Will Byung-ho Park Bring Dingers and Bat Flips to the Twins?
If you thought Jose Bautista's bat flip in the ALCS was bad, you're gonna hate Byung-ho Park.
The Korean slugging first baseman is negotiating a contract with the Minnesota Twins, who beat out a number of other teams with their bidding post of $12.85 million. If they can reach an agreement, the Twins would be getting a 29-year-old home run hitter who blasted 53 dingers and posted an OPS of 1.150 in 140 games in the KBO. That comes after hitting 52 homers the season before, with an OPS of 1.119.
Park has hit at least 30 homers in four straight seasons and posted an OPS above 1.000 in his last three. His slash line last year was .343/.436/.714 and also added 35 doubles for good measure.
Needless to say, that kind of production would be most welcome in Minnesota. And he also has a flair for the dramatic.
Byung-ho Park to be posted. Lots of teams would surely want to add this bat flip to their lineup. https://t.co/QKKuLtE2Ta
— Ryan Boyer (@RyanPBoyer) October 28, 2015
But it's not just on homers where Park likes to bat flip. He bat flips on doubles. He bat flips on singles through the infield. He bat flips on bunts. He bat flips on walks. He bat flips on strikeouts. He takes his bat with him to first base and bat flips after every pitch.
OK, I made those last few up, and Park said in an interview this week that he would not be bringing his bat flipping to the Majors, seeing as how fun is largely shunned in the MLB community.
So, there are a couple different aspects to whether or not Park will be a relevant player for fantasy in 2015.
What to Do With Joe Mauer?
This is little argument that Minnesota is saddled with one of the worst contracts in all of baseball, the 8-year, $184 million extension they gave their former catcher-now-first baseman Joe Mauer that began in 2011. There are still three years left on his deal at $23 million per season, and the once-great hitter's numbers have not lived up to his salary.
Last season, Mauer slashed .265/.338/.380 for a .718 OPS, with 10 homers, a .311 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 94. His fWAR was just 0.3, ninth-best on the Twins, and his nERD of -0.23 means a lineup full of Mauers would cost his team 0.23 runs per game as compared to a league average player.
So while it's easy to see why Minnesota wants more production from first base, what are they going to do with Joe? No one will trade for him at his current salary. He cannot play catcher anymore, and a move to the outfield won't work either. Last year, red-hot rookie Miguel Sano held the designated hitter duties, but is trying to learn to play outfield in winter ball.
If Sano can make the transition to the outfield, it's possible Mauer and Park could share the duties at first base and designated hitter. But if he can't, Minnesota will have an expensive problem on their hands.
Will the Numbers Translate?
Park's numbers in Korea are ridiculous. Of that there is no doubt. But how will they translate to Major League Baseball?
If a deal does get done, Park should make sure he buys something pretty for Jung Ho Kang, the Pirates' outstanding infielder who had a terrific rookie campaign after starting his career in Korea.
While not the slugger that Park is, Kang hit .287/.355/.461 for an OPS of .816, a .356 wOBA, a wRC+ of 130 and an fWAR of 3.9 in 126 games. He was the second-best rookie in the National League this season (behind Chicago's Kris Bryant), and proved that talented players from Korea can play in the Majors.
Shin-Soo Choo, another Korean, has also had a solid Major League career, posting a wRC+ of at least 127 in three of the last four seasons.
But let's not pretend that there isn't a difference in the talent level between the two leagues. In 10 Major League seasons, Marcus Thames hit a career 115 homers and only twice in those 10 years did he ever hit more than 20.
This season in the KBO, Thames led the entire league in batting average (.381), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (130), finished second in RBI to Park (140) and third in homers (47). That was coming off a season in which he hit .341, hit 32 homers, drove in 113 and posted a 1.090 OPS.
These leagues aren't exactly apples-to-apples.
So What About 2016?
It's obviously impossible to know exactly how Park's game will translate to the U.S. There will be a cultural assimilation that has to take place, and Major League hurlers are no doubt more talented.
And there are holes in Park's game. As with most sluggers, he strikes out a lot, 161 times in 622 plate appearances last season, a rate of 25.9%. That would place him 14th in the Majors among qualified batters. It's also unlikely he's going to hit .343, have an on-base percentage of .436 and slug .714.
But a slash line of .260/.330/.450 might be reasonable, with 20 to 25 homers and a lot of strikeouts, probably around 170 or 180 or so, provided he gets 600 plate appearances.
Given what Minnesota has gotten from Mauer in the last few years, they'll take it.