Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Park's Place Should Be the Bullpen

With the regular season nearly upon us, the Phillies finally chose their fifth starter. It's going to be none other than Chan Ho Park, the same Chan Ho Park who was a dominant starter for the his 20's. Now, as a 35-year old, Park returns to the rotation, despite the fact that he has not had much success as a starter since the end of his first stint in LA, back in 2001. That year, Park went 15-11 with a 3.50 ERA and recorded 218 strikeouts.

But that was then and this is Citizen's Bank Park. While there's no doubt Park could (and still can) really pitch, he was putting up those numbers in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. When he moved on to the less friendly confines of the Ballpark in Arlington, things got a little ugly. Park's ERA jumped to 5.75 in 2002, his first year in Texas, and has been over 4.50 every year since then, until last year.

What made last year so special? Well for one, he was back in Dodger Stadium, where all his past success came. Second, he was pitching out of the bullpen, where he did not even have to log 100 innings. Meanwhile, the Phillies have inserted him as the fifth starter, hoping he can give them 200 innings. Considering he hasn't done that since 2001, I wouldn't count on it.

But maybe the real Chan Ho Park is back now. Maybe 2008 was the story of how Chan Ho got his groove back.

Or maybe this is the same pitcher we've been watching for the last 15 years, who's been great in pitcher's parks and not-so-great elsewhere. Just look at his home/road splits from last season. At home, he was dominant, posting a 2.18 ERA and a dominant K/BB ratio of 7/2. However, on the road his ERA ballooned to 4.50 with a K/BB of 3/2. And this was not a new phenomenon for Park. In 2001 his home ERA was 2.36, while his road ERA was 4.83.

Of course this doesn't have much to do with the decision to put him in the rotation. He's struggled outside pitcher's parks both as a starter and a reliever. But making him a starter makes him even more vulnerable to continuing this trend while at the same time making his likely struggles more detrimental to the team.

There's no denying that Park has had a great spring and it's hard to argue that J.A. Happ or Kyle Kendrick would be much better. However, the difference is that with Happ and Kendrick (well, okay, more with Happ) there's a reasonable chance that the Phillies get an above-average performance (or if nothing else there's the thrill of the unknown). With Park, the Phillies know (well, they SHOULD know) exactly what they're getting.

Then again, can he be any worse than Adam Eaton? I'm not looking forward to finding out.

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