The start of Jarrod Parker’s 2013 season has been everything Oakland A’s fans had hoped would not happen. With an ERA of 7.36 in six starts (and a Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP value of 5.52), Parker has been costing the A’s quite a few runs and possibly even a few games. It’s up to the A’s coaching staff to determine what is going wrong for Parker and how to solve it, but in the meantime, we can explore some possible causes for his poor starts.
When combing through Parker’s statistics for this year, the first stat that really jumps out is his BABIP (batting average on balls in play, a measure of how lucky/unlucky a player is), which is an enormous .375, compared to last year’s value of .290. It’s quite clear that Parker has gotten the short end of the luck stick this year so far, with many of his pitches that are contacted become hits rather than outs.
Next, his HR/FB (home run to fly ball ratio) percentage is up four percent, meaning that four percent more of balls hit in the air off Parker are home runs, which is something you would like to avoid as a pitcher.
Parker is also striking out less batters and walking more, which leads to the next issue, the two-seam fastball. Pitch F/X data shows that Parker has thrown his 2-seam fastball about eight percent more this year than last year, and his four-seam fastball seven percent less. It can be inferred that Parker has replaced those lost four-seam fastballs with his two-seam fastball. However, Parker’s two-seam fastball is woefully ineffective, almost five runs below average, per 100 pitches (meaning that throwing the two-seam fastball is costing Parker almost 5 runs thrown. In other words, one in every 20 two-seam fastballs will cost Parker a run).
Parker’s other pitches have seen no significant change in percentage thrown, and his velocity on all his pitches has remained consistent between last year and this year. It should be noted that the effectiveness of all his pitches is down from last year, but the two-seam fastball seems to be having the most effect on his overall pitching approach.
This begs the question, what should the A’s do? If the coaching staff determines it’s a problem with pitch selection or effectiveness, a stint in AAA may not be a bad option to refine the pitch or mechanics as necessary. Replacing Parker’s spot in the rotation with Dan Straily may be a good option, netting a total of 0.6 Wins Above Replacement (0.3 for Straily and -0.3 for Parker). But with Brett Anderson on the DL, that might not be possible at the moment.
Even optioning for another AAA pitcher other than Straily, in theory, would gain the A’s 0.3 wins (a AAA slot starter being the definition of a replacement player, more or less). If Oakland’s coaching staff finds an injury, it may be best to place Parker on the DL until he can heal and work out his issues.