As the season progresses and the availability of real live center fielders decreases, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has been lowering standards for center field qualifications -- such as "he smells like a center fielder" and "he reminds me of a young John Fogerty". Chris Parmelee has been the latest infielder to play the most defensively significant outfield role.
There is no question that Parmelee is swinging a burning hot bat right now -- having gone 16-for-35 over the last 10 games -- which calls for his inclusion somewhere in the lineup. After his performance in Texas, Gardenhire admitted that there may be more lineup cards submitted with Parmelee’s name next to CF. “He reads balls good and gets good jumps on them,” Gardenhire told reporters afterwards.
Now with Joe Mauer suffering the dreaded oblique injury during Tuesday night's game, the Twins’ manager could find a new infielder to use in center, however, Chris Colabello was recalled from Rochester -- a likely substitute for Mauer at first -- leaving Parmelee free to roam the outfield.
Is Parmelee’s bat really worth the head- and heart-ache of playing center field?
Parmelee has proven to be a streaky hitter in his tenure with the Twins. No sooner did I hit "publish" on a post that highlighted the mechanical changes he implemented that were going to increase his power levels three times over, he went into a slump of epic proportions. After going 8-for-25 with two home runs over his first six games back with Minnesota, he went 7-for-48 over the next 19 games (but, hey, two more home runs!).
In many ways, Parmelee is the inverse of Brian Dozier. Dozier has been creaming pitches left up in the zone. Parmelee, just the opposite. The heat map below provided by ESPN/trumedia shows the location of the hitters' extra base hits:
Polar opposites, right?
Parmelee’s swing is also very susceptible to being pitched up and out over the plate where he swings and misses the most regularly (and where Brian Dozier would deposit the pitch into the left field bleachers):
Parmelee showed a tendency to swing (but not necessarily chase anything above the zone) at pitches left up in the zone during his cold spell. Teams attacked those spots to great success.
Last night’s first plate appearance demonstrated well Parmelee’s success on pitches down in the zone. Here he takes a James Shields’ off-speed pitch located down in the zone, keeps his weight back and drives the ball into the left-center field gap for a double:
Part of the reason why he does so well on low balls is that his swing path follows a golf-swing pattern which allows him to hit that zone better. While certainly not textbook, his back shoulder drops (as seen in the example below) and his bat head tilts in his swing which makes it more difficult for contact at pitches up in the zone.
It is because of this swing that Parmelee has the sixth highest fly ball rate (52%) which is well above his career norm (43%).
Teams are not stupid; they see the same data and video on Chris Parmelee. Pitchers will continue to attack at Parmelee’s weaknesses and avoid his strengths. Parmelee, to avoid falling into another valley, needs to focus on his strength -- drive the pitch down in the zone when it is there -- and try to lay off those pitches up in the zone.