Coming into the 2013 season, there didn't seem to be an overwhelming contingent of New York Mets fans who believed that Bobby Parnell could handle the closer role. The believers were certainly out there, however.
After all, Parnell did quietly post a 2.49 ERA last year, the lowest of his MLB career. But the myth of the so-called "closer's mentality," and Parnell's inability to capture it, made many Mets fans skeptical that Parnell's solid 2012 campaign would necessarily translate to 9th-inning success at a consistent level.
Yet, through nearly two months of play, Parnell has not only had success as the Mets' full-time closer, he's been pretty excellent. Wednesday afternoon, he had one of his first real hiccups of the season as he was victimized by some bad bounces and was charged with three earned runs and his first loss of the year.
Coming into Wednesday's game, Parnell had a spectacular 0.93 ERA and 0.67 WHIP, both of which would easily be career-bests projected over a full season. While there are plenty of signs of potential regression (.204 BABIP, 85.7% LOB%), the 1.79 FIP, 54.2% ground ball percentage and 2.44 SIERA would seem to suggest that an overall high-level of play is legitimately possible.
So how did the 28-year-old Parnell go from inconsistent middle reliever to shutdown closer? Well, most people surmise that the turning point was working under Jason Isringhausen's tutelage, when Parnell scrapped his slider and instead focused on learning a knuckle-curve, one of Izzy's signature pitches.
The pitch type data on Fangraphs tells the story. You can see how Parnell's slider gets phased out of his repertoire, as he went from throwing sliders roughly 25% of the time, to throwing the knuckle-curve at about the same rate. If you buy into pitch values, it indicates the knuckle-curve made the fastball more effective, as well.
Robert Allen Dickey mesmerized fans (and opposing hitters) with his knuckleball. With the emergence of his own version of a "knuckler" of sorts, Robert Allen Parnell has made an R.A. Dickey-like evolution in his game. To me, and several others on Twitter, he is now R.A. Parnell, the man with the "closer mentality."
Whether it's the knuckle-curve, the sweet beard, the maturity of being a seasoned vet, or a combination of all that and more, Parnell has definitely taken his game to a new level this season.
Will it be enough to earn an All-Star nod at home at Citi Field? I guess we'll just have to wait and find out. In the meantime, the Mets will settle for a reliable homegrown closer. Something they haven't had in a long time.