Is Carlos Pena another Carlos Lee?


When the Astros signed Free Agent Carlos Pena earlier this week, Brian McTaggart tweeted that the ‘Stros had signed Carlos Lee. It was a Freudian slip that gave a few Astros fans a bit of a scare. McTaggart, a reliable source of Astros info, quickly deleted the tweet and apologized for the mistake. But it made me stop and think… is Carlos Pena another Carlos Lee?

For the past three seasons the majority of Astros fans couldn’t wait to get rid of Lee. That was mostly due to the fact that he was no longer performing at a level that justified his eight-digit salary. Granted, Pena will be making a fraction of the money Lee was, but can we expect him to be a more valuable asset than El Caballo?

Carlos Pena (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Let me start by saying how impressed I was with how Pena handled himself at his introductory press conference. He came off as a true professional. He appears to be a terrific role model for the young players on this team. That is something that Carlos Lee never was.

Don’t get me wrong. Carlos was a fun-loving guy and that can be good in its own right. But this team needs someone to step up and be a leader. Pena is currently the only player on the roster over 30 years of age and would be a natural to assume that role.

But, on the field, can we expect Pena to deliver more than Lee did over the last couple of years? Statistics would suggest Pena should pretty much duplicate Lee’s recent success, or lack thereof – depending on your point of view.

The grumblings over Lee’s performance started back in 2010 when he got off to a horrendous start. Lee would appear in 157 games that year (his age 34 season) posting a .246/.291/.417 slash line. He finished with decent power numbers, hitting 24 homers and driving in 89 runs. Not too bad, but we were used to Carlos hitting .300 and driving in 100. By the way, his .708 OPS was the lowest of his career. (Lee established a new low of .697 in 2012)

Last year Pena, in his age 34 season, hit .197/.330/.354 in 160 games. The .684 OPS was the lowest mark of his career. Pena hit 19 homers and had 61 RBIs. Both were, by far, his lowest totals since 2006. Pena has averaged 32 homers per season over the last six years, making him famous for something other than being the player Billy Beane traded out from under Art Howe in Moneyball.

Lee and Pena are different players but their percentage-based numbers are strikingly similar.

Carlos Lee (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Lee’s career numbers

Pena’s career numbers

Offensively, the results are remarkably even. But Lee hits right-handed and Pena is a lefty. Lee rarely walks or strikes out while Pena does plenty of both. Lee was sometimes a liability in the field although he held his own after moving to first base. Pena, on the other hand, is an outstanding first-baseman. Hopefully the Astros will make use of his defensive ability rather than using him primarily as a designated hitter.

So, what can we expect from Pena this season? If he follows in Lee’s footsteps look for something of a bounce back resulting in an OPS around .788. Pena scores high on the intangibles and maybe he has at least one more good year left in him. The price is right – if he can approach the numbers posted by Lee in his age 35 season.