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Byung Ho Park's Struggles Related To Season-Long Injury?

When the Twins signed Byung Ho Park this offseason, they knew they were getting a strikeout-prone slugger who could regularly destroy baseballs. For about a month and half, he lived up to that billing. Midway through May that changed. He turned into a strikeout prone player who gently hit baseballs.

Multiple explanations for this massive slump were offered. Teams finally adjusted to him. He focused too much on hard fastballs. His confidence was gone. As such, the Twins sent him to Rochester to regain his swing.

If reports are accurate, however, it would appear that, in addition to the issues above, Park has also been playing through an injury.
Image courtesy of Bruce Kockhold, USA TODAY
On May 13, in the opener of a three game series in Cleveland, Park had his first multi-homer game of his career and giving him nine on the season, pulling him within three of the AL pace-setting in Robinson Cano. He was tops among rookies in the junior circuit in home runs, and his overall numbers, while not otherworldly, were highly respectable. When the sun set on the Buckeye State that night, Park carried a .245/.324/.582 batting line. He had the shine of a legit Rookie Of The Year candidate.

But just as meteoric as his rise, Park fell quickly back to earth. Over the next 33 games, he posted a measly batting line of .145/.233/.265. His exit velocity average dropped from 90.9 MPH to 87.2. His average fly ball distance went from 250 to 208. As a predominant fly ball hitter, these metrics were troubling. Pitchers confounded him as he reportedly obsessed with higher velocity. His confidence waned. Something was amiss.

Park’s Korean Baseball Organization-honed upper-cut swing path has been perfect for mashing breaking balls: Of his 12 home runs, 8 were on curves or sliders. Only Colorado’s Trevor Story (10) and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager (9) hit more on those types of pitches. There was no doubt that Park could manhandle mistakes but he has been carved up when the sequences included fastballs with velocity 93 miles per hour or higher. In fact, Park’s struggles are so prolific, his .089 batting average against fastballs 93 MPH or higher was the lowest in baseball… with the exception of the Phillies’ Ryan Howard (.042).

Was it truly the competition and the velocity in the major leagues that bested Park? On one hand, prior to his signing, scouts did express concern over his ability to catch up to inside fastballs. On the other, hitters who graduated from the Korean league have done quite well against these exact same type of fastballs. Pittsburgh’s Jung Ho Kang, Baltimore’s Hyun Soo Kim and Seattle Dae Ho Lee all had averages over .300 on fastballs over 93 MPH this year. Not being able to face elite velocity while developing in Korea certainly did not hinder their careers.

Teams also adjusted to Park. While over a month of play seems like a crazytown amount of time to continue to throw middle-middle pitches to a guy who would obliterate them, it really took opponents that long to actively avoid that location. In short, he saw fewer mistakes.

Attached Image: output_aTtQFn.gif


Another possible factor for Park’s dismal performance emerged during last night’s Rochester Red Wings’ broadcast. As Seth Stohs pointed out on Twitter last night, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs announcers, noting Park’s absence from the game, said that Park had been struggling with a hand injury -- one that had lingered since spring training -- and was unable to maintain proper contact with the bat.



Per the broadcast:

Announcer 1: “They have this slugger, Byung Ho Park, who played last night, he’s got a bit of a hand injury. He’s out of the lineup. He’s a guy who they hoped would come down, get things right and also propel this Rochester team but it’s not going to help them if he’s not playing.”

Announcer 2: “I don’t know if I was supposed to hear it but I did hear one of [Rochester’s] coaches talking about Park having a hand injury that kind of lingered throughout the year. It started in spring training and he just decided he can’t swing a bat right now. He can’t keep the hand on the bat and he decided to shut it down.”


On Friday Brad Steil, the Twins' Director of Minor League Operations, dismissed the broadcast banter, writing in an email to Twins Daily that there is nothing accurate about that report.

"Park does not have a hand injury and he didn't have a hand injury (or anything else) in spring training," Steil noted. "He does have some wrist soreness at the moment, but it’s not something that prevents him from playing. Players deal with bumps, bruises, soreness, and general fatigue throughout the course of a six month season, and we will occasionally give them days off to help manage those things."

That kind of information seems noteworthy. It would appear, however, that there were no reports of Park’s condition mentioned anywhere dating back to spring training. To be sure, this would not be the first time a player has downplayed an injury in an effort to keep playing. While rest would be in their best interest, competitiveness and machismo drives them to play night after night in spite of falling numbers and aching body parts. In baseball, communicating with the coaching and medical staff the extent of an injury can be complicated and certainly a language barrier (even with a translator) can also add a wrinkle. Even so, if the team had knowledge of a hand injury dating back to spring training, the subsequent poor performance should have necessitated some time off rather than continuing to insert him into the lineup, further damaging his confidence.

