Park Chan-ho learns grace compensates for speedWHAT? You have not seen Park Chan-ho’s comeback to his old form? You are right. Park is not back to his old form. To say that after only after posting a 3-1 record with four quality starts out of six and a 4.76 ERA would be utterly wrong, not counting his poor showing against Oakland this season.
But he seems to have learned how to get by with less, and I think that’s the most important thing that might revive his career.
Those who have cared to follow Park have witnessed how as soon as he put on a Texas Rangers’ uniform three years ago, Park lost velocity on his pitches after a series of injuries, hardly justifying his five-year, $65 million contract.
Until his injuries, he was a power pitcher who had made a living by throwing hard and fast at batters.
With his velocity gone, he became easy prey to batters who just had to sit and wait and put the fat part of the bat on the desired ball.
There are a couple of things that Park does differently now. After losing to the Rangers last week 7-2, the Red Sox’s Johnny Damon said about Park: “He worked quick when guys got on base, which we hardly did, so you can hardly run on him because he’s so quick.”
Working quickly is one of the pitching mechanisms that do a couple of things for the pitcher. The pitcher becomes the pace setter of the game and it keeps the defense on constant alert, while it prevents base runners from creating havoc on the field.
Park also changes the speed of the ball effectively now. Pitchers without dominating pitches change speeds to throw off a batter’s timing, and Park has done just that.
But above all, he seems to have accepted the fact that he does not have the stuff anymore to blow everyone out.
In his own words, Park said that he now had a better understanding of ball movements. Let’s hope he truly has learned that.
The point of pitching is to have the batter put the ball in play on the pitcher’s terms. Park used his fastball mainly to do that. The usage of the fastball dictated his approach to the game.
Finally, Park has figured out that it’s not the speed of his fastball that’s the key, but the bite at the end of the pitch, “the movement.”
I have said this numerous times before, and thankfully Park has started to learn that a controlled fastball with enough bite is more effective than a faster ball with less pop.
Going from a four-seamer to a two-seamer as Park has done is a sure sign that the pitcher is sacrificing velocity for movement. As we are seeing today, he is getting many ground outs as a result of this change as the two-seamer is essentially a contact pitch designed to just do that if kept low enough.
At the beginning of the season the Rangers had little choice but to eat up Park’s salary and pray that somehow Park would turn around as no other team showed interest in a trade involving him.
Some of those prayers have been answered including those who picked Park up at a bargain in fantasy leagues.
As long as Park keeps in mind that less is not necessarily bad, this season we’ll see a rejuvenated Park. Thank God.
by Brian Lee