On the surface, Manny Parra had a decent season for the Brewers in 2008. He posted an okay-but-below-average 4.39 ERA. He racked up 147 strikeouts in 165 innings, but only managed 10 wins and posted a 1.54 WHIP. However, beneath the surface we can see that Parra actually pitched pretty well, and is a good bet to improve in 2009.
First of all, Parra was hindered by some bad luck in 2008. His .337 BABIP was sixth highest among starting pitchers, and his 13.5% HR/FB was higher than league average as well. Both of these numbers figure to regress to the mean in 2009.
Furthermore, Parra showed an above-average ability to induce swinging strikes, an excellent sign for the young southpaw. Batters swung and missed at 9.3% of Parra’s pitches – above league average of 7.8% for starters.
He also induced ground balls on 51.6% of his balls in play, and limited fly balls to only 26.6% of his balls in play. This bodes quite well for him, as ground balls rarely become extra base hits and cannot become homers (plus, they can become double plays). Generally, lots of grounders + lots of strikeouts = lots of success.
Additionally, Parra has a track record of success in the minors. In 2007 he was excellent, accumulating 106 strikeouts and only 33 walks in 106 innings across double- and triple-A. Furthermore, he allowed only three homers in that time.
On the downside, Parra walked far too many hitters – 75, to be precise. He threw 39.3% of his pitches for balls – well above league average of 36.5%. However, given his track record, there is reason to believe that Parra will be able to improve upon this. While he was always somewhat wild in the minors, his career minor league walk rate is “only” 2.45 batters per nine. Furthermore, if Parra is able to throw fewer balls next year, it will also allow him to pitch deeper into games, allowing him more opportunities to strike batters out and pick up wins.
Even if Parra throws fewer balls next year, his relatively high walk total may prevent him from being much of an asset in WHIP. However, he will strike a lot of batters out, and the Brewers figure to give him a decent amount of run support, allowing him to pick up a fair amount of wins.
Parra is exactly the type of pitcher you should be targeting for 2009. He is a good bet for improvement for two reasons: he suffered from bad luck in 2008 – a high HR/FB and a very-high BABIP – so he figures to improve upon his ERA simply due to regression to the mean; and he is also a good bet to improve in his actual skill, due to his track record and age.
A combination of improvement and regression should lead to Manny Parra being a steal in 2009.