Oakland Athletics’ Jarrod Parker Throws First Bullpen Session In Two Years
The Oakland Athletics may soon enjoy the services of starting pitcher Jarrod Parker. Susan Slusser wrote an extensive update about Parker’s status on Tuesday, including a recap of his 26-pitch bullpen session.
Her article included comments from manager Bob Melvin, who captured the exact way I and many other fans felt about Parker’s elbow injury when he said, “I had to look away, and that was a video on a phone. I can’t imagine (what) the feeling was if you were there firsthand. Yeah, it was bad.”
I will admit that my heart broke a little when Parker collapsed with an elbow injury during a rehab assignment last season. I remember thinking that he is a very bright person, and that nobody in the baseball world would blame him if he used his talents to pivot his career towards broadcasting or coaching after that elbow fracture. Even to this day, I have to massage my own elbow a little bit whenever I think about how it must feel to throw a baseball after two Tommy John surgeries and a fractured elbow.
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The fact that Parker is back at spring training today is a testament to the amount of work that he has put into his rehab. Right now, it doesn’t matter what role the front office has planned for him; we’re just happy he’s here.
But this is baseball, and baseball is competitive. So what does Parker need to do in order to make contributions to wins in 2016?
Slusser’s article sheds some light on the process Parker is going through. She notes that he threw exclusively fastballs in his bullpen session, and that he started throwing changeups on flat ground a couple weeks ago.
These pitches are going to be the key to his effective return. If you recall his 2012 and 2013 seasons, his success relied on a high volume of strikeouts, sporting a respectable career 6.4 SO/9.
This is important to note because of the pitch that gets all of these strikeouts, his changeup. According to FanGraphs, his changeup induces more swings and misses than any of his other pitches by a wide margin. In his career, he has gotten a swing and a miss on a whopping 24.3 percent of changeups thrown. This is more than twice the amount of swings and misses garnered by his next most deceptive pitch, his slider which is swung on and missed 9.6 percent of the time.
If his changeup is strong enough to make him an effective two-pitch pitcher, then you may not see Parker throw very many sliders this year. They previously played a fairly important role in his arsenal, accounting for almost 14 percent of all pitches thrown during his career. However, the A’s may ask him to shorten his repertoire at first in order to preserve his arm.
This is what spring training means for Parker this year: Remaster the fastball to set up his signature changeup. He is a good enough pitcher to make this work, even if in a relief capacity at first. The other pitches will follow over time.
Chris Capuano is the case study for pitchers who have had a successful return from two Tommy John surgeries, and Parker is hoping to replicate his progress. If he is successful, then Parker may become the new gold standard for pitchers who have recovered from multiple surgeries, because of the additional elbow injury sitting on top of his Tommy John surgeries.
I’m rooting for you to do well, Jarrod. But we’re all rooting for you to stay healthy.