Jarrod Parker's early-season call up helped fuel the Oakland Athletics all the way to the AL West Division title. Is he ready to lead the A's pitching staff once again?
Last season, the Oakland Athletics called up top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, who they acquired from the Diamondbacks as part of the deal that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona, on April 23, and he made his first career start with the A's two days later against the Chicago White Sox.
Parker was in line for his first major league win -- holding the White Sox to one run and seven hits in 6.1 innings with five strikeouts and one walk -- but the A's bullpen couldn't hold a 2-1 lead. The A's went on to win the game in 14 innings and although Parker didn't earn the win, it was a sign of things to come for the 23-year old and for the team.
Parker -- rated the 23rd best prospect by Scout.com in 2012 after successfully coming back from Tommy John surgery -- finished the season 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and a 140:63 K:BB ratio in 181.1 innings, leading the AL West Champions in wins and strikeouts. Had he not been in such a loaded class, Parker would have garnered more support for AL Rookie of the Year -- he finished fourth behind Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish.
Parker didn't wow in any one facet of the game, ending the season with league average strikeout and walk rates, at 18.6 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively. His 3.95 xFIP and .290 BABIP suggest some regression is on the way, but there's also some upside hiding in Parker. In his last full year in the minors, Parker averaged 7.71 K/9 in Double A, and the year before, he averaged 8.78 K/9 between Double-A and High-A. Top that with a SwStr% of just under 10 percent -- along with above average contact rates -- and you should see an uptick in strikeouts closer, in my opinion, to 8 K/9 than 7 K/9.
Control appeared to be a problem early on for Parker in 2012. In his first 14 starts, Parker allowed 41 walks in 85 innings, but in his final 15, he allowed just 22 walks in 96.1 innings. Naturally, pitching more consistently in the zone led to more hits, a higher opponent's batting average and his ERA increased from 2.96 to 3.92, but the results were there for Parker, who picked up eight of his team-leading 13 wins during the second half. As David Wiers points out in this FanGraphs article, the change that led to better control for Parker was using his four-seam fastball less and using his 2-seamer more. This led to better effectiveness of both his slider and changeup, which together accounted for 104 of his 140 strikeouts in 2012.
One thing Parker did very well in 2012 was keep the ball in the ballpark, as his 0.55 HR/9 was third best in the league behind Felix Hernandez and Gio Gonzalez. Of course, like Hernandez, Parker has the benefit of playing his home games in a park known to suppress home runs, but he also has the benefit of a strong minor league track record -- in his minor league career, he only gave up 19 home runs in 366.1 innings, or 0.47 HR/9. I don't see home runs ever becoming a big problem for Parker, especially in that ballpark.
Parker comes in at No. 36 in the Fake Teams consensus rankings with a high ranking of 34 and a low ranking of 42, right in front of established starters Tim Lincecum, C.J. Wilson, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez. While before last year that might have looked entirely silly -- especially with Parker, you know, having one major league appearance before the year began -- I think Parker provides as much value and more upside than any of those four starters. He has a better than good chance of being a top 30 starter in 2013, in my opinion, and you should feel confident drafting him as such.