Tuesday, May 3, 2016

New Country, Same Old Tricks For Park

Welcome to May, the second month of the Major League Baseball season. The Minnesota Twins have started out in just about the least desirable way possible, but there's been a few bright spots. Joe Mauer has looked other-worldly at the plate, and the youth has begun to rise. An exciting development however has been the emergence of for Korean Baseball Organization superstar Byung Ho Park.

The Twins won the rights to sign the Nexen star, and inked the 29 year-old rookie to a four-year, $12 million deal this offseason. Slated to be the club's every day designated hitter, the narrative was that his power would absolutely play. Having hit over 100 homers the past two seasons in Korea, Minnesota was hoping for even a fraction of that production at Target Field.

It was fair to expect a learning curve of some sort for the newest Twins hitter. Jung Ho Kang had paved the way, and laid out an acclimation plan for his fellow countryman through his success with the Pirates a season ago. Park though, has made the transition look even smoother. Through his first six games with the Twins, Park put up a paltry .143/.250/.286 slash line while striking out 12 times and registering just two walks.

Then, things clicked.

From April 14 on (a period of 15 games), Park has slashed .294/.351/.706 for Minnesota. He's launched five homers, driving in 10 runs, and owning a 12/5 K/BB ratio. Batting in the five hole behind Miguel Sano for the bulk of that time, he's become a threat in the heart of Paul Molitor's order.

What's maybe even more impressive, is how well he is adjusting to the speed of the big league game. Despite facing faster pitcher, and more adept throwers, Park has absolutely obliterated baseballs. When making contact, he has made "hard" contact 42.9% of the time. When he is hitting fly balls, 28.6% of them have left the yard. Despite a lower contact rate (69%), he's becoming more patient in his approach, chasing pitches just 26.5% of the time.

Of course, Park is known for the longball. What maybe wasn't expected, is that the #ParkBang has been so incredibly impressive thus far in his career for the Twins. Having now recorded six homers, Park has hit just one that didn't travel over 400 feet (a 390ft opposite field bomb at Target Field), and his exit velocity has been equally impressive. Right now, Park is averaging 427.8 feet on his home runs, and they are leaving the bat at an average speed of 108.4 mph.

It's pretty safe to assume that Park is going to make most of the projections look pretty silly. To date, he's been worth 0.7 fWAR, which puts him on pace for a 4.4 fWAR mark on the season. ZiPS tabbed him for a 2.0 fWAR with Steamer projections having him at 1.9 fWAR. Considering that he's been a defensive asset (2 DRS and 1.3 UZR), combined with his offensive prowess, he should only continue to improve upon his value.

Terry Ryan and the Twins took a gamble on Park acclimating to the big leagues. It was considerable, but became pretty downsized when the Twins ended up only having to play the slugger an average of $3 million per year for his services. Right now, and really at the time as well, that contract is looking like highway robbery.

As the season gets deeper into the heart of the summer, expecting Park to continue to be an integral part of the Twins is a very good bet. It's been a fun start thus far, but Park is only just beginning.

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