The Twins Quit on Byung-ho Park

On Wednesday, Travis Sawchik wrote about why there are still reasons for optimism surrounding Byung-ho Park, despite a rough first year in the major leagues. The piece was titled “Don’t Quit on Byung-ho Park”, but two days later, the Twins have done exactly that, designating him for assignment in order to clear a roster spot for Matt Belisle.

This is a bit of a surprising decision because, a year ago, the Twins paid a $13 million posting fee to acquire Park’s rights. But that was a different front office with different evaluators, and the new management team in Minnesota apparently decided that Park wasn’t worth keeping on the 40-man roster, so they’ll either trade him or expose him to waivers, where any team who wants to take a shot on the bounce back would be on the hook for the roughly $9 million in guaranteed money he has coming over the next three years.

Given they minimal salary commitment, I can’t imagine Park is actually going to clear waivers. $3 million per year is nothing in this day and age, and with a multi-year deal, there’s some upside with Park that doesn’t exist if you sign, say, Chris Carter, to a one year contract. And as Sawchik noted in his piece, anyone who was thinking about signing Carter to a cut-rate deal should probably be interested in Park too.

Borrowing a couple of tables from Sawchik’s piece.

Barreled Balls
Rank Player Batted balls tracked Barrels/Batted ball %
1 Gary Sanchez 128 18.8
2 Byung-ho Park 123 18.7
3 Khris Davis 357 18.2
4 Nelson Cruz 381 17.8
5 Chris Carter 315 17.8
6 Mark Trumbo 386 17.4
7 Tommy Pham 81 17.3
8 Giancarlo Stanton 248 17.3
9 Chris Davis 313 16.9
10 Miguel Cabrera 437 16.5
SOURCE: Statcast via Baseball Savant
Min. 75 batted-ball events in 2016

And this one.

Avg. Exit Velocity of Fly Balls and Line Drives
Rank Player Batted balls Avg. FB/LD exit velo (mph)
1 Nelson Cruz 381 99.2
2 Tommy Pham 81 98.9
3 Pedro Alvarez 208 98.7
4 Franklin Gutierrez 148 98.2
5 Khris Davis 357 98.0
6 Gary Sanchez 128 97.8
7 Josh Donaldson 408 97.8
8 Giancarlo Stanton 248 97.4
9 David Ortiz 393 97.3
10 Byung-ho Park 123 97.2
SOURCE: Statcast via Baseball Savant
Min. 75 batted-ball events in 2016

Like Carter, Park hits the crap out of the baseball when he makes contact. And, like Carter, he doesn’t make enough contact. But if you’re okay with the swing-for-the-fences-and-whiff-a-lot approach, well, Park actually made more contact than Carter did last year.

Carter and Park, Plate Discipline Stats
Name PA O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Chris Carter 644 25% 67% 44% 38% 77% 65% 45%
Byung-ho Park 244 27% 67% 46% 44% 77% 67% 47%

Of course, having a lot of similarities to a free agent who can’t find a home isn’t really an argument in favor of Park having a lot of value. Perhaps the Twins decided to DFA Park in part because of the league’s reticence to signing Carter, thinking that perhaps with Carter still willing to sign a one year contract, that maybe Park will slip through waivers. Or, more interestingly, maybe they DFA’d Park because they want to sign Carter themselves; that would be a fun twist to this story.

Of course, that’s pretty unlikely. The reality is that, while Park remains interesting on his own merits, there might not have been much playing time for him in Minnesota. With Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas ahead of him on the 1B/DH depth chart, Park was probably ticketed for a platoon role, and maybe even a limited platoon role given that Vargas is a switch-hitter who hits lefties better than righties, so Park was only likely to play when Mauer wasn’t in the line-up. Neither Mauer nor Vargas are great players, but Mauer has some franchise icon appeal, and Vargas is both probably better and definitely younger, so giving him the bulk of the DH time is likely a better long-term investment.

Park probably fits better on a team that doesn’t already have a Kennys Vargas to DH, or a local hero making $23 million a year at first base. The power makes him worth another shot, and given the state of several teams 1B/DH positions, I’m pretty sure the Twins will find someone to take the rest of Park’s contract off their hands.

For instance, the Rangers seem to want to give Joey Gallo more time in Triple-A this year, but if they send him back to the minors, they would be penciled in to start Ryan Rua and Jurickson Profar as their 1B and DH options. Sure, everyone still expects them to sign Mike Napoli to play one of those two spots, but Park would still be an upgrade over Rua/Profar at the other position, and give them a cheap source of power while they figure out what Gallo might be.

Alternately, the A’s might also be interested, given that they were hunting for right-handed DHs earlier this winter, and currently have some combination of Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy at their 1B/DH spots. In a year that is unlikely to result in a playoff berth, taking a shot on Park’s power is probably worth some playing time. Or, if we’re looking for a rebuilding team who needs a DH, the White Sox currently project to have Matt Davidson as their starting DH, and Steamer is forecasting him for a 73 wRC+ and -1 WAR. I would imagine the Twins would rather not trade Park to the White Sox, but if it comes down to waivers, there’s no way Chicago should let him get past them.

Park’s upside is probably something like an average player, so he’s worth the $9 million gamble to see if he can make enough contact to hold down a roster spot. For $9 million with a potential three year payout, there’s just not much risk here, and enough upside for another team to take a low-risk flyer on a guy with serious power. One could reasonably argue that the Twins should have kept him around and hoped to find enough playing time to be the team that got some value out of a potential improvement, but since they just had to have Matt Belisle pitching the seventh inning in a non-contention year, some other franchise will now get to make a bet on Park’s cheap upside.

We hoped you liked reading The Twins Quit on Byung-ho Park by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
wily mo
Member

*scans both charts* free tommy pham tbh

DH
Member
DH

*sees sample size of 81* Travis should have set the threshold higher tbh

wily mo
Member

some truth perhaps. but exit velocity is one of the harder things to fake, i’d think, similar to fastball velocity. notice that there aren’t any other small-sample sneakers on there. it’s basically park, pham and 8 obvious mashers. plus pham was up there on these same type lists in ’15 too.

worth at least taking him for a spin to find out, i’d think

jdbolick
Member

Sure, but one of the problems with selecting solely from times that a player makes contact is that you lose the overall context by excluding the times that player did not make contact. The indignation in this comments section regarding the Twins releasing an 80 wRC+ DH illustrates the importance of that context. Chris Davis had a similar season in 2009, so I’m not ruling out the possibility of Park becoming a productive player, but it’s pretty darn unlikely, especially since he’s only good against breaking pitches.

wily mo
Member

don’t disagree with any of this, but don’t think it changes the basic point i started out making here, which is “tommy pham is more interesting than is generally recognized and deserves some run as a regular to see what he is”

Brent Henry
Member
Brent Henry

#FreePham

zipperz
Member
zipperz

eye test confirms, Pham can hit the crap out of the ball. What he can’t seem to do is stay on the field.