For most of the offseason, GM Billy Eppler focused on bolstering the position players and starting pitching, with acquisitions of OFs Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere, 2B/SS Danny Espinosa, C Martin Maldonado, and SP Jesse Chavez. The resources these players necessitated creativity in structuring the remainder of the roster, which is why Eppler brought into spring training an assortment of versatile, multi-inning relievers (JC Ramirez, Yusmeiro Petit, Bud Norris) as well as scrappy, hard-throwing journeymen with menial command (Austin Adams, Blake Parker, Kirby Yates, Justin Miller, Jose Valdez, among others) to add to the lockdown Cam Bedrosian, capable Andrew Bailey, and adventurous Huston Street. The end result has worked out better than expected, but this piece isn’t about the Angels bullpen as a whole. Nope, it’s about Blake Parker: and as promised, here is that very piece.
Coming into this season, Blake Parker held a 3.87 ERA and a 3.68 FIP in 90.2 innings, a 9.9 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, a 1.1 HR/9, and a 1.36 WHIP. Given that he only threw an around league-average 90-91 mph, these are the statistics of an around-average middle reliever.
At first glance, Parker’s ERA is bound to scare you but his FIP (a statistic that better captures a pitcher’s underlying performance) indicates he was actually slightly better than league average during that time.
As you can tell by the drastic improvement in this year’s FIP, Parker was clearly one of the team’s biggest pickups this offseason despite flying under the radar. Nobody, not even Eppler, could have known that Parker would have turned a corner this year but most peripherals point to this being a legitimate, sustainable turnaround. Perhaps not the extent of success he is having, but his newfound brilliance isn’t coming out of left field.
Parker finally felt healthy last year and in the offseason, ratcheted up an offseason training routine with weighted balls that added 2 miles per hour of velocity to his pitches, making his fastball sit at an above-average 94 mph this year. One of the biggest differences the reliever expressed was learning how to pitch as opposed to throwing, as well as being two years removed from a surgery to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. Claimed off waivers, Parker went on to strike out 17 batters in a row in spring training, taking a well-earned spot in the Angels bullpen.
He’s throwing the 4-seam fastball 75% of the time, saving the splitter and curveball as swing-and-miss pitches.
In changing his pitch mix to increase splitter usage (the purple lines) and learning how to pitch, he has completed his maturation from an extreme fly-ball pitcher to an extreme ground-ball pitcher.
With few exceptions, ground balls are more welcome to a pitcher than fly balls because they are hit softer on the ground and have more defenders covering, and therefore are more likely to be converted into outs.
Opponents are also whiffing like never before, swinging more and making less contact than they ever have against Parker. Take a look at opponents’ struggling by whiffing and failing to make contact.
A strikeout and ground-ball machine, Parker has figured out how to dominate opponents. Sure, Parker will struggle when weakly hit ground balls inevitably sneak through, but a high .375 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) indicates his 3.78 ERA is a product of incredibly poor luck. His true talent level is a lot closer to his sub-1 FIP than his ERA and at 31 years of age, his story has only just begun.