So, About Byung-ho Park’s Strikeouts

It’s funny — a couple months back, Jeff did a little study on the teams about which we’ve written the most and least. At the time of his study, we’d written fewer articles about the Twins than any other team, since 2008. And I’d bet a good chunk of those articles were about the Twins’ pitching staff, and their avoidance of strikeouts, or something similar along those lines. Well, here’s a new Twins article! And, guess what, it’s about strikeouts again!

Except, well:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.15.32 AM

I’m sorry it has to be this way, Minnesota.

In case it’s not clear, those aren’t just the top two names on the strikeout leaderboard of Twins batters with at least 20 plate appearances this season, those are the top two names on the strikeout leaderboard of all batters with at least 20 plate appearances this season. Miguel Sano is sixth. Eddie Rosario is 15th. Things haven’t gone particularly well for the Twins thus far. They’re 0-8.

And I suppose this post could be about Byron Buxton, or collectively all those names I named, but I don’t meant to pile on. Sano will be just fine, and his strikeout rate really isn’t that much higher than we’d expect it to be. Rosario just isn’t particularly interesting. Buxton’s struck out 13 times and walked zero in 25 plate appearances, and actually, that should probably have its own post, but I’ve already done all this research on Park, so this is what you’ve got for now. Someone will get to Buxton soon enough. Let’s talk about Byung-ho Park, who’s struck out exactly as often as he hasn’t.

It’s interesting, because this is all we’ve seen of Park. It’s kind of like the Hyun-soo Kim Spring Training saga, except it actually matters. There’s really no way around it, so I’ve just got to be blunt: Park has looked awful. It’s not like he’s been making tons of contact and hitting into unfortunate, loud outs. No, he’s made a miserable amount of contact, and the contact he has made hasn’t been with much in the way of authority. There’s also no way around this, and soon enough we won’t have to say it in every post anymore: we’re not even a tenth of the way through the season. Anything could happen. Park could turn this around with two or three good games. By the end of the weekend, he might be considered a steal. But for now, he’s looked overmatched, and it’s all we’ve seen, so it’s hard to ignore. At the very least, it’s worth looking into a bit, to see if we can’t learn a little more about Park, or a little more about what the Twins have gone through, in general.

My first thought, seeing all those Twins up at the top of the strikeout leaderboard, was that maybe they’d just drawn the short end of the scheduling stick and seen a who’s who of the American League’s aces already this season. So the first thing I did was just look at average fastball velocity faced. This early in the season, it’d be totally reasonable if they’d just seen a disproportionate number of flamethrowers. Nope. The average fastball against the Twins has gone 92 even, right at league average. Nothing there.

But velocity isn’t everything. Maybe it’s just been a particularly tough group of pitchers. Worth looking into which starters Park has faced:

Certainly not an overwhelming list of pitchers. Might even be underwhelming. There might not be an ace in the bunch, depending on your view of Quintana. Quintana might be the only “No. 2” starter, depending on your view of Ventura. Semantics aside, it’s five mid-rotation righties, and a tough lefty. It’s not a group that explains the start Park’s had. Taking this just one step further, here’s all the pitchers Park has faced, with their projected strikeout rates, and a weighted average:

Byung-ho Park’s Opposition
Player K% PA
Edinson Volquez 17.3% 3
Ian Kennedy 20.4% 3
Jose Quintana 20.0% 3
Yovani Gallardo 14.8% 2
Dillon Gee 15.1% 2
Mychal Givens 24.4% 2
Yordano Ventura 21.2% 2
Luke Hochevar 22.1% 1
Darren O’Day 26.6% 1
Chris Tillman 17.3% 1
Zach Britton 25.8% 1
Joakim Soria 23.3% 1
Chien-Ming Wang 9.0% 1
Tyler Wilson 14.4% 1
TOTAL 19.3% 24
K% = projected rate from FanGraphs depth chart page (ZiPS + Steamer)

I think we can definitively rule out quality of competition as any sort of an explanation. Park has faced a collection of pitchers who throw average fastballs with average, or even below-average strikeout rates. So let’s turn our attention inward, towards Park.

