Park faces a tough transition to the AL East

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Over the past few years, specifically since the failed Kyle Farnsworth signing, the Yankees have changed their approach to building a bullpen. Instead of signing high-priced veterans like Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, and Tom Gordon, the Yankees have used younger, cheaper options to fill the later innings and bridge the gap from starter to Mariano. That strategy took shape in 2008, when the bullpen consisted mostly of players with under three years of service time: Joba Chamberlain, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Dan Giese, Brian Bruney, Ross Ohlendorf, Jon Albaladejo, and eventually Phil Coke. As the year progressed some of those pitchers succeeded and stayed, while others failed and went to Scranton. The key was flexibility.

The Yankees did sign a veteran free agent that off-season, which in a way ran counter to the strategy. While the Yankees probably didn’t expect LaTroy Hawkins to step into the eighth inning role, they expected that he could have held down the middle innings. That didn’t work out too well, though, and the Yankees designated Hawkins for assignment at the end of July, eating the remaining $1.2 million in his contract. Thankfully for the Yankees it was only a one-year deal, allowing them to cut loose Hawkins when it became necessary, though perhaps the $3.75 million salary made them pause a bit too long before releasing him.

Photo credit: Jim Bryant/AP

The $1.2 million they ate for Hawkins equals the entire contract of Chan Ho Park, who will join the major league bullpen this season. He’s coming off an excellent season in Philadelphia, though you might not think it just by glancing at his aggregate stats. I covered his excellent bullpen stint at FanGraphs, so I’ll spare you a repeat here. For those not inclined to click through, the main takeaway is that Park struck out more than a batter an inning, walked one out of every 12.88 batters he faced, and allowed zero baseballs to leave the yard.

Despite the quality 2009 performance, Park still holds a poor reputation among among fans. After breaking into the league with the Dodgers, he signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Rangers in December 2001. In the first three years of the contract, Park pitched just 271 innings and posted an ERA of 5.85 against a 5.48 FIP. During his fourth season the Rangers had seen enough, shipping him to San Diego for Phil Nevin. While Park improved the next year, making 21 starts and three relief appearances, he still posted a 4.81 ERA and 4.66 FIP. PETCO Park can probably claim credit for a good portion of the improvement.

Prior to that 2006 season, Park pitched for Korea in the WBC. He appeared four times, making one start and three relief appearances. In the start he got a no-decision, but in each relief appearance he picked up a save. Over 10 innings he struck out eight and walked none, allowing just seven hits and no runs. Unfortunately for Korea, Park couldn’t pitch in the semifinals against Japan, as he started the semifinal game against them just a few days prior. Japan won the rematch 6-0, sending Korea home.

After the year in San Diego, Park signed a minor league deal with the Mets, where he pitched 51.2 poor AAA innings before tossing 4.0 major league innings. He allowed seven runs in that span and was released shortly afterward. The Dodgers took a chance on an old friend the following winter, and here Park succeeded. He appeared in 54 games, starting five, and posing a 3.40 ERA. That earned him a $2.5 million contract with the Phillies last season. He pitched 3.1 innings in the World Series, allowing just two hits while walking one. He struck out four Yankees and allowed none to score.

It appears the Yankees made out well in this deal, signing a pitcher who thrived in the bullpen last year to a reasonable contract. If things go poorly, they can eat the remainder. If things go well, they’ll be out an additional $300,000. As I said in the FanGraphs article, it appears the Yankees believe something changed when Park moved to the bullpen last season. His numbers in relief for the Dodgers in 2008 weren’t nearly as good, so there’s a chance Park just got lucky. In fact, he certainly did get lucky, as no pitcher can sustain a zero percent home runs to fly ball ratio. But if Park can maintain his high strikeout and low walk rates, he can afford to surrender a few longballs and still be a solid cog in the bullpen.

Park made a successful move from the rotation to the bullpen last season, but this year’s transition will be tougher. He’ll move from the NL East to the AL East, where the batters tend to hit the ball harder. According to Baseball Prospectus’s Pitcher’s Quality of Batters Faced, the hitters Park faced posted an aggregate .258/.334/.398. While many of the Yankees relievers faced aggregate hitters with similar batting averages and OBPs, they all faced better power hitters. All of the slugging percentages were over .410, and many were near or over .420. Park will have to work even harder in 2010 to keep his home run rate down.

At just $1.2 million, the Yankees made a good move to acquire Park. They shouldn’t expect him to pitch like he did for the Phillies last season, but even a level below that would be acceptable. He fills a spot in the pen and allows the Yankees some flexibility, possibly in making a trade using another pitcher who was slated for the bullpen. The worst case scenario is that he stinks early on, doesn’t get used often, and the Yankees eventually eat the remainder of his contract. Best case, he pitches solidly in middle relief and gives Girardi yet another option when he makes the call to the pen.

Don’t miss my Top 30 Prospects list
On the importance of a healthy ballclub
  • jim p

    With that K/B ratio, maybe he’s the go to guy when there’s 2 or 3 on base in close games.