Park’s slump could be both an issue of confidence and a nagging injury. Teams did adjust and Park seemingly did not adjust with them. At the same time, the same balls he was hitting hard into play simply were not hit with as much vigor as of late and a hand injury would be one viable reason for that.

Whether you view the hand injury as an excuse rather than an explanation for his performance is inconsequential. What does matter is his ability to hit again. Regardless of the current circumstance, Park needs confidence and rest and Rochester is an appropriate setting for both.


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28 Comments

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TheLeviathan
Jul 08 2016 09:05 AM

Well, I hope that's a possibility.  He's got legit power, it'd be nice if he could be a contributor.

    • glunn, diehardtwinsfan, nicksaviking and 2 others like this

I hope it's an injury....those are recoverable imo. 

    • glunn, nicksaviking, brvama and 2 others like this

What a shock, the training staff for the Twins once again appears incompetent and woeful at their jobs. Maybe these guys are truly some of the best doctors and trainers on the planet, but considering their track record this year, it sure doesn't look like they are. I know they just cleared out the training staff a few years ago, but it might be time to do so again. Also, the need to stop accepting applications from doctors who list Dr. Nick from the Simpsons as a reference.

 

I get the language barrier perhaps being a factor, but isn't it also on the manager and his staff to notice the minor things happening to a player? Did no one notice that Park was icing his hand more than normal or that he may have grimaced or favored his wrist/hand during AB's, before or after AB's, during batting practice, etc? Molitor and his staff look just as incompetent, if not more than the training staff through all of this. Molitor couldn't have been so stupid that he didn't notice the decreased velocity of Perkins early in the year, the decreased velocity of Hughes, Plouffe basically being a walking hospital visit this year, etc? I get players want to play and maybe Molitor is so stuck in his ways he adheres to that, but the job of a manager is to step in and tell guys when and when they cannot play through pain. 

 

Molitor has escaped a lot of the criticism this year, but he and his staff need to be catching a lot more heat than they are in the media. Not for the job he has done managing the team, it's true that even Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy couldn't get this team to .500...but for the handling of injured pitchers and position players and his continued insistence on just taking macho, aggressive athletes at their word instead of doing what a manager should do sometimes--overruling a player.

    • Jerr, Mike Sixel, troyhobbs and 4 others like this
Well an injury would help explain the sudden drop off after he seemed to be getting in to a groove. But why oh why didn't someone think to DL him and get healed up?!

Especially in a lost season, why are we playing a guy hurt who is not producing? Just dumbfounding!
    • Mike Sixel, Mike Frasier Law, mikelink45 and 1 other like this
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Everyday Eddy
Jul 08 2016 09:53 AM

Guys playing hurt is ridiculous.  I'm sure it was hard for Park to articulate the hand issue with the language barrier so his situation is more understandable but just recently Plouffe was playing with broken ribs.  Trying to be a hero when you aren't that great in the first place does nothing but hurt the team

    • Mike Sixel, Dantes929, hybridbear and 1 other like this

 

What a shock, the training staff for the Twins once again appears incompetent and woeful at their jobs. Maybe these guys are truly some of the best doctors and trainers on the planet, but considering their track record this year, it sure doesn't look like they are. I know they just cleared out the training staff a few years ago, but it might be time to do so again. Also, the need to stop accepting applications from doctors who list Dr. Nick from the Simpsons as a reference.

 

I get the language barrier perhaps being a factor, but isn't it also on the manager and his staff to notice the minor things happening to a player? Did no one notice that Park was icing his hand more than normal or that he may have grimaced or favored his wrist/hand during AB's, before or after AB's, during batting practice, etc? Molitor and his staff look just as incompetent, if not more than the training staff through all of this. Molitor couldn't have been so stupid that he didn't notice the decreased velocity of Perkins early in the year, the decreased velocity of Hughes, Plouffe basically being a walking hospital visit this year, etc? I get players want to play and maybe Molitor is so stuck in his ways he adheres to that, but the job of a manager is to step in and tell guys when and when they cannot play through pain. 

 

Molitor has escaped a lot of the criticism this year, but he and his staff need to be catching a lot more heat than they are in the media. Not for the job he has done managing the team, it's true that even Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy couldn't get this team to .500...but for the handling of injured pitchers and position players and his continued insistence on just taking macho, aggressive athletes at their word instead of doing what a manager should do sometimes--overruling a player.

