Mitchell Parker Dominates First Two Starts: Ryan’s Reflections

by Ryan Kirksey
Alec Burleson Takes Over St. Louis

Before the 2024 Fantasy Baseball season began, little attention was paid to the starting rotation for the Washington Nationals. In fact, in NFBC leagues, the first Washington starter taken in March drafts was at pick 263 (MacKenzie Gore). But after rookie pitcher Mitchell Parker dominates in his first two starts at the Major League level, is it time to start paying him and the Nationals more attention?

No one would currently look at the Nationals' rotation and mistake it for a playoff contender. In fact, through the April 21 games, Washington's cumulative ERA among their starting pitchers ranked 24th in the Major Leagues (4.77). That's right behind the Miami Marlins and just ahead of the Oakland Athletics. However, Mackenzie Gore has seen a career revival, Mitchell Parker is unhittable through two starts, and Trevor Williams is having the best start to his career.

Parker, just the 29th-ranked prospect in the Nationals' organization, has now thrown two amazing games against the powerful Astros and Dodgers. Can he keep it up and help Washington keep up their surprising .500 start to the season? Let's dig into the numbers and see what we can expect. What is to come for this out-of-nowhere rookie phenom?

Mitchell Parker Dominates First Two Starts

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"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." That's how the saying goes, right? It could have easily been dismissed when Mitchell Parker made his Major League debut on April 15th. His five innings of shutout ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers - the best lineup in baseball - could be considered a fluke. If that's the case, however, how do we explain his seven innings, eight strikeouts, and zero earned runs allowed against the Astros on Saturday? The Astros may be having a down start to the season, but they are still fifth overall in team wOBA and the hardest team in the league to strike out.

Mitchell bamboozled Houston on Sunday, allowing just three hits and no walks to go along with his eight punch-outs. Despite his fastest pitch being just 93 miles per hour, Parker's massive vertical break on his nasty curveball kept the Houston hitters on their toes all day. Just that pitch produced a 30% whiff rate. Overall, the curve earned Parker a 50% called + swinging strike rate (CSW%) on the day.

Parker is no stranger to lots of strikeouts. In his slightly more than three years in the Minor Leagues, he never had a stop with fewer than 10.45 strikeouts per nine innings.  He also has been able to limit long balls. Only once in his five stops did he allow more than 1.26 home runs per nine innings.

Parker's problem before reaching the big leagues - something that hasn't materialized yet - is his walk rate. In the minors, he would oscillate all over the place. At three stops, the rate was under 3.5 walks per nine. At three others, it was 4.25 or higher, including two stops above 6.00. Parker's ability to limit those at the Major League level will tell the tale of how long he can survive with the big club.

What to Expect From Mitchell Parker the Rest of 2024?

Even though Parker Mitchell has been generating tremendous success on the back of his nasty curveball, scouts believe that's the only strong weapon in his arsenal. Mitchell's scouting grades on his fastball and splitter on Fangraphs don't come close to his curveball. His command is only graded a 30 on the traditional 20-80 scale. The fact that Parker has struggled with walks in multiple stops is going to eventually catch up to him.

The projection systems are also bearish on Parker for 2024. Now with Minor League and Major League data, the most aggressive projection system puts Parker at a 4.50 ERA with eight strikeouts per nine the rest of the way. That's primarily because all of the major systems are aligned on walks. They believe that Parker will have between 4.00 and 4.50 walks per nine for the rest of the season. The command (or lack thereof) is going to come back to bite him at some point as Major League hitters adjust.

Because of his age (he doesn't turn 25 until September), and his strikeouts in the minors, Parker is a hold in keeper and dynasty formats. But he screams out as a "sell high" candidate in redraft formats right now. His next start is against the Miami Marlins. If Parker comes out and shuts down that weak lineup for a third straight solid outing, see what you can get in trade immediately.

Mitchell Parker is a nice story in early 2024, but it's unlikely to last.

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