I’m not ready to give up on Manny Parra.
I can hear everybody now. “Of course he’s not ready to give up on Manny Parra.” Really, I might be, if not for the absolute dearth of options available in the Brewers system. Who’s going to start instead of Parra? The only starter on the Sounds roster who even approaches average for that league is Sam Narron, and his 45 Ks in almost 90 AAA innings doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Chuck Lofgren may be the worst pitcher in the PCL, and Chris Waters and Chase Wright aren’t far behind.
The Brewers need to know whether or not to tender a contract to Parra after the season. It’s one thing to pay a pitcher the minimum while he tries to figure it out in a lost season (which, really, is what this has been ever since Parra joined the rotation). It’s another entirely to make him a millionaire or more while doing so.
Parra has thrown 84.1 innings as a starter this season. He has struck out 88 batters (fantastic!), but allowed 16 home runs, 99 hits, and 47 walks, all of which are pretty terrible numbers for a starter. As a result, Parra’s been almost exactly replacement level by both FIP and tRA, although xFIP (which normalizes the HR numbers) has him as above replacement level, and, naturally, ERA has him as below replacement level.
The problem for Parra is the 6th inning. Parra has made it to the 6th inning in 16 games (including, I believe, one relief appearance). He has recorded 29 outs in these 16 games, allowing 18 earned runs, 25 hits, and 16 walks while striking out 15. I think it’s fair to say that Manny has “lost it” in the sixth inning on multiple (almost every?) occasion in which he’s had the chance.
The previous five innings are pretty good. 79 innings pitched, 40 ER (4.56 ERA), 81 Ks, 36 BBs. The only black spot is 13 HRs, and that’s a number that will likely regress, as Parra’s HR/FB rate is a career high this season. I’m hard pressed to explain why Parra struggles so mightily in the sixth inning. This isn’t an isolated issue for 2010, either – he has a 9.20 ERA in the sixth inning for his career.
However, I can suggest two simple solutions.
The first, and probably most likely, is a move to the bullpen. Use Parra similarly to Kameron Loe this season – many multiple inning appearances, and a lot of appearances. Parra’s arm should be able to handle 80-100 relief innings in a season. Given that high-K, high-BB guys tend to thrive in the bullpen, and the fact that he’s better in the first two innings (4.14, 4.88 career ERAs respectively, which would likely be better in a relief role), Parra profiles well as a reliever.
The other one is a bit more unorthodox. Make Parra a 4-5 inning starter. Yes, this would put a strain on the bullpen, but that could be neutralized if this shift to pitchers who can throw multiple innings out of the bullpen (Loe, Axford, Braddock, and probably Villanueva if he’s around next year) continues. His career numbers suggest (4.78 ERA, 4.44 FIP) that he could be an above average starter if managers just stop trotting him out therre after 80-90 pitches in a sixth inning. It’s too bad that it would have to be that way, but Parra should have value if used this fashion.
Either way, pitchers who strike out a batter per inning don’t grow on trees. The Brewers aren’t going anywhere this year, and there’s no point in just giving up now. If he continues to fail miserably as he has in July and August, fine, non-tender him and move on. But let’s not forget June, where Parra struck out 11 batters per nine innings and posted a top-5 xFIP in the National League. I’m fine with the last month and a half of this season as Parra’s Last Chance (TM), but let’s at least make sure it’s a real chance.