With an untimely injury to Mac Williamson in the midst of a battle for left field, Jarrett Parker stands unopposed to start in left field for the San Francisco Giants come Opening Day. We’ll analyze how the 28-year-old will fare with his first starting gig at the major-league level.
As the story goes, Jarrett Parker, a former second-round pick for the San Francisco Giants back in 2010, entered spring training as the favorite to become the team’s newest starting left fielder because his lone competition in Mac Williamson, who San Francisco drafted in 2012, possesses minor-league options, while Parker has none.
Parker and Williamson started out hot to begin the spring, further blurring the line between who was the worthy candidate to usurp the vacancy in left field even with Williamson’s options in mind, but a quadriceps injury sidelined Williamson as the race between the two candidates began to arrive at its climax, allowing for Parker to unofficially win the starting spot.
Williamson’s injury coincided with Parker’s roughest four-game stretch of the entire spring, totaling only one hit in his last 12 at-bats and striking out nine times, including a golden sombrero against the San Diego Padres on March 21.
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The Virginia-product is no stranger to striking out, rocking a career strikeout percentage of 29.6 percent over 2,820 career plate appearances in the minor leagues. Parker’s tendency to rack up strikeouts remains one of the outfielder’s most glaring weaknesses, but he put up a solid slash line of .262/.365/.459 with a wOBA of .370 and a wRC+ of 122 with 100 career home runs despite the high strikeout totals.
In his brief major-league career, Parker has outperformed his minor-league totals, hitting .267/.371/.494 with a wOBA of .373 and a wRC+ of 139 over 205 plate appearances, albeit the left fielder’s unsustainable hot streak in September of 2015 in which he slashed .347/.407/.755 with six home runs, wOBA of .486 and wRC+ of 220 in 54 plate appearances helped boost his numbers.
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Parker’s offensive performance last season served as a more accurate representation of how he would fare as the starting left fielder for the San Francisco Giants, hitting .236/.358/.394 with five home runs, a wOBA of .332, and wRC+ of 110 over 151 plate appearances, but these totals derive from a somewhat limited sample size.
Limited sample size considered, his career strikeout percentage at the major-league level, which stands at 31.7 percent, remains a concern, especially as the opposition begins to develop a more cohesive scouting report.
Strikeout rates aside, by far the most egregious aspect of Parker’s offensive game has been his inability to hit left-handed pitching.
To further beat a dead horse, over 775 plate appearances at all levels, Parker has hit a mere .227 against southpaws, contrasted with hitting .272 against right-handed pitching over 2,251 plate appearances.
Parker hit surprisingly well against lefties in 2015 against both Triple-A and major-league pitching, slashing .273/.368/.440 with five home runs in 174 plate appearances, but that season clearly stands as an outlier.
In his brief time at the major-league level, Parker has hit .200/.259/.400 with a wOBA of .286, wRC+ of 81, and K% of 33.3% against left-handed pitching over 54 plate appearances. These numbers include Parker’s uncharacteristically hot 2015, but if we look at only 2016, Parker hit .108/.154/.216 with a wOBA of .164, a wRC+ of -2, and a K% of 38.5%, all of which reflect Parker’s struggles to hit left-handed pitching successfully.
By contrast, Williamson has hit .242 over 466 plate appearances against left-handed pitching at all levels since 2012 against left-handed pitching, far from a lefty killer, but someone who can hold his own in the batter’s box.
Williamson currently has a slash line of .198/.278/.370 with a wOBA of .285, wRC+ of 79, and strikeout percentage of 26.7 percent against left-handed pitching at the major-league level, but he has been opposite of Parker in that a bad introduction in 2015 brought down his numbers.
In 2016, Williamson hit .212/.297/.424 with a wOBA of .313, a wRC+ of 97, and a strikeout percentage of 29.7 percent with the San Francisco Giants, far from desirable levels, but decent with signs for improvement nonetheless.
Parker’s defense draws concerns as well, an aspect of his game which has flown under the radar mainly because of his ineptitude against left-handers.
The sample size for Parker’s defense is small, but it is worth noting that in 371.2 innings in the outfield, he has -5 Defensive Runs Saved and a UZR/150 of -16.3. In left field specifically, Parker has -1 DRS and a UZR/150 of -33.7 in 147.0 innings.
Projection systems don’t show any indication of a breakout performance. Here is how the major projection systems believe he’ll fare in 2017:
ZiPS: .224/.312/.398 with a wOBA of .309 and wRC+ of 95
Steamer: .232/.312/.393 with a wOBA of .306 and wRC+ of 93
Depth Charts: .228/.312/.395 with a wOBA of .308 and wRC+ of 94.
Considering Parker’s track record, objecting with those predictions is challenging, and I cannot bring myself to believe that he will exceed those numbers.
By throwing the outlier that was 2015 out the window and focusing on 2016, Parker hasn’t shown signs that he can produce at an average level.
With Parker as the starting left fielder, the San Francisco Giants will also need to promote a bat which can consistently hit left-handed pitching to mask his shortcomings rather than the best option available.
Parker in the lineup also becomes problematic in the latter innings as opposing managers can use lefty specialists to play into his weakness.
As a power bat who hits at a decent clip against right-handed pitching, Parker suits the role of a fourth outfielder who can occasionally start against right-handed pitching more than a starting left fielder, allowing Bruce Bochy to maximize his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses.
I’m slightly more pessimistic regarding Parker’s performance in 2017 and project he will hit around .220/.310/.380 with a wOBA of .300 and a wRC+ of 90.
Furthermore, I don’t believe Parker will still have a hold on the starting left field spot by the end of the year, whether by San Francisco instilling trust in Williamson, or trading for a better option.
While he has solid pop and could put up double-digit home run totals with enough plate appearances, San Francisco is unlikely to place their stock in Parker long term, but starting him to begin the season could potentially become a win-win situation of sorts.
If Parker exceeds expectations and puts together a solid season, the San Francisco Giants finally answer a pestering question.
On the other hand, if Parker fails to meet expectations, the Giants can confidently garner closure that Parker isn’t the team’s long-term option and shift him into the role of a fourth outfielder with the ability to say they gave Parker a fair shot at the job.
Regardless of the scenario, the left field question won’t go away anytime soon.