Monday’s news that the Twins had won their nearly $13 million bid for Korean slugger Byung-ho Park brought more answers than questions. Namely: Who is this guy? And: Why do the Twins want another first baseman/designated hitter?
Assuming the Twins are able to sign Park in their 30-day negotiating window, they have left no doubt (once again) about this, however: A franchise that once eschewed strikeouts at the plate is now firmly on the opposite side of that curve and fully part of a baseball trend.
Six Twins players struck out at least 100 times last season — a milestone that used to signify shame but is now just part of the game. Included in that mix was Brian Dozier, who set a team record with 148 strikeouts.
With Miguel Sano and likely Park in the mix for full seasons, that record figures to be shattered in 2016. In only 80 games in 2015, Sano struck out 119 times. He could very well whiff over 200 times in 2016. Park, playing in the lesser Korean Baseball Organization, struck out 161 times last year.
Of Park’s 622 plate appearances in Korea last year, 328 of them (52.7 percent) ended in an extra-base hit, a walk or a strikeout. Sano’s rate was even more astonishing: 62.1 percent.
Welcome to the new Twins — an organization that embraces the high-risk, high-reward approach of swinging hard and not being afraid of the consequences. It’s a dramatic shift in approach from the recent past.
Looking back at the numbers over the past 10 seasons, we see that from 2006-12, the Twins never finished higher than 25th in the majors in strikeouts. In 2007, they struck out just 839 times — least in the majors and 234 fewer than the MLB average. They pitched to contact (which they still do, since their pitchers finished last in the majors in K’s last season) and they hit to contact.
The shift began in 2013, when Tom Brunansky came on as hitting coach and they worked a bunch of new young hitters into the lineup. That season, the Twins set a team record by striking out 1,430 times — second-most in the majors. Each of the past two seasons, they also have been in the top half of major league teams when it comes to striking out.
Obviously, the goal is not to strike out. But if the Twins have the likes of Dozier, Sano, Park, Trevor Plouffe and Eddie Rosario in the lineup — along with, to a lesser extent, Eduardo Escobar, Joe Mauer, Aaron Hicks/Byron Buxton and possibly a more powerful catcher than Kurt Suzuki — they’re going to have a dangerous lineup that racks up K’s to go with the walks and blasts.
In other words, Park should fit right in the lineup even if where he fits on the field isn’t immediately clear.