Monday, May 9, 2016

Behold, The Power Of Park

Photo Credit: Denny Medley- USA Today Sports
There's been a lot of negativity surrounding the 2016 Minnesota Twins. Poor play on the field and mounting losses make it tough for the fanbase to get too excited about a team that seems to be heading for 90 losses four the fifth time in the last six seasons.

However, mixed in with all that negativity have been a few bright spots. Joe Mauer seems to be back to hitting like Joe Mauer. Jose Berrios has come up and held his own through his first few starts. But the biggest surprise of the season might be the hot start by Minnesota's biggest offseason acquisition, Byung-Ho Park.

Park entered play this weekend in the midst of a six-game hitting streak. That streak came to an end on Saturday after he was plunked on the knee with a Chris Sale slider. He was forced to be removed from the game but it was an impressive week of hitting from the rookie slugger.

In his first 10 MLB games, Park spent some time adjusting to pitching at the big league level. He hit .167/.268/.389 with four extra-base hits and a 15 to 4 strikeout to walk ratio. Over the next 14 games, Park found his groove and hit .348/.404/.761 with eight extra-base hits (five home runs). He also reduced his strikeout to walk ratio to 12 to 4.

The most impressive thing might be the fact that Park is seeing many of these pitchers for the first time. He is already making adjustments to the best pitchers in the game and the results have been impressive to say the least.

Some questioned whether Park's power would translate from Korea to the United States. MLB Statcast ranks Park in the top three in the American League for home run distance as his longest home run went 451.2 feet. In fact, Park has two of the top 40 longest home runs hit in all of baseball this season.

Park's heat map up to this point in the season shows why he has been effective. He takes advantage of pitches in the zone. His swing trajectory also helps him to go after pitches that are low and away while still making solid contact.  By examining his spray chart, it's easy to see that he is already comfortable using all parts of the field and his home runs have gone to all parts of the park.

Even with his slow start, Parks batting line is up to .256/.337/.570 and he leads the Twins with seven home runs (through play on Sunday). He does have 29 strikeouts across 98 plate appearances but those numbers were on the decline with his recent hot streak. The strikeouts were expected with his transition to the big leagues but the other numbers have to be more than the Twins could have hoped for.

Park leads all AL rookies in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS while ranking near the top in many other categories. Prospects like Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, and Max Kepler get a lot of the hype but Park could end up being the recipient of the American League Rookie of the Year award.

If Park keeps up this pace for the rest of the season, the Twins will have gotten quite the steal from Korea. Even if he can't keep the pace going, he has still shown Twins Territory "The Power of Park."

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