Astros fans may find themselves wishing for the 2022 iteration of Jeremy Pena as they navigate through the playoffs. Following a decent rookie season (.253 AVG, 22 HRs, .715 OPS), Pena improved his performance during the playoffs, hitting .345 with a 1.005 OPS and slashing 4 homers in 58 at-bats. Pena was the unsung hero in the playoffs, winning both 2022 ALCS and World Series MVP. With mainstays in Jose Altuve, Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez struggling as a whole in last years postseason, Pena picked up the slack when the Astros desperately needed him.
It's now the end of the 2023 regular season. Having added fifteen pounds of muscle prior to Spring Training, Pena was anticipated to excel, particularly in power-hitting. However, he encountered a noticeable sophomore slump in that regard, managing just 10 homers across 150 games this season. It's been since July 5th since Pena has hit a ball over the yard.
A pivotal concern lies in his contact quality; compared to his previous 38 barrels with a 9.6% barrel rate, the 26-year-old has barrelled the ball merely 18 times this season, indicating a stark drop to a 4.0% barrel rate.
Although his 96 wRC+ and 3.8 WAR this year have also taken a dip compared to 2022, Pena is still vital to the team's defense and situational hitting. His discipline at the plate has improved since last season, drawing more walks and striking out a bit less. Pena struck out 129 times in 2023, which is six times less than his rookie year while playing fifteen more games. With a .324 OBP, Pena improved his versatility of becoming a table setter for the top of the lineup as it switches over.
Astros fans are waiting for his power to make a comeback, and the postseason would be the perfect time. If Pena can raise his barrel rate back to 2022 standards, hardly any holes will be left open at the bottom of the lineup.