Does Park rely on Kreuter for success?
In Saturday’s nine-to-five loss over the Baltimore Orioles, Chan Ho Park’s horrible performance raised questions about his ability to succeed without Chad Kreuter catching. In the loss Park allowed nine runs. It was the first time this spring that Kreuter had not caught for him. Though Park is a talented young starter, he tends to think too much on the mound and lose his concentration during the game. This was the only disastrous outing for Park this spring, but the coincidence of not having Kreuter catching for him is too evident to ignore.
This enigmatic 27-year-old had a break out season in 2000 when he led the Dodgers in wins and strikeouts. Though Park did satisfactorily before the 2000 season, he did not reach his enormous potential. He throws a mid-90 miles-per-hour fastball, a good rainbow curveball, a great slider, and a below average changeup. Park did not make progress after 1997 until 2000.
Park had a terrible 1999 season. Before the season, he helped the Korean National baseball team to win a title to get out of his mandatory military service. When the 1999 season started, Park admitted he was mentally fatigued. During the season he had some awful performances, including when he became the first pitcher to allow two grand slams during the same inning in major league history. Sometimes his mind seemed to wonder away from the game. In one game he even started a brawl with an opposing pitcher for little reason. Because Park was a 27-year-old starter with enormous potential, the Dodgers did not try to trade him.
The second game of the 2000 season Todd Hundley, the primary Dodger catcher, could not play due to an injury. The Dodger backup catcher Chad Kreuter started and caught for Park. Though Park struggled through his innings, Kreuter, who had experience working with young pitchers, helped Park to make it through by calling a good game and making several trips to the mound. Because Davey Johnson liked how Kreuter handled Park and the results, Johnson paired Park and Kreuter often. Johnson worried about Park having a personal catcher at so young an age, so sometimes he matched Park with Hundley. However, when he did, Park had a poor outing. After June, Kreuter always caught Park, and Park had a marvelous second half.
This spring Jim Tracy had Kreuter catch Park in every outing until yesterday. Before yesterday Park had pitched well even when he struggled with his control. Yesterday Jim Tracy and Jim Colborn hoped Park would go six innings, but Park went four innings and allowed nine runs. He allowed hits and walks to every Oriole. With Paul LoDuca catching, Park did not look like himself.
This spring both Paul LoDuca and Angel Peña have proven themselves ready to be major league catchers while Chad Kreuter has struggled. LoDuca has batted more than .500 while showcasing good defensive skills. Peña has had a good batting average in limited at-bats and displayed good defense, especially a strong throwing arm. While showing outstanding defense and an excellent ability to handle pitchers, Kreuter has struggled offensively.
At 28, Chan Ho Park is a good starter with the ability to become an ace of any major league staff. However, he must conquer the mental part of baseball. He must learn to succeed regardless of whom catches for him. At 36 Kreuter does not have much longer in his career. If the Dodgers are forced to use Kreuter as Park’s catcher, the Dodger offense might be weakened.