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Park Factor

I must admit, the Yankees caught me completely off guard when they signed Chan Ho Park Sunday night. I figured their bullpen was pretty much set with the loser of the fifth-starter battle between Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes working the eighth inning, Damaso Marte the lefty, David Robertson as the secondary righty, Alfredo Aceves and Chad Gaudin as long/swing men, and Mark Melancon hoping to make his way into the final spot and force the Yankees to bounce Sergio Mitre from the 40-man roster. So where does Park fit?

Toward the top. Park’s 2009 season doesn’t look that impressive on its face because he was awful in seven starts for the Phillies, but after moving to the bullpen, he posted a 2.52 ERA and struck out 52 men in 50 innings. Over the final three months of the season, that ERA shrank to 1.52. Park wasn’t as sharp in the postseason, but one could blame that on the hamstring pull that cost him a month and kept him out of the NLDS. In his career, Park has posted a 3.95 ERA in relief, nearly a half run better than his career mark as a starter, along with an 8.7 K/9. Indeed, though Park signed so late because he was hoping to catch on elsewhere as a starter, it has been his move to the bullpen over the past two seasons that has salvaged his career in his late 30s (he’ll be 37 in early June).

The first Korean-born major leaguer, Park emerged as the Dodgers’ second-best starter (behind Kevin Brown) around the turn of the millennium and hit the free agent market at the age of 28 with a 80-54 career record and a 3.80 career ERA. The Rangers, who had given Alex Rodriguez the biggest contract in major league history the previous year, signed Park to a five-year deal worth $65 million only to watch him completely fall apart.

The move from the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium to the homer-happy Ballpark at Arlington did him no favors , but one could have seen that coming (Park’s home ERA during his Dodger years was 3.19, but his road ERA was 4.72). More alarmingly, after averaging 213 2/3 innings a year in his last five seasons in L.A., Park suddenly couldn’t stay healthy.

A hamstring injury limited Park to 25 starts in 2002, and that was the most he would make in any one season for the Rangers. Meanwhile, while his 6.84 home ERA that season would prove to be sadly typical. Park made just 23 more starts for the Rangers over the next two seasons combined due to a back injury which surely contributed to his 5.96 ERA in those outings. Park’s contract quickly proved to be a major albatross for the Rangers, leading some to speculate that it was part of the team’s motivation for shipping Rodriguez to the Bronx in February 2004.

Park finally stayed healthy in 2005 but was no more effective. When the trading deadline came, the soon-to-be-NL-West-champion Padres, perhaps wagering on the effects of their new pitchers’ haven, Petco, took Park and $13 million of his 2006 salary off the Rangers’ hands for the remains of Phil Nevin. Despite the friendlier home environment, Park’s struggles continued. He posted a 5.91 ERA down the stretch in ’05, and made just 21 starts in ’06, missing time when it was discovered that he suffered from an intestinal defect known as Meckel’s diverticulum. When able to pitch, he posted a 5.45 ERA on the road.

With his contract finally expired, Park didn’t find an employer for 2007 until Valentine’s Day. He signed with the Mets, but failed to make the team out of spring training and wound up making just one appearance for the big club, giving up seven runs in four innings in a late-April spot start before being released. The Astros signed him to a minor-league deal, but declined to call him up as he posted a 6.21 ERA and allowed 18 home runs in 15 starts for Triple-A Round Rock of the Pacific Coast League.

Seemingly out of chances, Park went home again in 2008, catching on with the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee on a minor league deal. Having made just five relief appearances over the previous ten seasons, Park made the Dodgers as a reliever and pitched well out of the pen (3.84 ERA), well enough, at least, for the Phillies, who beat Park’s Dodgers in the NLCS in ’08, to sign him to a $2.5 million deal and bring him in as a fifth-starter candidate the next spring.

As stated above, Park was a disaster as a starter for the Phillies, but he continued to gain momentum as a reliever suggesting that, after six years in the wilderness, he has finally found away to recapture the major league success he had in his twenties, doing so in a hitter-friendly home park, no less.

Despite that success, Park isn’t going to take the eighth-inning job away from the fifth-starter loser, but he could well bounce Robertson down a rung. His presence also all but guarantees that Sergio Mitre will not make the roster, which is worth Park’s $1.2 million salary alone. Park, despite his struggles in the Phillies rotation, also gives the Yankees another potential swing man should Gaudin or Aceves, the former of whom is on a non-guaranteed contract like Mitre and the latter of whom has options remaining, struggle. If Park struggles and Melancon continues to dominate at Triple-A, the $1.2 million the Yankees owe Park is small enough that they could eat the remainder.

Ultimately what Park gives the team is another option, one that had a fair amount of success working out of the pen for playoff teams in each of the last two seasons and thus brings a fair amount of upside to the table, but who also came cheap enough to be discarded if he fails to realize that upside, which means there’s very little downside to the deal. Well done.