 

meh....I don't buy it.Every time a player slumps it seems to be some kind of an injury.We see this over and over again and the fans buy it.  Why can't a player slump and take responsibility for it anymore.  Inevitably it's blamed on a concussion from 3 years ago, an achy hammy, tired arm, bad eye sight at the plate, blah blah blah

    • adorduan and KGB like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Jul 08 2016 11:10 AM
I just don't see Park using an injury as an excuse. He seems honorable as a person and making a lame excuse after the fact doesn't seem like how he would have been raised or acceptable in his culture.
    • Mike Frasier Law and d-mac like this

 

meh....I don't buy it.Every time a player slumps it seems to be some kind of an injury.We see this over and over again and the fans buy it.  Why can't a player slump and take responsibility for it anymore.  Inevitably it's blamed on a concussion from 3 years ago, an achy hammy, tired arm, bad eye sight at the plate, blah blah blah

 

Yup, all players are lazy bums nowadays! Not like they used to be back in my day... Get off my lawn you damn kids! /sarcasm

    • spinowner likes this

 

meh....I don't buy it.Every time a player slumps it seems to be some kind of an injury.We see this over and over again and the fans buy it.  Why can't a player slump and take responsibility for it anymore.  Inevitably it's blamed on a concussion from 3 years ago, an achy hammy, tired arm, bad eye sight at the plate, blah blah blah

imo, this stems from the avalanche of criticism Mauer took for sitting out games, whether it was bilateral whatever or other strains and pulls.  I never got on him because I never wanted to see ordinary Joe but tons of posters questioned his toughness and leadership.  You can't have it both ways. Either guys should tough it out and play through injuries or rest until they can play their best. I favor the latter. As far as hand injuries go I hurt mine in high school and it was half the season before I realized I had gotten in the habit of holding the bat in my right hand with just the knuckles.  Bad habits are another reason not to play through certain injuries.

    • 70charger and d-mac like this

meh....I don't buy it.Every time a player slumps it seems to be some kind of an injury.We see this over and over again and the fans buy it.  Why can't a player slump and take responsibility for it anymore.  Inevitably it's blamed on a concussion from 3 years ago, an achy hammy, tired arm, bad eye sight at the plate, blah blah blah

Disagree. Park's reduced distance and exit velocity should have been dead giveaways that he was nursing some kind of injury.

 

Meanwhile, Joe Mauer's reduced distance and exit velocity are due to...?

    • d-mac likes this
Meanwhile, Joe Mauer's reduced distance and exit velocity are due to...?[/quote] Age, player decline?
    • adorduan likes this

 

I just don't see Park using an injury as an excuse. He seems honorable as a person and making a lame excuse after the fact doesn't seem like how he would have been raised or acceptable in his culture.

 

I could more see Park hiding an injury than using it as an excuse.  Player in a new country trying to fit in, trying to succeed, trying not to let down his country.  Before people berate the trainers, it could be as simple as that.

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Everyday Eddy
Jul 08 2016 01:27 PM

 

meh....I don't buy it.Every time a player slumps it seems to be some kind of an injury.We see this over and over again and the fans buy it.  Why can't a player slump and take responsibility for it anymore.  Inevitably it's blamed on a concussion from 3 years ago, an achy hammy, tired arm, bad eye sight at the plate, blah blah blah

 

Taking shots at Mauer for concussions is just wrong.  I've had 3 in the last 5 years playing junior hockey and then college hockey and they legitimately change your life.  I commend him for still playing as well as he does despite the concussion issues

    • sploorp likes this

 


"Park does not have a hand injury and he didn't have a hand injury (or anything else) in spring training," Steil noted. "He does have some wrist soreness at the moment, but it’s not something that prevents him from playing. Players deal with bumps, bruises, soreness, and general fatigue throughout the course of a six month season, and we will occasionally give them days off to help manage those things."

 

 

There's always going to be a grey area between being hurt and being injured, and the communication between player and medical/training staff will always be imprecise under the best of circumstances.

 

That said, the Twins seem to be enduring more than their fair share of players playing through debilitating injuries, whether through their own concealment or failure of recognition on the part of the staff.

 

Language considerations aside, it's particularly troubling with Park. A veteran like Plouffe may be able to judge whether the sore ribs made him tardy on a Chris Sale fastball he'd normally catch up to.

 

But even if Park can describe how he feels, he doesn't have the experience in the league to give him external feedback on whether he's playing effectively through the pain instead of just ineffectively with the pain.

He has a personal interpreter.

