of a single one who wasn’t as shaky as Parnell was, if not worse.

I also got to thinking about a conversation I had with a Yankee fan after Mariano Rivera went down for the season. He said that for the first time in 15 years he was less than confident going into the 9th inning. This jives with my own thoughts on Mo, mainly that he is the only closer I have ever watched who I didn’t think had a 50/50 shot of blowing it. So I ran the numbers for the closers that the Mets have had during the lifetime of my Mets fandom (1998-2012), and they are pretty interesting. I didn’t dive into the game logs, but the season numbers (with one exception) fluctuate quite a bit. Bottom line, my larger point is not that Bobby Parnell is a fantastic closer who should close for the Mets henceforth. My point is that all Mets closers are shaky, some way more than others, and nothing I’ve seen out of our current bullpen tells me that Parnell is the low man on the totem pole. And in a history of shaky closers, Parnell falls somewhere in the middle, not nearly as bad as people seem to think.

I took the stats from fangraphs and baseball-reference. For former closers, I took two seasons each based on each season’s ERA+: the best one they have had as a Met, or if that service time is insufficient, the best of their career, and one of the worst ones as a Met. The stats are there partially for my own edification but also to show the fluctuation I was talking about. I am not necessarily using them to extrapolate anything about shakiness, but I have watched a lot of games and I’m sure other posters can corroborate or disprove my memories of these particular pitchers.

Pitcher/Season

ERA

FIP

xFIP

K/BB

ERA+

H/9

BB/9

K/9

WAR

Bobby Parnell/2012

3.06

3.04

3.09

50/14, 3.57

126

9.2

2.5

9

0.7

as Closer (14 IP)

3.19 - 3.07

15/3, 5.00

8.4

1.9

9.6

Frank Francisco/2012

6.06

4.48

4.29

37/18, 2.06

70

11

5

10.2

-0.2

Frank Francisco/2009

3.83

3.34

3.46

57/15, 3.80

122

7.3

2.7

10.4

1.1

Francisco Rodriguez/2009

3.71

4.01

4.25

73/38, 1.92

110

6.8

5

9.7

0.3

Francisco Rodriguez/2010

2.2

2.63

3.16

67/21, 3.19

179

7.1

3.3

10.5

1.4

Billy Wagner/2006

2.24

2.84

2.65

94/21, 4.48

196

7.3

2.9

11.7

2

Braden Looper/2004

2.7

3.07

3.32

60/16, 3.75

159

9.3

1.7

6.5

1.7

Braden Looper/2005

3.94

5.01

4.82

27/22, 1.23

105

9.9

3.3

4.1

-0.6

Armando Benitez/1999

1.85

2.1

128/41, 3.12

241

4.6

4.7

14.8

3.1

Armando Benitez/2001

3.77

4.27

93/40, 2.33

110

7

4.7

11

1.4

So lets take it from the top shall we?

Bobby Parnell: Cap’t Fastball, as I said, has been pretty good this year. He is striking out a batter per inning, his ERA is close to 3, and he is neither under nor over-performing his FIP/xFIP. His K/BB puts him second to only Billy Wagner, Braden Looper in 2005, and Frankie Frank’s career year with the Rangers in 2009. Of course, he is not without his flaws. He gives up a hit per 9, higher than everyone except John Franco, Looper again, and this year’s incarnation of Frankie Frank. Of course, the criticism was of him as a closer, so lets take a look at those numbers. During Francisco’s most recent DL stint, Parnell pitched the ninth 14 times for a total of 14 innings pitched. He struck out better than a batter per 9, and walked only 3. He gave up a run only 4 times out of 14 appearances. His ERA began at 3.19 and he lowered it to 3.07. Now I will certainly not say his stint was without stress. I remember at least one outing where he struck out the side but managed to work in a couple of hits as well. That said, he was perfectly serviceable as closer in my opinion and by the numbers, (SSS caveats of course). He was certainly better than…

Frank Francisco: Dear lord has he been awful recently. Since returning from the disabled list, Frankie Frank has twice almost given away a multiple run lead. Fortunately, Jon Rauch saved his ass on both occasions. He recorded his 20th save a few nights ago, but if not for another amazing catch by Mike Baxter it is questionable that he would even have done that. His ERA is over 6 and while his other stats suggest that he isn’t quite that bad, a FIP of nearly 4.5 is nothing to be proud of either. He walks twice as many batters as Parnell and gives up more hits. I can’t remember the last time he had a stress free ninth inning. For what it’s worth (nyuck nycuk), he has also been worth -0.2 WAR this season. On the other hand, maybe I’m not being fair to Frankie. In 2009, he had a career year with the Rangers and looked…well…. about the same as Parnell this season. His peripherals were much better than this season, and he gave up fewer hits, but his run stats were worse than Parnell’s (admittedly, not by much). Of course, given his suckage this season, I wonder which Frankie we are likely to see for the rest of the year and for next year. And also, how well he might stack up to the original Frankie….

