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Should we blame Byung Ho Park’s injuries for his struggles?

Byung Ho Park was off to a hot start before coming back to Earth and finishing with a rather putrid stat line. However, was he playing hurt the entire time?

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Twins made a splash last offseason when they not only won the bid to negotiate exclusively with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park*, but also successfully signed him to a 4-year, $12 million contract. Considering the Twins already had Joe Mauer at first base and Kennys Vargas on the 40-man roster, it seemed odd that the Twins were looking to add yet another hitter to a seemingly crowded lineup. In fact, the addition of Park helped push Miguel Sano into right field, an ill-fated train wreck that many fans saw before the season even began.

* Note: The official Twins 40-man roster now lists his name as “Byungho” but until I hear an announcement of some sort, I’m going to stick with the currently accepted “Byung Ho.”

Nonetheless, Paul Molitor stuck with his preferred lineup that included Trevor Plouffe at third base, Mauer at first, Sano in right, and Park as the designated hitter. Known for a distinct uppercut swing that led to many skyscraping home runs, Park’s hacks also made him prone to strikeouts. His attack at the plate also led to many lazy fly balls, meaning that he was likely to be stuck with a low batting average despite his elite power.

Through the first month of the season, Park did just about what was predicted. He hit only .227, but it came with four doubles and six home runs that gave him a .333 isolated power, .561 slugging percentage, and a very solid 119 wRC+ (essentially he was 19% better than the average hitter). Peculiarly, he also mustered only eight RBI as he struggled mightily with runners on base, and he sure did whiff as he struck out one-third of the time.

But those solo home runs, though...

Or if you’re the sort that prefers still images:

I was at that game and Park homered into the brand new bar in center field. That ball landed in a place that I had only seen reached by Miguel Cabrera and that was back when there were still seats there.

The calendar turned to May and Park started to look comfortable. A seven-game stretch to start the month that included seven hits in 16 at-bats boosted the Korean righty’s triple-slash from his decent .227/.288/.561 in April to a much more robust .268/.351/.598. Suddenly Park was looking like a formidable threat in the middle of the Twins lineup.

But we’re talking about Minnesota sports here and all good things must come to an end. In this case, it was a Chris Sale slider to the right knee of Park in the first inning of the May 7th game against the Chicago White Sox. Park left the game following the half-inning and coincidentally his struggles began from there. Over his remaining 18 games in May, Park mustered just a .149/.230/.284 line and that formidable middle-of-the-order bat had suddenly regressed into Drew Butera.

June came and the end of the tunnel was nowhere in sight. Park hit .136/.224/.303 that month and as if the drilling from Sale wasn’t enough, reports came out that Park was also battling some wrist soreness. From myjah’s article there, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press started reporting in June that he saw Park icing his wrist after games. Frustratingly, both the Twins and the slugger claimed that the wrist wasn’t bothering him, but the numbers at the plate sure told a different story. After a 0-for-19 skid towards the end of the month, the Twins finally sent Park down to Triple-A where he did smack 10 home runs in just 128 plate appearances, but he also hit only .224 during that time. As if that wasn’t enough, we witnessed a Twins classic in August as he went on the Triple-A disabled list for - I bet you can’t guess it - a sore wrist. A few days after myjah wrote about Park’s wrist, he underwent surgery to repair a tendon in his right middle finger.

Based off all this information, I feel that we didn’t see Park even close to 100% for most of the 2016 season. You need your legs to hit and I feel it’s more than coincidence that he struggled mightily after getting beaned in the knee. You also need your wrists to hit and when he was supposedly battling a sore wrist the entire season, I find it impressive that he even showed elite power in his first taste of the big leagues. Looking forward to 2017, he’ll be fighting Kennys Vargas for the backup first base and possible designated hitter role, but if he’s healthy in spring training, I feel Park would have the best chance of making the roster. I hope this is the case because he offers more upside than Vargas and would be an intimidating player to pair with Miguel Sano in the middle of the lineup.