By Mike Steffanos
Yesterday, the Mets signed Korean right-hander Chan Ho Park to an incentive laden 1-year contract. The guaranteed money is only $600,000 -- chump change in today's MLB -- but the incentives for innings pitched could raise the deal to a reported $3 million. Although Park's agent feels that Chan Ho is "penciled in right now as [the Mets'] No. 3 starter," that might be the extreme optimistic view of the signing.
In an article in the New York Post, Mark Hale offers an opinion from an unnamed National League executive who thought Park "should be a good pickup" given the relatively low dollar risk, and offered the following assessment of the 33-year-old pitcher:
The executive also said Park "has become more of a finesse pitcher than a power pitcher in years past." The exec said Park is not exactly steady, that his "velocity really fluctuates from inning to inning," that the pitcher is "still inconsistent from start to start" and "at times pitches like a front-end-of-the-rotation starter and other times looks like a spot starter at best."
A look at Park's stats going back to his breakout season with the Dodgers in 1997 confirms that his strikeout number have dropped over the last few years:
|Chan Ho Park Major League Stats 1997-2006|
|1997 - Dodgers||32||29||192.0||7.0||7.8||3.3||1.1||3.38||.213||.290||.354|
|1998 - Dodgers||34||34||220.2||8.1||7.8||4.0||0.7||3.71||.244||.328||.362|
|1999 - Dodgers||33||33||194.1||9.6||8.1||4.6||1.4||5.23||.276||.369||.472|
|2000 - Dodgers||34||34||226.0||6.9||8.6||4.9||0.8||3.27||.214||.326||.344|
|2001 - Dodgers||36||35||234.0||7.0||8.4||3.5||0.9||3.50||.216||.305||.358|
|2002 - Texas||25||25||145.2||9.5||7.5||4.8||1.2||5.75||.273||.376||.468|
|2003 - Texas||7||7||29.2||10.3||4.9||7.6||1.5||7.58||.306||.448||.477|
|2004 - Texas||16||16||95.2||9.9||5.9||3.1||2.1||5.46||.281||.356||.508|
|2005 - Texas||20||20||109.2||10.7||6.6||4.4||0.7||5.66||.299||.382||.439|
|2005 - San Diego||10||9||45.2||9.9||6.5||5.1||0.6||5.91||.278||.379||.378|
|2006 - San Diego||24||21||136.2||9.6||6.3||2.9||1.3||4.81||.271||.336||.455|
They also show that, even at his best, Park was a rather erratic pitcher who had some control problems. They also demonstrate just how little Tom Hicks and the Rangers received for the five-year, $65 million contract they handed Park in 2002. The 155-1/3 combined innings Park pitched with Texas and San Diego in 2005 was the highest total he reached over these five seasons -- although he would have bettered it last year if he hadn't missed most of the last two months of the season after surgery to correct a rare condition that caused intestinal bleeding. Last year's 4.81 ERA was the lowest it's been since leaving the Dodgers, but wasn't particularly impressive given San Diego's Petco Park is one of the best pitcher's ballparks in baseball. In 69 innings at home Park pitched to a 4.17 ERA, while in 68 road innings it ballooned to 5.45.
As lackluster as his numbers were in 2006, the Rangers would have undoubtedly been happy to receive that much from Park in return for the millions invested. This scouting report going into the 2005 season says it all:
Year 3 of the Chan Ho Park mega-contract produced the same old results. He struggled with command. He got lit up by opponents. He spent significant time on the disabled list. And in the end, he was more of a liability to the Rangers than an asset to their pitching staff. He topped it off by throwing several pitches at Anaheim players in a key late-season game that cost him the respect of several teammates.
Park has struggled to get anybody out since his velocity took a downward turn in 2002. He got some of the velocity back, but had no command. The results were ugly. When he tried to control the inside part of the plate, he'd hit a batter (13 in 95.2 innings last season). Then he'd get too cautious and leave his middling stuff up and over the middle part of the plate. It resulted in 22 homers. In a 200-inning season, that would be a 46-homer pace.
There are two more years left on Park's unwieldy contract, which, for all intents and purposes, make him unmovable. The Rangers long ago gave up hope that Park would be a staff ace. They'd simply settle for a 30-start, 200-inning season in which he regularly gave them a chance to compete. Even asking that, however, may be wishful thinking, given Park's track record in Texas and his five trips to the DL over the last three years.
By rebounding back to a point within spitting distance of mediocrity last year, Park has actually come quite a distance up from those lost years in Texas. Now the real question is how much he has left. A look at his month-by-month stats from last season actually hold out some hope:
|Chan Ho Park By Month 2006|
He had a couple of really solid months in May and June. Hard to say how much the intestinal bleeding that would ultimately require surgery affected him after that, but if he could give the Mets a couple of good months similar to what he gave the Padres last season, that could well be enough to carry them until they feel comfortable bringing younger guys up to New York. While it's probably totally unreasonable to anticipate a return to his form from six seasons ago in Los Angeles, or even expecting this 33-year-old to survive a full season of starting games, a couple of good months from Chan Ho Park isn't a completely irrational hope.
Geoff Young, who authors the excellent Ducksnorts blog on the Padres was kind enough to offer this scouting report on Chan Ho Park:
Park was a tremendous surprise last season. He did a great job for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic and it seemed to work wonders for his confidence. For the first time since coming to San Diego, he was attacking hitters in 2006. Park's stuff is nothing special -- low-90s fastball without a lot of movement, decent curve -- but he generally did a good job of keeping the Padres in games. Park had a nasty intestinal problem last year that required surgery, and it dragged him down a lot as the season wore on. If you look at his first-half performance, I think that's a better indication of what he's capable of doing. The Mets got him at a great price. A lot of us were hoping Park would return with the Padres, but once David Wells signed, the best they could give him was a shot at the bullpen and it sounds like Park wanted to start. Maybe having low expectations played a part, but he ended up being a lot more useful than I'd expected. I think (and hope) he'll do well for you guys.
If Park doesn't win a rotation job he is, of course, a candidate for the long relief/spot starter role in the bullpen. I have a feeling, however, that if he doesn't win a rotation job out of training camp he'll probably seek employment elsewhere. One of the most intriguing things about the upcoming training camp is that the Mets will have to make some of their pitching decisions very quickly. There are too many jobs up for grabs, and too many arms in the mix, to have a competition based strictly on performance all spring. You would think that the experienced guys like Park would have somewhat of an advantage coming out of the gate, while younger pitchers (who still have options left) would await the call in New Orleans if he can't cut it.
Note: This preview was updated 2/12/2007 with Geoff Young's scouting report.
2007 Bullpen Previews:
Chan Ho Park (This Article)
Four Other Names for You
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up