A Short Defense of Manny Parra Staying in the Rotation

I write about Manny Parra a lot. An unhealthy amount, in fact. He's a very interesting player, a lefty with good stuff and a track record of success in the minors.

Parra made his big league debut in 2007. He got 2 starts, and made 9 total appearances, adding up to 30 total innings. He struck out 9 batters per nine innings, and walked about 4 per 9. His FIP was 3.35, and his actual ERA was 3.76.

In 2008 Parra became a nearly full-time starter. His rates were about 8 strikeouts per 9, and 4 walks per 9. His FIP was 4.18, actual ERA 4.39.

In 2009, Parra looked to build on the success of the 2008 playoff season when he was at many times considered the #3 behind Sheets and Sabathia. His strikeouts fell to 7.5 per 9 and his walks jumped up to nearly 5 walks per 9. His FIP jumped up to 4.9. That FIP was even raised by a high home run to flyball rate, his expected FIP with a normalized home run rate would have been about 4.65. He did allow more fly balls while generating less ground balls, but actually allowed fewer line drives than in the previous season. Even though Parra had, in the majors, allowed a higher than usual BABIP (around .330), it jumped inexplicably to .360 in 2009. This resulted in an ERA of 6.36. One of these problems was some bad timing in giving up hits, he stranded about 65% of his runners on base, and the league average (and Parra's average) is around 70%.

The Brewers started the 2010 season with Parra in the bullpen. He was moved to the rotation and has started 13 games. He's responded with the best strikeout rate of his career (over 9 per 9) and has dropped his walk rate back down to about 4.3 per 9. His FIP is at 4.6, with a bad rate on home runs: his expected FIP is right at 4. The BABIP is right back up in the .360s, however, and his rates of line drives, fly balls, and ground balls are similar to last year's, and they're pretty much fine. And his ERA is 5.6.

If you're skeptical of FIP and tERA makes more sense to you, look at it this way: in the past three years, Parra's expected ERA based on his amount of line drives, fly balls, groundballs, strikeouts, and walks allowed, have been: 4.67, 4.78, and 4.67 again this year.

Something very strange is going on with Manny Parra. If someone can give me a justifiable reason why Parra is carrying the one of the highest BABIPs in history, I'm willing to listen. Though pitchers can have some influence on the amount of hits they allow on balls in play, there is no reason to expect that Manny Parra continue to carry a .360 BABIP.

I'm not trying to say that I still think Manny Parra is going to be a Cy Young candidate next year. I do think he has plenty of value, even as a cheap, high 4s, low 5-ERA pitcher to slot in the bottom of the rotation, and with a noticeable upside of a 4.2-4.4 type guy-- mainly because he has done it before. 

Most importantly, I think there is no reason to remove Parra from the rotation for the rest of the year. Let's see what he can do with some more starts. The alternatives are pitchers who will not play nearly as big a role in the future Brewers as Parra. It's a combination of upside and no clear alternatives, and I hope that the staff will do the right thing and not give 10 starts to a veteran who will certainly not be a member of the starting rotation come opening day 2011.

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