Obviously the Astros want to win this season. That is why the players take the field each day. However, that is not the number one priority in Houston this season. Instead of merely temporarily winning a few extra games, they are trying to build something for the future. Sustainable winning. That is the mission.Carlos Pena
(Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)
182. That is the number of strikeouts Carlos Pena had last season. In the two years prior Pena struck out 158 and 161 times respectively. In fact the 182 times he struck out last season were a career high for him. So perhaps my headline is a little exaggerated. But it certainly gets your attention. For the record I do not expect that Pena will strike out 200 times in 2013, although his total will likely be high as he is trending in the wrong direction.
Aside from 2007 when Pena hit .282, he has not hit over .248 when he has played a full season. That would be a problem if the Astros signed Pena for his batting average. Pena cannot hit left handed pitching (.206 for his career) and makes contact at abysmal levels (67% in 2010 and 2011) but last year was even worse for the 35 year slugger as he made contact at a 63% rate. The lack of contact is caused by his all or nothing approach which also results in his massive amount of strikeouts.
Believe it or not this was not the issue I had with Pena last season. Of course I would have liked to see him hit more than .197 as that is extreme, but the Astros signed him in large part for his power. Last season saw a big decrease to his HR total (28 in 2011 to 19 last season). The question is, why did his home runs fall like that, and will that correct itself this season?
Pena’s fly ball rate dropped to 43% last season from 47% in 2011 and was well below his rates from 2008 and 2009 of 50% and 54%. Also, only 14% of his fly balls turned into home runs which was his worst rate of the past five seasons. That is a cause for concern. As I look at these statistics, I am feeling less confident in Pena for next season.
This is not to say Pena will not hit 20 HR this season, because I think that is very possible, but you will not be wowed and overwhelmed with his power output. After all, there is a reason why Tampa was perfectly alright with the idea of replacing Pena with James Loney for 2013.
Perhaps one reason for the Rays’ decision is the fact that over the last five seasons Pena’s RBI totals have decreased from 102 in 2008 to 61 last year. More than anything the Astros will be counting on Pena as a run producer. If you are looking for a simple explanation for the RBI decrease, his batting average of .247 in 2008 was 50 points higher than last season. While Pena is still a power threat, opposing teams will likely not be as scared of him as in seasons past, but he is still perhaps the most threatening bat in the Astros lineup entering the season.
So why did the Astros sign Pena? I am sure they saw the same statistics that I just outlined. Aside from his shortcomings, Pena is still a veteran power threat who will be comfortable being the DH. That is not an easy role, especially for a young player. It is certainly a plus to have a veteran like Pena in that role instead of perhaps interfering with a young player’s growth. More importantly he is still a veteran power threat in the middle of the lineup. Bo Porter can construct his lineup around Pena. But the most important thing is: Pena will prove to be a much needed veteran presence for this young team. For those reasons, Pena is the perfect low cost fit for the 2013 Astros.