For all his flawed views on defensive metrics, Ruben Amaro Jr. seems to have figured out that a league average starting pitcher may prove to be a useful part to the bullpen. Recently, he signed Jose Contreras, a pitcher that I feel can be a very nice addition if used in the proper bullpen role. Contreras was signed in part to replace Chan Ho Park, who was also once a pretty average (well paid) starting pitcher, but flourished by a move to the bullpen; so much so that he has caught the eye of the Rays front office according to Jon Heyman.
His name has been tossed around on this site throughout the off season, but never was really considered a viable option to do his perceived price tag. It is reported that he turned down the Phillies offer of one-year and three million dollars last month. If that is true, then Park may have overestimated his value and underestimated that we are in a buyer's market. For comparison, Octavio Dotel will carry the closer's tag for the Pittsburgh Pirates and signed for a base salary of around $3 million. With pitchers and catchers reporting in three weeks, Park is likely to come as a bargain for the next team that signs him.
Originally a starter, I would assume that his heart is still tied to that role; however, the market cares not feelings and may dictate Park's role for him. This is is not a bad thing. While he made a lot of money as a starter, his clear value to teams these days is in the bullpen. This past season he threw 50 innings out of the bullpen and earned a shiny 2.52 ERA. Normally, an ERA that low would come with a buyer beware tag, but his FIP of 2.10 was nearly a half run lower. Of course the fact that he didn't allow a home run in relief helps, but even his expected FIP of 3.16 is stellar.
Not surprisingly, the move to a relief role enhanced a few important facets of Park's game. His strikeouts increased to nearly 9.5 per nine while his BB/9 came in below 3. He also saw a nice increase in velocity from around 90 MPH on his fastball to an average of over 92 MPH coming in relief. In 33 innings as a starter, he threw nearly 21% sliders and got a whiff 6.5% of the time. During his 50 innings in the pen, he threw nearly 25% sliders and induced a swing and a miss 15.6% of the time. He also threw about 3% more curve balls and watched the percentage of whiffs rise from the mid-6% as a starter to 14.4% when not starting. The improved breaking balls also led to more ground balls and he finished the season slightly above his 45% GB%.
Heyman mentions that the Cubs as well as other teams join the Rays in there interest of Chan Ho Park and it's pretty easy to see why: whiffs, strike outs, and ground balls are things you want from a reliever and Park possessed all three last season. He is also the owner of a nifty platoon split that has held right-handed batters to a slash line of .227/.311/.355 in over 4,200 plate appearances. Left-handed batters do well against him, but that's all the more reason he should be used as a match-up reliever instead of a starter. All the things mentioned above are nice, but Park may have just acquired the most important traits the Rays are looking for; he should come cheap and be willing to sign a short-term deal.
If nothing else, Park's drop kicking ability fits with the Rays need for more Brawl-fense.