Since 2009, Gerardo Parra has been locked into a pseudo-backup role with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last season was Parra’s first opportunity to play everyday and that only came due to a preponderance of injuries. Still, he posted $7 of value and is a good bet to be similarly valuable in the future. With Adam Eaton and Cody Ross healthy once again, Matt Davidson threatening to push Martin Prado to the outfield, and A.J. Pollock also in the mix for reps, Parra will likely find himself back in his familiar platoon role.
We see adequate players like Parra crop up around the league with some frequency. Some 26-year-old career minor leaguer finally puts together enough skills to be useful to a team, but his limited upside only earns him a bench spot. After a few seasons, rising arbitration costs combined with age lead to the player being non-tendered. The player bounces around a few teams as a reserve and then hangs up his cleats. As Carson would say, c’est tout.
Except that’s not Parra’s story at all. He reached the majors as an untouted 22-year-old and 2014 will be his age 27 season. Further, he’s shown more than the middling skills associated with a reserve outfielder, including borderline elite defense, the ability to play center field if needed, and a roughly league average bat. He combined those traits to produce 4.6 WAR last season, most of which is tied up in a +31 run defensive estimate. The one fly in the ointment is that he’s posted terrible numbers against left-handed starters throughout his career, including last season when he came to the plate 200 times against them.
Yesterday, we spoke about Michael Bourn‘s terrible struggles against non-fastballs from left-handed pitchers. Parra has those exact same issues.
Over his career, he’s shown absolutely no power against same-handed, non-fastballs. That allows lefties to comfortably attack him with breaking balls. He’s scuffled to a career .236/.294/.300 line against lefties in 572 plate appearances. The dearth of extra base hits against lefty breaking balls makes it hard to project much improvement in his platoon splits.
As such, fantasy owners should only view Parra as a platoon outfielder. The Diamondbacks probably also prefer to use Parra as a platoon bat, but his excellent defense in the corner outfield can mitigate his offensive short comings.
Steamer is quite bullish when projecting Parra’s performance in 2014, calling for a career high 11 home runs, 16 stolen bases, and a .277/.339/.411 batting line in 646 plate appearances. Whether or not he sees that level of playing time is up to the Diamondbacks, but fantasy owners know they’ll only be using about 400 plate appearances. Additionally, those are the rates I expect of Parra when batting against right-handed pitching, not overall numbers.
Parra has a couple other issues that bear watching. Chief of these is a notable inefficiency at stealing bases. He’s stolen 25 bases in his last 44 attempts and last season was an even 10 of 20 rate. Leagues that do not penalize for caught stealing will still benefit from around 10 steals, but don’t be surprised if he stops running entirely. Arizona is an analytically aware organization and they may simply decide that it’s time to give Parra the red light. It’s a relatively low risk, but it may happen.
Parra also generally bats at the top or bottom of the order, meaning that RBI opportunities are rare. Additionally, some of the up-and-coming young talent like Eaton and Davidson could potentially push Parra back to a more regular role at the bottom of the lineup. That would hurt his runs scored and give him fewer plate appearances.
And of course, there is the issue of competition. With up to five outfielder who could start for most teams, the Diamondbacks will have to sort through how they want to dole out playing time. My best guess is that Parra will join a straight platoon with Ross in right field while Pollock serves as the primary reserve. If Davidson isn’t able to seize the third base job, then more playing time will be available.
Parra should once again be a low cost platoon bat for fantasy owners in 2014. Owners who want more of an everyday player should focus on other assets since Parra will require careful monitoring.
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