After a redshirt year in 2015 and just three disappointing appearances in 2016, junior right-hander Parker Joe Robinson needed to change something. A new head coach in David Pierce was joining the program. Pierce did not recruit him from JSerra High School in California, and said Thursday he did not see a need for him in the program when he got to Austin.
“Honestly, I tried to take his scholarship away from him because I didn’t think he could pitch here,” Pierce said.
Robinson was what Pierce called a “stock right-hander” with a three-quarters arm slot and a fastball velocity around 88 mph. Those pitchers come along often, hence Pierce not seeing the need to keep him as part of his program going forward.
However, before taking Robinson off scholarship, Pierce and pitching coach Phil Haig had a suggestion for the junior right-hander they gave Robinson on the way to his game for the California Collegiate League’s Orange County Riptide in the summer after Pierce’s hiring.
“Coach Pierce called me, and I was actually on the way to a summer ball game, he was saying ‘I think for you to have an impact on our team you might have to change up an arm slot,’” Robinson said Thursday. “I said okay. Obviously I’m okay with doing that. No big deal. He thought maybe I wouldn’t, but ended up coming full circle.”
It has taken a lot of work for Robinson to master throwing sidearm, and that work has paid off in 2018. Robinson is 2-0 over nine appearances and 12.0 innings of work with just a 1.50 ERA. His two wins come from appearances against Baylor and McNeese State. He has given up nine hits, walked just four, and has struck out 12.
He is now one of the more reliable options for Pierce and Haig out of the Texas bullpen in 2018 after there was a chance he would not contribute for the burnt orange at all.
“I went out over summer ball and got my work in,” Robinson said. “Next thing you know, I’m getting big innings out of the bullpen. It’s fun. It’s always good to be in the games. I’ve just had a good time with it.”
The work in summer ball helped tremendously. After posting a 3.63 ERA over 39.2 innings in the summer of 2016, Robinson’s numbers greatly improved last summer. He had two saves and had an ERA of 0.00 over 17 innings in California after just 9.1 innings of work for Texas in the 2017 season.
Getting to that point was a chore. Pierce and Haig were unable to have hands-on instruction with Robinson. The instruction they were able to offer also was without video tools such as FaceTime.
“With that being said, I started coaching him over the phone on how I think he ought to take a look at this and can you understand that,” Pierce said. “We literally had dialogue over the phone of him making an arm slot adjustment. The fall was slow and progressive, but good. Now, he’s got a little more on it, which is also a little more sink, which also has created confidence and his command has been awesome.”
Changing the arm angle was one challenge Robinson got through, but in order to become a contributor he had to cut ties with some of his arsenal.
“Coach Haig and I were talking and I was like ‘I’m just going to simplify it, get rid of the change up, get rid of the splitter, and just work on the sinker and the slider out of the same slot and create deception,’” Robinson said. “Ever since then, it’s been a lot more comfortable and I think especially going out this summer was when I really think everything came all together.”
Those pitches have become formidable challenges for opponents. In a recent game against Texas A&M, the Longhorns marched seven different pitchers out to the mound. Robinson worked one inning allowing one hit and striking out one.
A&M sources told Inside Texas that Robinson, who one source simply called “the side arm guy,” was the toughest matchup for Aggie hitters that evening.
Ground balls are a fact of life for a sinker-slider pitcher like Robinson. With the turf at UFCU Disch-Falk Field and those playing behind him, it’s no concern to him.
“I think a big thing with my game is understanding that I have probably the best defense in the country,” Robinson said. “I can get on that mound and take a big breath and relax. This is what I’ve got. I trust my teammates. I trust myself. Just keep on repeating pitches.”
It may not statistically be the best in the country, but it is not too far off. Texas is 0.08 percentage points behind national leader Yale in fielding percentage with 0.978. That mark is good for best in the Big 12, No. 24 nationally, and No. 10 for teams west of the Mississippi River.
After almost taking him off scholarship, Pierce can now look at his California reliever as an example for others to follow within the baseball program.
“It says everything about his character and his trust in himself, and the things that you want in the program to exemplify,” Pierce said. “That’s Parker Joe.”
The change in arm slot cost “P-Joe” some mph on his fastball, but the overall result has been everything he could have asked for.
“I know velocity has definitely gone down, but it doesn’t make a difference to me,” Robinson said. “As long as I’m getting outs I’m pretty happy.”