By reader request, let's take a look at Manny Parra.
Not a Rookie: Manny Parra
Three years ago, I thought Milwaukee Brewers lefty Manny Parra had a good chance to be an very effective, even excellent, major league pitcher. He did have a decent rookie season in 2008, but his '09 season was a disaster and 2010 hasn't been great either. What is going on here, and does he have a chance to fulfill his original potential?
Manny Parra was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 26th round in 2001, out of American River Junior College in California. He signed as a draft-and-follow in the spring of '02, then went to Ogden in the Pioneer League and posted a 51/10 K/BB with a 3.21 ERA in 48 innings, though he did allow 59 hits. The high hit rate was notable because he threw 92-95 MPH, and his curveball and slider were both rated as plus pitches. Combine that with good control, and there was no obvious reason for him to give up that many hits. I felt it was a small sample fluke, and gave him a Grade C+ in the 2003 book, writing that Parra "could be one of the big names in A-ball in 2003."
Development of his changeup pushed Parra to greater success in 2003: 11-2, 2.73 ERA with a 117/24 K/BB in 139 innings for Low-A Beloit, 127 hits allowed. His K/BB ratio was outstanding, while his K/IP and H/IP were safely better than average for the Midwest League context. He missed the last three weeks of the season with a "tired arm," but it wasn't expected to be a major problem. I gave him a Grade B+ in the '04 book, and rated him as the Number 23 pitching prospect in baseball.
Parra moved up to the pitching hellhole of High Desert in 2004. The bad news: shoulder soreness limited him to just 67 innings pitched. The good news: he pitched well in those 67 innings, posting a 3.48 ERA with a 64/19 K/BB, excellent numbers for High Desert. I was impressed with this and scouting reports remained very positive, 90-94 MPH, plus curveball, decent slider, decent changeup, good command. I lowered his rating slightly to a Grade B in the '05 book, writing "where there is sore shoulder smoke, there is often torn labrum fire."
Parra reported to Double-A Huntsville to begin 2005. He posted a 3.96 ERA with a 86/21 K/BB in 91 innings, but gave up 111 hits and showed reduced velocity, down to 88-90 MPH. His shoulder began bugging him again and he ended up having surgery to repair a frayed labrum. I gave him a Grade C+ in the '06 book, "with higher upside if his arm is OK." Post-surgery reports were positive, but I wanted to see the proof.
Following rehab, Parra went to Brevard County in the Florida State League to begin 2006, posting a 2.96 ERA with a 61/32 K/BB in 55 innings, 47 hits. He moved back up to Huntsville for six starts and performed quite well: 2.87 ERA, 29/8 K/BB in 31 innings, 26 hits. He showed no diminution in command, but his fastball was still just 88-90 MPH for most of the season. He added a splitter to give the hitters another look to go with the curveball and changeup, dropping the slider. I kept him at a Grade C+ in the 2007 book due to the diminished velocity, but wrote that "if he can stay healthy he may surprise us."
He did, and he did. Parra got his velocity back in 2007, hitting 93-94 MPH again while maintaining his secondary pitches and command. This resulted in a 2.68 ERA with a 81/26 K/BB in 81 innings for Huntsville, then a 1.73 ERA with a 25/7 K/BB in 26 innings for Triple-A Nashville. He looked good in late season action with the Brewers, posting a 3.76 ERA with a 26/12 K/BB in 26 innings, allowing 25 hits. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2008 book, stating he was a darkhorse Rookie of the Year candidate. I ranked him Number 14 on the pitching prospect list.
As you know, Parra had a decent rookie season, going 10-8, 4.39 in 166 innings with a 147/75 K/BB, but giving up 181 hits. In 2009 he somehow went 11-11 but with a 6.36 ERA, 179 hits in 140 innings, and a ERA+ of 63. Both his strikeout and walk ratios slipped, down to 116/77. This year he has been almost exactly mid-way between his '08 and '09 numbers: 5.33 ERA, 79/38 K/BB in 81 innings, 100 hits, with an increasing strikeout rate at least. He now has a career ERA of 5.20 in 413 innings, allowing 485 hits with a 368/202 K/BB and an ERA+ of 79. Hardly what was expected.
So what's going on? He's still throwing 90-95 MPH, so it is not a problem with velocity. He has a wide arsenal of pitches, still using a curveball, changeup, splitter, and slider once again, although he's not using the slider nearly as often this season and is relying more on the splitter. The ERAs and hit rates have been ugly, although his FIP and xFIP marks have been much better at 4.41 and 4.21 in his career.
This Fangraphs article from Dave Golebiewski was written in December and thus does not include 2010 data, but it is still interesting, using Pitch F/X to explore the theory of scouts that Parra throws too many "fat" pitches that hitters tee off on.
The theory seems plausible to me. Parra's component ratios indicate a pitcher with greater potential than he's shown so far. If the "fat pitch" theory is accurate, that should be a correctable problem with a better mental approach. A change of scenery to a different organization might help, too. Parra turns 28 in October and seems rather old to be a "breakout" candidate, but I still expect him to have some good seasons eventually.