It only makes sense to start with the plate-discipline numbers. The figure that caught our attention in the first place is just an extension of plate discipline. Park’s been a bit more aggressive than average, but not overwhelmingly so. He’s swung as often as Ryan Braun did last year. And the distribution of those swings isn’t alarming. He’s chased a bit more than would be ideal, but it’s manageable.

The problem is he just hasn’t made any contact, which shouldn’t come as a shock for someone with 12 strikeouts and 12 not-strikeouts. Park’s made contact on fewer than two-thirds of his swings. It’s one of the very worst rates in baseball. Most concerning is the rate of contact on pitches inside the zone, which is significantly lower than any rate posted by a qualified hitter last year. Again, the sample size is an issue, but then maybe so is that figure in conjunction with this Ben Badler report out of Taiwan six months ago:

Park swung and missed eight times in seven at-bats, struggling badly to make contact against pitches in the strike zone. Park’s swing plane can get steep uphill, so his timing has to be perfect for the power to play, otherwise he swings through of a lot of pitches, which is what happened against Cuba. He made 86 mph look like 96 when he struck out swinging against a Frank Monthiet fastball just above the belt, then against righthander Jose Angel Garcia he swung through another 86-mph fastball just above the belt on the inner third. The rest of his swings and misses came against breaking balls in the strike zone, including multiple hangers that he should have demolished.

To Park’s credit, he didn’t chase many pitches out of the strike zone and worked deep counts, but his inability to make contact against below-average stuff in the zone was discouraging.

Badler was concerned about the contact inside the zone. Keith Law thought Park might be exposed on the inner-third. We knew the contact could be an issue — he led the KBO in strikeouts, after all — and it’s manifested itself in an ugly way early on. That being said, Dan Farnsworth was aware of the contact issues when he raved about Park last month, thought being the power was enough to make up for it, and the power hasn’t gone anywhere. The FanGraphs staff writers all knew about the contact issues when the majority of us — myself included — picked him for Rookie of the Year just a few weeks ago. This was to be expected to a certain extent, just not to this extent.

One last piece of the puzzle: how Park’s been pitched. The fastball rate has been about average, or a touch lower than that. Breaking and offspeed stuff are mostly in line with the league. You always wonder how a guy is going to be pitched when he first enters the league. Like, for example, Tyler White is already being pitched like a feared major-league hitter. Park hasn’t been pitched like anything special. Honestly, it could just be that teams really just didn’t have much in the way of a scouting report on Park, and so they’re going with the status quo. Could also tell us how pitchers view him right now. Interpret it how you will.

He’s swung at an average number of fastballs — it’s the breaking and offspeed stuff that’s had him flailing. He’s swung at more than half of those pitches, and he’s whiffed on more than half of those swings. The longer that keeps up, the shorter the scouting report will resemble a prototypical hitter.

There shouldn’t be panic in the streets quite yet, but we know this about Park: he hasn’t faced a collection of high-strikeout pitchers, and he’s struck out in half his plate appearances. He struggled to make contact against lesser competition in Cuba, even on pitches inside the zone, and he’s struggled inside the zone already in the bigs. Pitchers haven’t thrown to him like any kind of threat, and he’s begun flashing signs of over-aggressiveness on breaking and offspeed stuff. For the time being, it seems pitchers have little incentive to give him a fastball over the plate. Hopefully, that power shows up soon.

We hoped you liked reading So, About Byung-ho Park’s Strikeouts by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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cowdisciple
Member
Member
cowdisciple

Not that it changes the overall point, but both Baltimore and KC do have very deep, nasty bullpens. Plenty of strikeouts there.

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb

I think the weighted average of his opposing pitchers’ K% took that into account, and the expected K% of his opposition was still only 19.3%. Otherwise I also would’ve thought that those bullpens would play at least a minor role in elevating Park’s K%, but that table demonstrated that he hasn’t had enough PA against them to explain much of his struggles at all.

Oblarg
Member
Oblarg

If someone could dig up footage of Park’s at-bat against Darren O’Day, it was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever witnessed in person. It was as if he’d never seen a sidearm deliver before.