 

 

Guys playing hurt is ridiculous.  I'm sure it was hard for Park to articulate the hand issue with the language barrier so his situation is more understandable but just recently Plouffe was playing with broken ribs.  Trying to be a hero when you aren't that great in the first place does nothing but hurt the team

These are professional athletes playing 6 games per week. It is unlikely that they feel 100% healthy most of the season. I know that I routinely had small nagging injuries all the time during the various HS/college sports that I played. I kept playing just like everyone that I knew.

    • USAFChief and jokin like this

 

These are professional athletes playing 6 games per week. It is unlikely that they feel 100% healthy most of the season. I know that I routinely had small nagging injuries all the time during the various HS/college sports that I played. I kept playing just like everyone that I knew.

Concur.

 

If players only played when completely healthy, they'd average 40 games per year.

 

 

    • jokin and Platoon like this

If he was njured in spring he was hitting just fine for a while so the injury was manageable.If your hitting why say anything.He goes into a slump and thinks he can break out of it but got into bad habits and then doesn't break out of the slump.at that point it makes sense to recover from the injury which looks like what is happening here.I'm sure if Park slumped from the beginning of the season and then continued to slump he would have done something about the injury earlier.I don't think he needs surgery or anything like that.Lets see what a little rest does for him.

I have no idea if he is injured or not. But I do think he very early became aware of the fact he had trouble keeping up with the velocity. And became an extreme guess hitter, well before Molitor will admit to it. The crazy awkward swings seem to show that. And they started to pitch him backwards. When you can't hit a FB unless you are sitting dead red, you're in trouble. I don't know if he can adjust, but I know this. There are lots of guys who can hit hanging mistakes. We have more than one in MiLB, and they are years younger and cheaper. I just cannot see why we chased a 29 yr old minor leaguer, and gave him a 4 year contract. And while that's water under the dam, 25% of the contract is already a waste, even without factoring in the Sano Experiment!
    • jokin and Winston Smith like this

I could more see Park hiding an injury than using it as an excuse. Player in a new country trying to fit in, trying to succeed, trying not to let down his country. Before people berate the trainers, it could be as simple as that.


Problem is, this rationalization can be used for any pro athlete. We used it for Colabello -- he was just trying to succeed. We've used it for countless others -- they were trying not to let down the team. Despite the different background, I really don't think these reasons for Park to play through injury are all that different from the reasons driving the average pro athlete.
    • jokin likes this

I believe that this is a reflection of a long standing issue where Twins for years have had players on the roster but not playing so they can battle a minor issue only to have the issue flair up and inevitable time on DL started late, sometimes costing us spots on the bench that could have aided the team.

 

This has been going on for a long time and I keep thinking that the Twins record of hiring from within and staying with their buddies has not given us the fresh set of eyes to put better procedures in place on all levels. 

 

I do hope Park can be allowed to heal, that his mental aspect is not impacted.  To which I would add another request to a FO restructure - get some people of color, some people from Latin America and Asia in to the offices and the coaching staff.

I don't know.  Why wouldn't they just put him on the DL instead of making him struggle.  Couldn't imagine it being very easy hitting in any league with a wrist/hand injury. Does exit velocity just simply decrease as a byproduct of a struggling hitter?

 

Yup, all players are lazy bums nowadays! Not like they used to be back in my day... Get off my lawn you damn kids! /sarcasm

 

Your words not mine.

 

Taking shots at Mauer for concussions is just wrong.  I've had 3 in the last 5 years playing junior hockey and then college hockey and they legitimately change your life.  I commend him for still playing as well as he does despite the concussion issues

You don't have to tell me that.  I had a concussion as a kid on a motor bike were i lost a WHOLE day to concussion amnesia.  My mother said I couldn't remember my name, age, anything.  I had some lingering symptoms for about 3 - 4 months.

 

I am not taking a shot at Mauer.  I am stating that athletes often make excuses (which they do) and blame slumps on lingering nagging injuries.  You can't deny that.

 

And by the way Brad Steil, the Twins' Director of Minor League Operations basically confirmed as such saying the broadcasters where "bantering" and that it was entirely inaccurate.  READ AGAIN

 

"Park does not have a hand injury and he didn't have a hand injury (or anything else) in spring training," Steil noted. "He does have some wrist soreness at the moment, but it’s not something that prevents him from playing. Players deal with bumps, bruises, soreness, and general fatigue throughout the course of a six month season, and we will occasionally give them days off to help manage those things." 

 

Sometimes a slump is just that a slump.  

Sometimes a slump is just that a slump.
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A slump is something a player has after having achieved a success level off of which to judge. Neither I nor Park have achieved the status of having a slump at this point in our careers. I will concede though, that he does have a better chance to do so. :)

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