Tags:  bullpen  Chan Ho Park

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1 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 25, 2010 12:34 pm

This is why the Banter is so great. In the morning we get a long piece on Faulkner, Scorsese, and failure-as-success. In the afternoon we get a long piece on Chan Ho Park, where he comes from and how (well) he fits on the Yanks.

[0] Cliff, do you really think the loser of the Joba/Hughes battle (my money is on Hughes) is going to be locked into the 8th inning role? Or, more particularly, do you think that that will be a one inning only role?

If Hughes is pitching just one inning at a time (again) this year, I think the odds of him ever becoming a starter are low. My hope is that a combination of Park/Marte/Robertson would take on the "one inning" duties, leaving Hughes to do multi-inning stints.

Though I suppose Girardi could use Hughes in a "Mo in '96" role, where he pitches the 7th and 8th innings, making him the "8th inning guy" and giving him enough innings so he can start next year.

2 a.O   ~  Feb 25, 2010 12:35 pm

Yep, this was another great move by Cashman.

I know there is a lot of debate about whether the AL's best offense will be better than last year, but the rotation and the bullpen certainly are in better shape.

3 monkeypants   ~  Feb 25, 2010 1:02 pm

[0] I don't generally have a problem with signings like these, except...

This is the off-season of the great Yankee budget, which has led to several wallet-friendly moves aimed at supplying bench and organizational depth. But perhaps instead of frittering away 1.2 million on Park and 1.1 million on Winn and 850,000 to Lucky and 2.95 million on Gaudin, etc., the team could have tried to scrape together enough money for a more attractive LF or LF platoon option.

It's a small complaint, to be sure.

4 ms october   ~  Feb 25, 2010 1:06 pm

i must admit, when i read the headline it didn't even occur to me that this post would be on chp. thought it would either be cliff analyzing nys or alex talking about something that was sort of park related.

anyway, super post cliff.
his strikeout rate as a reliever last year is a good sign and promising.
do you really think we are fortunate enough to be rid of the unlucky meat tray?
i also think having him on the roster with the hair rules that the yankees have thus depriving the world of that hideous beard is worth a roster spot.

[1] i hope so too shaun re: hughes (or joba) as a multi-inning guy - i would even settle for a hughes as mo in 96.

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 25, 2010 2:52 pm

for slightly less than CHP's $1.2 mill, I would have preferred Park's replacement in Philly, Contreras. Jose's slightly riskier than CHP as he has less bullpen experience, but he looked good in relief last year, and he's tough.
CHP missed several games last summer because he was complaining of headaches. I'm not sure what the cause was, but seems he wasn't someone the Phils could always rely on. He's not a bullpen horse, he's a piece, veteran insurance. Nothing wrong with that.

[0] excellent analysis, but I don't think CHP can or will knock Robertson down a rung. I'm hoping Robertson's on his way to becoming a Jeff Nelson type of horse.

6 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 25, 2010 3:12 pm

[3] I'm thinking these moves are aimed at positioning themselves to make big runs at better options next season. Waiting for a year for 4+ years of Crawford in their eyes might be a better option than 2+ years of Johnny Damon when they only need one or 4+ years of Jason Bay (who they didn't want) or even 8+ years of Matt Holliday who might kill their budget short (Jeter + Mo) and long term (C.C. + prevailing premiere SP and/or slugger). When it comes right down to it, it's not how much you spend, but how you spend it, and the depth they have now can likely propel them back into the Series or make changes with minimal disruption to the season and long term goals.

The main thing that went ary was not being able to sign Matsui back; I think they had every intention to, but slept on another team's interest in him. Too bad; I don't think he would have matched his production from this past season, but he would make the lineup look scarier than Nick Johnson does right now.

7 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 25, 2010 4:51 pm

I do think a lot of things are pointing toward Carl Crawford, but he's going to be overvalued on the free agent market. My guess is whatever deal he signs will be a bad one for his new team.

8 Hugh Mulcahy   ~  Feb 25, 2010 5:10 pm

[7] Good piece on Park. This is a hell of a signing for the Yanks. Park was the most consistently effective member of the Phillies' pen last year and I (Phillies fan) was sorry to see him go. There were murmurs that he begged off pitching due to aches and pains that didn't amount to injury but, in teh pen, he had great velocity and movement.

[5] I far prefer Park to Contreras. So did the Phillies. Park turned down more than $3M to return to Philly this year, banking on a starters job. The Yankees got a guy who was left standing when the music stopped and, they got him for a comparative song.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 25, 2010 6:10 pm

Too bad it can't be B.J. Upton. The Rays may seem to be developing some issues with him, but he's too talented to let go for easy. He'd certainly clear up the issue of where Granderson would be playing. Fantasy talk I guess. (I almost said Justin, I know that would kill this thread for years to come.)

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