Given his previous prospect pedigree, it wasn’t terribly shocking to see Jarrod Parker perform so well in his first season in the big leagues. However, throw in the fact that he missed the entire 2010 season due to Tommy John‘s surgery and now there was suddenly doubt cast over the young hurler.
Fortunately for himself — and for his future fantasy owners — Parker came roaring back in double-A in 2011 and earned himself a late season MLB start. He was seasoned for all of four games in triple-A in 2012 and then earned another call up. Despite pitching a grand total of 20.2 triple-A innings, according to ERA, Parker hit his stride almost immediately. His first half 2.96 ERA was sparkling, despite some underlying issues.
Most glaringly, in Parker’s first 14 MLB starts he surrendered 41 walks and and just 67 strikeouts. That makes for a very ugly 1.63 strikeout to walk ratio. In the second half of the season, spanning 15 starts, Parker upped his game to a mere 22 walks and 73 strikeouts. His 3.32 strikeout to walk ratio in the second half was better than the season mark posted by Jered Weaver, Mat Latos, or Edwin Jackson to name a few established names.
What brought about the change in his command and control? Luckily the excellent website TexasLeaguers offers us sortable PITCHf/x data by name and date, making it the ideal tool for this type of break down.
I took the time to re-chart his numbers. The algorithms that TL uses gave Parker a third type of fastball and a curveball, both miss-classified four-seamers and sliders respectively.
The charts show a clear difference in pitch frequency. After relying solely on his fastball almost 50% of the time (league average is approximately 55%), Parker cut his four-seamer usage even more in the second half the season. In fact, of qualified starters, the only pitchers who threw a fastball less often than Parker was R.A. Dickey, James Shields, and Barry Zito. That isn’t to say that Parker jettisoned all varieties of the fastball, as you can see his 2-seamer usage jumped up and made the difference between the fastball frequency. Assuming accurate pitch tracking, Parker threw one of his fastballs exactly 63.3% in both the first and second half of the season; which fastball he threw was the only difference.
Without changing the amount of times an opposing batter saw one of his fastballs, Parker managed to set up his slider much more effectively in the second half. Seeing his Whiff% more than double on his slider while his Whiff% on his change-up remains top notch is nothing short of spectacular pitching in action.
Parker was lucky to not get burned by his first half walks due to his .264 BABIP in his first 14 starts. As the season moved along, his walks were cut down significantly, but his ERA and WHIP jumped due to a .318 second half BABIP. Assuming his true talent lies somewhere in the middle, his combination of talent, mixing pitches, and the park that he calls home all make Parker an incredibly attractive target in 2013.
I searched high and low for a clip that could tie one of my favorite shows in with one of my favorite past times, but alas, I could not. I’ll settle for this Parks and Rec basketball clip instead: