Last year, Gerardo Parra finished with a stunning 4.5 WAR, which was 30th among all MLB players and 7th among all NL outfielders. This year, he’s struggled to a 0.2 WAR in more than half of his 2013 plate appearances — so what’s wrong with Gerardo Parra? Anecdotal evidence suggests that Parra has been “slower” this year, and we’ve seen at least one report that says that teams might not be enthusiastic about trading for him for that reason. Strangely enough, Parra has actually taken a step forward as a baserunner this season, but has taken a significant step back as a hitter, and an enormous step back as a fielder.
Saying Parra has been a better baserunner this season is a little misleading, in that most of his improvement has come from hurting himself less. Basically, he’s attempted steals at a slightly lower rate — he’s been caught 4 of 9 times this year, whereas last year, he was caught 10 of 20 times. Both rates are bad. This year’s rate is little less bad.
In terms of advancing on batted balls, Parra actually has improved. Last season he was worth about 1.5 runs on the base paths, following a 1.6 UBR in 2012. This year, he’s already up to 1.3 runs — a pace for maybe 2.5 to end the year. The difference is too small to draw any conclusions from, but we could at least note that it’s strange that Parra has been a better baserunner if he’s been slower. Has he simply taken fewer reckless chances?
For the record, Baseball Prospectus doesn’t quite agree with Ultimate Baserunning Rating (UBR) — BP’s statistic has Parra at -0.9 BRAA (Base Runs Above Average), which puts him on pace to match his 2013 BRAA of -1.8. But the point is still the same: there’s nothing from baserunning statistics to show that Parra is slower.
Parra’s hitting statistics have taken a dip, if not quite into the replacement pool. He sports a 87 wRC+, which puts him 13% worse at creating runs than the average non-pitcher — that’s a fairly significant drop from his 96 wRC+ last season, but nothing to be too alarmed about in a half-season’s worth of statistics. Still, we had some pretty high hopes that Parra’s new swing would make him better by helping him hit lefties, and it’s at least possible that it did, but that speed has compromised his game to the point of his stats taking a dive overall.
Parra actually has closed his platoon split by quite a bit with the new swing:
Parra has managed to raise his production against lefties a far amount as compared to last year, but looking at his career (and 2012) numbers, I think we’d actually guess his wRC+ against LHP would have gone back up to the 60 range anyway. Meanwhile, the improvement he showed in 2013 against RHP has eroded. Parra is not a terrible hitter right now, but so far this season, he hasn’t been much help with the stick.
A good first test to see if speed has affected Parra’s game at the plate is batting average on balls in play (BABIP). There’s a lot of random variation in BABIP, but fast players tend to outperform slow players in BABIP due to the ability to leg out infield hits. But, no explanation there for Parra: his 2014 BABIP (.310) is actually higher than last season’s mark (.305). This doesn’t prove that Parra’s speed has stayed the same, but it’s not evidence that it’s declined, either.
Believe it or not, but Parra has actually been pretty much the same hitter he was last year in terms of batting average (from .268 to .265) and on base percentage (from .323 to .317). The biggest difference is in slugging (from .403 to .374). And he’s on pace for the same number of home runs — the shortfall in slugging all comes from a shortfall in doubles. Could it be that Parra has taken second a little less often? Could diminished speed have hurt his game that way?
Doesn’t look like it, although Parra has actually improved his line drive rate this year (from 19.9% of batted balls to 23.3%). Yesterday, Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info tweeted some updated stats for “hard hit rate” — and Gerardo Parra ranked 195th among 207 hitters with just 11.0% of batted balls. Knowing that, it’s almost a surprise that Parra has 22 extra base hits, and we can’t credit the lack of extra bases to Parra’s speed.
We frequently say that it takes three years’ worth of advanced defensive statistics to get any kind of real read on a particular player’s true talent level in the field. We’ve also said frequently in this space that Parra’s defensive statistics were so extremely good last season that they were definitely the result not only of talent, but of luck. It would seem odd, then, to panic about a half-season’s worth of stats. But the difference between last season and this one is night and day for Parra.
Here, at long last, we have some evidence that suggests a drop in speed. Not only is Parra off of last season’s historic defensive pace, but so far, UZR has him rated merely average. It’s not that his throwing arm has had less of an effect on baserunners advancing (ARM) — that number is only slightly off what it was last year. He’s not dropping balls (ErrR). But what he’s lost is range, it appears (RngR) — last season Parra had amazing range in right field, and this season he’s below average for a right fielder. That’s a pretty significant drop.
Yes, the sample is too small to say Parra has lost his touch out there in RF. We can’t use this to determine his true talent level. But advanced defensive statistics are still a pretty good record of what actually happened (except for the ARM component, which does involve league average numbers), and for what it’s worth, Defensive Runs Saved has also seen a pretty big drop in range from Parra this season (from 26 rPM to 2 rPM).
Total Zone numbers shed even more light. Last year, Parra made plays on 94.4% of balls hit in his “zone” — this year, that number has dropped to 92.1%. Much more telling is Parra’s relative lack of plays made outside his zone: just 34 so far this year, compared to 130 last year. Assuming this season’s statistics would be almost exactly half of last year’s, we would have expected about 30 more plays outside the fielding zone for Parra.
So Parra is making fewer plays outside of the RF zone. There’s a slight chance that that has to do with A.J. “Action Jackson” Pollock’s incredible range in center, but Parra was paired with Pollock for most starts last year, too. No, I think from the lack of “out of zone” plays and Parra’s worsening range numbers that he may have lost a step. And if it’s a leg injury, it could explain why Parra has had trouble hitting the ball with authority, too.
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