    • Rey22

      I’d feel way better with Robertson or Joba/Hughes out there in a situation like that.

      I like this signing, but if he’s our go-to guy when there’s 2 or 3 on base in close games, I feel we have a serious problem in the bullpen.

  • bexarama

    Maybe the Yankees signed him so he wouldn’t have to fear CC’s (Proctor sighting!!) and Andy’s bats any more.

    I wasn’t crazy about this deal, but now that people pointed out that, worst case scenario, we eat some money, it’s actually pretty darn good. Do we know what the incentives are for?

    • whozat

      gotta be IP, appearances, or days on the roster. I figure appearances…good compromise between the more team-friendly IP and the more player friendly days :-)

    • Slugger27

      nice find there…

      did anyone notice that astros lineup? theres like 5 replacement level players in there… sheesh

      • bexarama

        the Padres’ lineup isn’t a whole lot better, it’s like everyone on the 2004 Sox roster after they started sucking

        • JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

          How do the two of you come up with those two and NOT mention the Royals? Tom Emanski’s AAU teams could knock the stuffing out of them.

          • bexarama

            ietc but I was talking about one of the games I posted above.

            • JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

              I don’t get paid to know how to read, I get paid ’cause I know how to breed.

  • bonestock94

    Reliever depth is always good, and the Yankees have plenty of money. However I can’t help but think that there are internal options that can at least do as well as Park will this season. Obviously I’m not a psychic, but my hopes are not high.

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  • Will

    While I think part of this deal is simply acquiring a pitcher capable of innings who may have found a solid niche in the bullpen, something makes me think another part is the Yankees wanting to have at least one player who gives them significant Asian market exposure. With the off season losses of Matsui and Wang, perhaps the Yankees wanted to add an Asian player, assuming there was a decent fit? Park is very popular in Korea, and Korea is a significant baseball market, so if all else is close to equal, Park’s nationality may have been the deciding factor.

    • Bo

      Winning has more to do with being popular in the asian market than having players on the team who are asian.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        things that have to do with being popular in the Asian Market:
        a) being the Yankees
        b) winning
        c) being Asian
        d) being amazingly successful

  • Eirias

    I saw him at a Yankees/Mets game. It wasn’t pretty.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      By definition, half of what you see at a Yankees/Mets game is “not pretty”.

      If said game is at Shea/Citi, and you include the crowd, then by definition like 80% of what you see is not pretty.

  • Bo

    How can anyone be against a move like this? Another good arm option out of the pen. Whats the downside? Unless you’re a big Mitre fan which in that case you should start questioning other things about yourself.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      How can anyone be against a move like signing Randy Winn? Another good option out in leftfield. Whats the downside? Unless you’re a big Hoffmann fan which in that case you should start questioning other things about yourself.

      Theoretical SBGL, one month ago

      • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

        i like theoretical sbgl better.

  • The Three Amigos

    This signing makes it easier to get rid of Mitre and not lose depth. Park is older and could give you a bunch of innings in a pinch and we dont have to worry about his arm too much. He also showed last year he could succeed in a relief role, which makes him more valuable then Mitre.

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      starter >>> reliever.

      If I had to choose between two players an looked at statistics i would take the starter with mitre’s numbers over the rleiever with park’s numbers esp with the young bp depth the yankees have. Sure mitre is only the 8th or 9th starting option, but haven’t the yankees needed to go to that 8th or 9th starter option like every year in the aughts?

      if mitre had options it would be a slam dunk. but…maybe since he doesn’t it is not as simple….

      i still hold out hope for the mitre for hoffmann’s rights deal

      • The Three Amigos

        You just said the problem though… IF Mitre had options, I would agree… However, Mitre doesn’t have options… and unless a phantom injury is used… I rather have Park in the pen then Mitre.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

          • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

            and your opinion on the matter is?

          • The Three Amigos

            In a poor mood this morning and I can’t think straight, so the many ellipses is me pausing and thinking what to write in my head. Heck, it is the internet, perfect grammar is far from a requirement.

  • Jeffrey

    This is a necessary signing, not just “stacking” the bullpen.

    Last year Robertson was shut down with elbow “tightness” and Aceves with a sore shoulder and Marte came back for a few effective innings after serious shoulder problems. Bruney was untouchable before elbow problems and simply sucked when he came back, even though he was, in theory, recovered. I have a hard time believing that these things just go away with some rest. I will always remember what poor Bill Pulsipher said:

    ”In ’95 I was shut down with two weeks to go in the season. ‘You have a sprained ligament,’ I was told. A sprained ligament doesn’t go away, Pulsipher said; ”it just gets worse.” Recalling that he was told to rehabilitate his sprained ligament for six weeks, he said: ”I was told everything’s going to be fine; put this behind you. Three weeks into spring training, your arm’s killing you every day. You feel something pop and it’s time to go get it fixed.”

    Think of the Yankee bullpen without Robertson, Marte and Aceves, which is a real risk. I think that this lies behind the Yankees exceeding their budget to sign Park.

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      they exceeded the budget by $300,000 as of now. not really a big deal.