Only eight short months ago, Chris Parmelee was the talk of what was left of this baseball town in the aftermath of a 99-loss season.
A September call-up, straight from Double-A no less, Parmelee went out and mashed pitching at the major league level. In a short span of time, he impressed people by demonstrating a keen batting eye, an excellent line drive swing and was able to put the occasional charge into the ball.
He seemed immune to the crumbling franchise around him. While the other youngsters of the team, reportedly referred to as “the fun bunch
”, enjoyed simply being called major leaguers, Parmelee went out and produced, even when the outcomes did not matter. He was an oasis in what has become a prospect-less desert for the Twins.
His impressive spring training performance the following March (combined with Justin Morneau’s uncertainty) only served as fuel the discussion that this kid was ready to join the big league club full-time.
However, after the same amount of games in 2012 as he had in the 2011 season, Parmelee’s results are vastly different. Last year in 88 plate appearances, he raked to the tune of .355/.443/.592. In 79 plate appearances this year, he is checking in with a .205/.266/.301 batting line.
The first is that the opposition has concocted a game plan. At the end of September of last year, I forewarned that the scouts would be vicious on Parmelee
, targeting his weak spot out over the plate. Opponents have stayed away from the left-handed first baseman this year, giving him fewer pitches middle-middle and middle-low where he was driving the ball a year ago. As such, he is swinging at pitches he did not do so with regularity in September.
The second reason Parmelee’s numbers are down is that he is having some mechanical issues at the plate. During a recent broadcast, former Twin and FSN commentator Roy Smalley accurately noted that Parmelee was opening up far too quickly with his hips, causing his bat speed to drag through the zone. Sure enough, video replays confirmed this. This makes it particularly more difficult to get to pitches on the outer-half – where, as noted above, pitchers have been targeting him - and drive them with authority.
Last, perhaps in response to the opposing teams pitching him better or because he has been pressing while slumping, his lauded plate discipline has all but disappeared. In 2011 he drew 12 walks to 13 strikeouts but has managed to coax just 4 free passes to 20 strikeouts this season.
Prior to the 2010 season, Parmelee’s track record is indicative of someone who has the tendency to whiff a bit. From 2006 through 2009, he struck out in 21.5% of his total plate appearances. From 2010 to 2011, he shaved that down to a more manageable 15%. So it is possible that Parmelee, who has struck out in roughly 25% of his plate appearances this year, has reverted back to his old ways once the competition caught up to him.
Pitchers have also thrown him fewer in-zone pitches as well this year (dropping from 46% to a below average 38%) and Parmelee, who has a disciplined eye, has increased his rate of chasing after pitches out of the strike zone – also likely a byproduct of (1) game plan changes and (2) trying to break out of a slump.
While those are three explanations behind why Parmelee has not been producing in 2012 - his plate discipline being the most troubling -there are reasons that may lead one to believe he can rebound from this slow start.
The first is his high baseball aptitude. For statheads, this sounds like jargon (and rightly so) but in this case, it refers to his ability to make adjustments. In the minors he worked with his coaches to change his swing from an upper-cut variety to a more level swing. As such, his line drive rate increased as did his batting average in the latter minor years. If he is able to adapt under those circumstances, he is likely able to adjust to how the opposition is game planning him – work on keeping those hips in and driving pitches on the outer-half.
Secondly, and more importantly, when he does connect, he is hitting a high percentage of line drives. A year ago, he hit a high amount of line drives (19%) and was blessed with an unsustainable .390 batting average on balls in play. It was not just the line drives that were finding turf, his grounders and fly balls found empty real estate just as frequently and well above average. This, by the way, is not unusual in a small sample size. So far in 2012, Parmelee has hit a higher percentage of line drives (23%) but the BABIP gods have eschewed him, giving him a .283 batting average on balls in play. Those ground balls and fly balls have now found their way to defenders (perhaps a result of teams being about to position better against him).
If Parmelee corrects his discipline and maintains that high line drive rate, balls will begin to find vacant land once again. The bigger question is can the Twins wait on that to happen at the major league level?
In the end, Parmelee may be better served with a stretch in Rochester to right his course.