Francisco Rodriguez: K-Rod is unique on this list in that he looked as physically shaky as he actually was. His delivery was so violent that I continually expected him to actually fall over. Frankie came to the Mets in 2009, with high expectations from some given his 62 saves the previous season with the Angels. K-Rod spent the first year being somewhat effectively wild. He didn’t give up that many hits, but he walked as many batters per 9 as Frankie Frank is doing this season. His strikeout numbers were decent, but he was actually over-performing his independent pitching numbers, as evidenced by the number of blown saves I remember seeing. K-Rod never gave you the impression that he had the Ninth inning on lockdown. He was as volatile as his delivery, with nary a pain-free save chance (and who could forget the father in law punching incident). In 2010, he was much better. He continued to under perform his xFIP and FIP, but both were improved. He walked fewer people but gave up more hits. It may have been the lingering memory of 2009, but K-Rod with improved numbers didn’t seem all that different. Depending on whom you asked, this was much unlike (or like) the man he nominally replaced….

Billy Wagner: For the sake of the collective sanity of myself and anyone who reads this piece, I have glossed over the replacement level gallery of yuck that replace Wagner in 2008 when he tore his UCL. Wagner came to the Mets in 2006 and pitched remarkably well. He had sub-3 pitching numbers, all of which were pretty close together. He walked under 3 and struck out almost 12 per 9 innings. Sadly, his post-season performance left something to be desired. He allowed 6 runs over 5 2/3 innings, including 3 runs in Game 2 of the NLCS, a game the Mets lost. He gave up two more in Game 6, which the Mets managed to salvage. And then of course, there was 2007. Wagner was phenomenal through the All-Star Break and then…wasn’t. His ERA jumped to 6.23 in August, he blew a lead against the Phillies in a crucial late August series, and was in general much less effective. In 2008 the story was much the same, except Wagner required surgery in September. And, to diverge briefly into off the field things, Wagner made himself unpopular by cursing out his coaches and his teammates after a loss to Washington, something I don’t ever remember hearing about his immediate predecessor….

Braden Looper: Looper is an interesting case. My memory of him is a little foggy because he played during the Art Howe era, a time I have mostly blocked from my mind. In his first year with the Mets (2004), his numbers weren’t actually that bad. He didn’t strike out a ton of batters, but he also didn’t walk many. He was however, more hittable than most. He also had a penchant for blowing games at horrible times, including opening day and a game that would have clinched a Mets sweep in the Subway Series. The next season was worse. In 2005 he was still hittable, he walked more batters and he struck out even fewer hitters than he had before. He also had season ending surgery in 2005. His performance may have been blurred away by the mists of time since I was concentrating more on the Mets becoming relevant once again and the emergence of Wright and Reyes, plus the delight of having a new manager. But, what memory I do have of Looper that year was not great. No lead was really safe when he took the mound, a feeling I also had about the man who came before him….

Armando Benitez: Oh Armando. To this day, no one has given me more agita watching baseball than you. I will even admit that he was actually pretty good for a year or two and that I am biased by the fact that practically every time I saw him pitch he almost gave the game away. In 1999, his best year with the Mets, he struck out the world. He struck out 14 per 9 and 128 total, more than some starters. He also was the least hittable of any Met on the list. His main flaw was that, like K-Rod, he walked a lot of people. He made up for that by having a sub-2 ERA and almost a sub-2 FIP. I couldn’t put my finger on what specifically it was, but Benitez was erratic. Again, there was a lot of pain watching him close. It seemed at times he was walking a tightrope on the mound and barely managed to get through everything intact. Things got worse later on. In 2001, his ERA jumped almost two points. He still struck out a lot of people, but he still walked a lot and gave up almost twice as many hits. He was also just as erratic, if not worse. Just for a few examples, on May 7 he came into a game in Colorado with a 5-run lead and gave up 4 runs. On June 28 in Atlanta, he pitched 1/3 of an inning and gave up 4 runs while walking 3. On July 16 in Toronto, he got the save but walked 2 to do it.

I suspect I am probably abusing the numbers a little. On the other hand, I am not necessarily trying to make a larger statistical or comparative point about any of these pitchers. As I said at the beginning, the numbers are there primarily for the edification of readers. The debate about Parnell as closer has largely been about, for his most vocal detractors at least, the eye test. I was going to talk about John Franco also but I don’t have a lot of memory of him as closer, aside from two appearances against Atlanta where he gave up a grand slam to perennial Met-Killer Brian Jordan on both occasions. That said, the numbers do suggest that most closers the Mets have had suffer from some yearly fluctuation in numbers, and that the fluctuation can be pretty big.

My point is simply this, in the end. I have been anxious watching the ninth innings of Mets games my entire baseball-watching career. An on the scale of how much anxiety I have felt, Parnell is certainly nowhere near the top. Is he great? No. Is he terrible? Also No. In the final analysis, I wouldn’t say that any of these pitchers is really terrible, except for 2012 Francisco and maybe 2005 Looper. But if we are talking about people we wouldn’t mind seeing on the mound, Parnell is at the top of my list right now. He is certainly better than Francisco. The numbers, small though they are, seem to bear that out. This is of course, entirely my opinion, and it won't convince those who have a hate on for Parnell for whatever reason. I'm not even really trying to convince anyone. I'm just saying, maybe it’s ok if Cap’t Fastball takes the hill for the ninth again, after all.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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