Paying Tribute to the Power of Carlos Pena


With great reason, there has been much discussion about Carl Crawford's contract as it relates to his status with the Rays. The likely eventual departure of CC either during or after the 2010 season has left may a local fan feeling a bit sentimental about this campaign. Crawford may not be the only familiar face at the tail of of his time in Tampa Bay. Carlos Pena is in the final year of his contract, and with Scott Boras as his agent, likely will be out of the Rays budget for 2011. As Jason Collette did an excellentj ob pointing out recently, sluggers on the other side of 30 like Pena typically are on the downside of their production cycle.

Maybe it's the .254 batting average in his 3 seasons with Rays or the 29.8% strikeout percentage  vs. left-handed pitching, but I can't help but feel his value to this ballclub is not fully appreciated. It is often said  slugging first-basemen are a dime a dozen and often freely available. Heck, isn't that exactly how Tampa Bay was able to acquire Carlos? Pena had spent 2006 toiling in AAA with the Yankee and Red Sox organizations. The Rays signed him to a minor league contract prior to spring training in 2007. After failing to hit any home runs and batting .250 in the Spring, he was reassigned to minor league camp. However, the ghost of Wally Pip is alive and well in Tampa Bay. Before Aki Iwamura's injury created the rags-to-riches tale of Ben Zobrist, a Greg Norton injury allowed a minor league free agent to post MVP caliber numbers. Carlos Pena exploded and has never looked back, even if he hasn't quite equaled 2007's MVP-caliber success.

Even when a good is a dime-a-dozen, one good has to be at the top. For the past three-seasons Carlos Pena has not only led baseball in Smile %, but also all of baseball in the fewest at-bats per home run.  The top ten can be found below:

Name

AB/HR

Carlos Pena

12.51

Ryan Howard

12.54

Alex Rodriguez

12.92

Adam Dunn

13.43

Prince Fielder

13.48

Jim Thome

14.10

Albert Pujols

14.28

Mark Teixeira

16.44

Ryan Braun

16.48

Jack Cust

16.54

 

Why the decision to use at-bats over plate appearances? Plate appearance would be a discredit to a patient hitter such as Pena who draws a lot of free passes. For his three year period with the Rays, no one in baseball has blasted home runs at the rate of Carlos Pena.

We often evaluate pitchers based on their fielding independent metrics of walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. The formula involves using each event's run value and scaling it to ERA.  A home run is worth -13 for a pitcher, while a walk is worth -3, and a strikeout is worth 2. There is no need to scale true outcomes to the ERA scale for hitters, but its worth a look to see how Pena has fared in true outcome hitting. The formula to be used is simply to take the % of plate appearances resulting in home runs, walks and strikeouts multiply them by the run value of each event, and total the products. I multiplied the result by 100 and dropped the decimal to get  nice whole numbers.  Because we are using the reference of a hitter, home runs and walks will become positive, while strikeouts become negative. So how does Sir Smile-a-lot fare?

 

Name

True Outcome Index

Albert Pujols

104

Alex Rodriguez

87

Prince Fielder

84

Carlos Pena

80

Adam Dunn

79

Jim Thome

73

Mark Teixeira

73

Lance Berkman

71

David Ortiz

71

Ryan Howard

70

 

I think its fair to say the value of his home runs and walks easily outweigh his above-average strikeout percentage. Pena will always have a mediocre batting average thanks in part to the implementation of the shift. Thank goodness that encompasses such a small percentage of what Carlos Pena does at the plate. DSadly, no matter what direction the Rays decide to go at first base, Pena's elite combination of power production, on-base skills, and average at-worst defense would be very difficult to replace with any type of financial constraints. On the other hand, re-signing Carlos also would also most likely come with a drop  in production, It's not fair to assume there is another Carlos Pena chomping at the bit to sign a minor-league free agent deal. With the Yankees and Sox secure at first base, maybe a hometown discount extension could be reached. In the event that he moves on, be sure to appreciate that smile for one more year.

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