It's always nice to watch a homegrown player develop right in front of your eyes and with Bobby Parnell, Mets fans saw him develop from a prospect into a solid reliever and finally into a viable closer. Thanks to a devastating knuckle curveball that veteran Jason Isringhausen taught him in 2011, Parnell has taken a leap towards the upper echelon of the league's relievers. He's always had impressive heat but the development of that offspeed pitch took hitters off of his fastball and has allowed him to blossom into the pitcher the Mets long thought he could be. With a season under his belt as the Mets' closer, Parnell looks to continue to lock down the ninth inning in 2014.
While incumbent closer Frank Francisco spent the majority of his 2013 season on the disabled list rehabbing some sort of "injury", Parnell went to work establishing himself as the team's relief ace by putting up the best season of his career. Through 50 innings of work, Parnell pitched to a sparkling 2.16 ERA and a 2.33 FIP. He successfully converted 22 of his 26 save opportunities and was worth 1.2 wins above replacement by Fangraphs' measure, among the top 30 relievers in the league despite missing the entirety of the last two months of the year due to injury. Parnell's success was easily one of the bright spots of the Mets' 2013 season.
Unfortunately, it was the injury that was the biggest disappointment for Parnell, as his season was derailed by a bout of neck stiffness that turned into a herniated disk seemingly overnight. Parnell wouldn't make it back into a game after July 30th and he's since had surgery to repair the disk. Now on the recovery trail, it looks like he should be ready to go for the Mets very soon and assuming no setbacks, should be fine for opening day at the end of March. When he returns, he'll be once again entrusted with the Mets' closer job, a position he proved he could handle quite capably in 2013.
What should we expect from Parnell this year? If we go by the projections, they foresee a bit of regression likely based on his past record, though it should be noted he was a fundamentally different pitcher as recently as 2011 if you go by his pitch usage. Steamer, Oliver, and ZiPS all see Parnell around the 0.5 win range thanks to a possible bump up in his low BABIP and home run rates. Parnell fared very well in both categories in 2013 and though we could certainly see slight regression to the mean in both areas, the reliever's profile may well be one that allows him to limit hits (and home runs, especially) thanks to his ability to get groundballs and swings and misses.
Assuming his neck is fully healed, Parnell seems well equipped to handle the Mets' ninth inning duties in 2014. With a dangerous offspeed pitch to go along with his blazing heater, Parnell has finally developed into a top notch reliever and he has a chance to play a large role in helping turn the Mets' fortunes this season and beyond.