Blake Parker Takes His Services to Philly’s Pen

Blake Parker, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent today for terms not yet disclosed, struck out 33.9% of the batters he faced as an Angel in 2017 and walked just 6.3%. That performance earned him two consecutive one-year, $1.8 million deals: one with the Angels, for 2018, and one with the Twins for this year. Parker wasn’t all that effective in Minnesota, though, posting a 5.35 FIP over 36.1 innings pitched, and he lost Rocco Baldelli’s confidence in July, earning just six appearances after getting 12 in June. Now he’s a Phillie, after the Twins designated him for assignment on July 24 and he cleared waivers three days later.

The problem in 2019 appears on the surface to be velocity, especially on the fastball. That pitch was averaging 93.9 mph just two years ago, then dropped down to 92.8 last year and 92 so far this year. Parker can succeed without a fastball at 94 — he posted a 2.90 FIP over 46 innings with the Cubs in 2013 while it sat at 92.8 — but he threw his curveball nearly a third of the time back then, and that pitch has never been particularly effective. In late 2018, he added a cut fastball that he now throws about 7% of the time, almost entirely at the expense of his four-seamer, but the overall package just hasn’t come together. His strikeout rate and swinging strike rate are both down even as contact against him is up:

Three Years of Decline for Parker
K% BB% Contact% SwStr% Hard%
2017 33.9% 6.3% 70.9% 13.8% 33.8%
2018 25.4% 6.9% 76.6% 10.7% 37.5%
2019 21.7% 10.2% 75.6% 10.6% 47.6%

In Philadelphia, Parker’s arrival will continue the overhaul of a bullpen that’s been ravaged by injury — David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Jerad Eickhoff, Seranthony Domínguez, and Edubray Ramos are all on the IL — and needs to improve if the Phillies want to make good on their 21.6% playoff odds, almost all of which come through the Wild Card slot. The team’s 5.02 relief FIP is worst in the National League and better than only the Mariners, Tigers, and Orioles in the major leagues. Parker will pair with Héctor Neris, Juan Nicaso, and newly-turned reliever Nick Pivetta as right-handed options in Gape Kapler’s arsenal, and as his 1.28 GB/FB ratio compares favorably with all but Nicasio’s, he’s likely to get innings right away.

Unless something very odd has happened, Philadelphia will pay Parker less, on a pro-rated basis, than the $1.8 million for which they could have had him a week ago. At that price, there’s absolutely no harm in giving him a chance to right the ship and find a pitch or two that works for him. If the Phillies are going to make it to the postseason for the first time in this rebuilding cycle and the first time since 2011, they’ll need someone in the bullpen to figure it out. Parker may as well try.

Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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AS a Phillies fan, I’ll have to hope he’s able to find whatever helped him induce the grounders earlier in the season. Those fly balls at CBP have a habit of turning into home runs.