The One Who Got Away
After the 2000 season the Dodgers signed their own free agent pitcher Darren Dreifort to a 5-year, 55 million contract. Given Dreifort's injury history and only occasional stellar pitching it seemed at the time a horrible move. It was. Dreifort only pitched in 205 innings during the five year (or)deal, for an ERA of 4.53.
After the 2001 season pitcher Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers was a free agent. Like Dreifort he was represented by Scott Boras; unlike Dreifort Park had put together several stellar seasons, and he had no significant injury history. And yet the Dodgers passed on signing Park, who instead went to Texas on a 5-year, 65 million contract. It was a questionable contract, to be sure, but not an obvious disaster from the beginning.
Well, it became a disaster. Park struggled with injuries every full year he was with the Rangers, and when he was healthy he was plagued by home runs and walks. His ERA was over 5 every year he was with the Rangers. Park was as much a bust as Dreifort. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they only signed one of the two. Before this season, my first thought whenever the name of Chan-ho Park was mentioned was thank goodness the Dodgers let him get away.
The Attractive Nuisance
What first drew Joe Torre and the Dodgers to Chan-ho Park? Who can say for sure --- attraction is so often a mystery that even those involved cannot adequately explain. I think Park's experience was alluring. But it must also be said that maybe the Dodgers and Torre were feeling a little desperate. Desperation breeds lowered standards. Park's lowest ERA since 2001 was 4.81, and that came when his home park was Petco. By any objective standard Park is not an attractive pitcher, and yet --- he is here --- why? Well, Park's an old flame. That's my gut feeling, that more than the Dodger's desperation or Park's experience, the basis for the attraction to Park is just a simple feeling that we've been here before, and wasn't it good? Of course Torre himself can't be personally feeling that, since he wasn't a Dodger in 2001, but the organization bleeds into you. This may seem irrational, but consider this: there were a lot of washed-up pitchers out there who were once good for a desperate team to fixate on, and yet the Dodgers picked which one? --- the guy who they used to be with.
And now that the Dodgers have Park, he seems more attractive then ever. His ERA is 2.46! It's like Park and the Dodgers just picked up right where they left off, so long ago, when Park got away. Oh, it's mostly been in long relief that Park has done so well, but now --- it's looking as though he will start again. May 17. On that day the Dodgers need a fifth starter again, and with Loaiza on the DL, and Kuo stuck in the bullpen because he's a lefty who can warm up quickly --- it looks like Park will get the call. And then the love affair between the Dodgers and Park can really begin again.
There's only one problem. Park is not a good pitcher. Yeah, I know, the great ERA. But first, and this is the least of it, when I watch him pitch he looks awful. Park pitches like Andruw Jones hits. He gives up a lot of hard hit balls, and he really doesn't have a strikeout pitch. Second, and this is really where it becomes clear that Park is a nuisance --- in 22 innings pitched, Park has given up 4 home runs, 10 walks, and just 9 strikeouts. You don't have to be into sabremetrics to know that a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio is bad news for any pitcher. And the one home run every 5 innings thing is what got him into so much trouble in Texas, where they called him Chan-ho "out of the" Park. Park has given up 4 home runs but only 6 runs so far. Park has allowed 26 non-home run base-runners, and only 2 of them have scored. That's astonishing. I guess a person could think he'll keep that up, that the home runs will keep coming when no one is on, that the lucky double plays will keep coming, that Park won't be burned by his difficulty in striking anyone out, that the last 6 years of putrid pitching by Park don't mean anything for this year --- I guess the Dodgers can and do believe all this.
The Long Goodbye
How long will it take? I figure that Park's ERA needs to at least go above 5 before the Dodgers can see Park as he really is. If Park pitches in the future as he has for his first 22 innings ( but without all the great luck ) then he'd have an ERA of 5.73. That's his fielding independent pitching number provided by hardballtimes.com. And ERA of 5.7 is also right in line with what Park has done in years when he wasn't pitching half his games in Petco. ( Dodger Stadium is no longer a great pitcher's park, by the way. ) If we assume that Park pitches every remaining inning this year with an ERA of 5.7, it will take 80 more innings until his year-long ERA gets above 5.0. Of course he might do worse than 5.7 in the near future, and reach 5.0 on the year more quickly. And he might still keep getting chances as his ERA climbs above 5.0 because everyone remembers how good he was at the start of the year, and maybe he can recapture that. Right now it looks like we'll be stuck with Park for most of this year.
I wish I could see in Park whatever Torre and the Dodgers see in him. But all I see is future pain. The Dodgers avoided getting burned by Park six and a half years ago, but I guess they couldn't avoid it forever.