« | »

Carlos Pena – A Final Look

I was in Boston when the Tigers traded Jeff Weaver in 2002. In fact, Weaver was set to throw that day at the game I was attending at Fenway Park. At the time, it was Weaver for Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and a player to be named later. I hadn’t heard of German at the time nor had I heard of Jeremy Bonderman (who ended up being the PTBNL). I had heard of Carlos Pena though.

Earlier that year, Pena had opened the season for the A’s on a solid note. He hit seven homeruns in 87 at bats but his strikeouts were also pretty high (27). His May ended up being horrible though. He went four for 37 and struck out eleven times. By the end of the month, he was back in the minors.

In July, he was dealt to the Tigers and he had a solid second half. He hit twelve homeruns and finished with a .253/.321/.462 line for the Tigers. He was touted as being a gold glove fielder at first base and most expected that Pena would be the Tigers’ first baseman of the future.

In 2003 and 2004, Pena was the starter at first base. He showed some plate discipline in 2004 (70 walks) but his strikeouts continued to rise as well (146 in 2004). And the gold glove and smooth hands never really materialized. In all four seasons with the Tigers, he finished with a negative fielding runs above average. He did show some promise by hitting a team high 27 homeruns in 2004 but he was criticized for hitting .241.

2005 looked a lot like 2002 for Pena, except for the solid April. Pena spent more time below the .200 mark then he did above it and hit only three homeruns (two of those were in one game). By the end of May, he was playing for Toledo and he lost his starting first base job to the emerging Chris Shelton.

Pena found his swing in the minors and was called back up to play for the Tigers on August 19. He proceeded to six homeruns and had 12 RBIs in his next five games, four of which the Tigers won. He hit nine more homeruns the rest of the season and brought his batting average “up” to .235. His late season flurry was an encouraging sign and the only thing stopping him from reclaiming the starting job was an outstanding season by Chris Shelton.

In 2006, Pena had a horrible spring. He went eight for 50 with only one homerun and four RBIs and he was cut this morning. While I’m not completely surprised, I think the Tigers may have given up on him a season too soon. While he is 27, I would have liked to have seen him get one more season with the team and I think he’ll find time somewhere else. And I know there were money considerations, but I thought Pena had a better chance of having a solid season then Dmitri Young does.

Now we get to see where he ends up. The Yankees could use some help at first base. The Red Sox won’t be in the market because they just picked up Hee Sop Choi. The Reds could be an option and you could also possibly see him go back to Oakland.

Well, let’s see, right here in this very space, I said, “Pena absolutely will not be traded, he will be non-tendered. Write it down. In ink.” Our buddy Lee Panas called me on it, and I admitted, “I might be predicting that more based on what I would do with him, I’ll admit to that.”


Now, they’ve cut Pena and owe him $700,000 in termination pay (as opposed to non-tendering him, as I suggested, which would have cost us $0,000,000). Tell you what, Dave, the next time you have an idea that will wind up basically throwing $700K down the hole, cut all ticket prices by 50 cents or so. Or, better yet, make the check out to me.

Posted by jeff k on March 27th, 2006 at 10:14 am

I wouldn’t have minded having Pena in AAA to see if he hits again so that we can trade him for a spare part, but after reading the 2006 Baseball Prospectus, I’m convinced Pena’s late-season surge last year was empty. Here’s what the entry says:

“Pena was demoted to Toledo in May with a .235 EqA; after he came back in August, his EqA was .326. It may look like the demotion helped, but looks are deceiving: his strikeouts were way up and walks way down. He took a more aggresive approach, and pitchers were slow to update the book on him that said he was passive at the plate. Strikeouts are the biggest reason why he has never live dup to the numbers he originally produced as a Texas prospect. Last year’s demotion did nothing to help that.”

Look, normally I trust numbers more than I trust my eyes, but sometimes things are too obvious to ignore. Pena swings through more fat pitches than any player I have ever seen. He stinks. Sure, he’s a still somewhat young, but he’s done almost nothing in 1600 major league at bats. He might as well be 45 years old.

Posted by Dan on March 27th, 2006 at 11:48 am

I wouldn’t say that Pena has done “nothing”. He has accumulated more win shares than Jeff Weaver since the deal. The Win Shares method is far from perfect but I think this suggests that Pena has done “something”. I do agree that there is nothing to suggest that Pena is going to get any better though.

Posted by Lee Panas on March 28th, 2006 at 11:23 am

I was pleased at picking up Carlos Peña in 2002, since I too was bamboozled by his walk rate, ignoring the strikeout rate which should have served as a warning sign. That’s a philosophical issue with me: I’ve been swayed to the stathead POV that strikeouts matter for pitchers, but not batters. I think everyone has been rethinking that philosophy lately, and I will be interested to see subsequent POVs on this.

We all take for granted that when a player concentrates on making contact, he sacrifices power. But to what degree do strikeouts hurt a batter, even one that hits like Babe Ruth or Reggie Jackson? What’s the tipping point in RSAA or Win Shares, for instance?

For instance, if a player Ks 150 times and generates an 80 RSAA, he might drop to a 60 RSAA if he concentrated on reducing his strikeouts to 100, based on the tradeoff of fewer walks, fewer XBH and more GIDP for more overall hits and more SFs and advancing runners. That seems logical. But what if he reduces his strikeouts to 130? Could his RSAA actually rise to 85 as his XBH and walks is less affected, even with fewer hits and “productive outs”?

I’d love to see someone take a disciplined analytical approach to this issue — unless someone is aware of something already published? (Brian?)

The bottom line on this thread, however, is that even though Peña’s strikeouts remained relatively constant or rose, his walk rate evaporated and his fielding either declined or failed to elevate to MLB levels. That’s a deadly combination. I don’t know that he will be still playing big league ball in this country on his 30th birthday.

Posted by Chuck Hildebrandt on March 28th, 2006 at 1:27 pm

Chuck, I know what you’re saying, but I don’t necessarily agree about Carlos Pena in that regard. Here’s his walks divided by plate appearances, throwing out his 70-AB pre-rookie taste with the Rangers:

2002: .099
2003: .114
2004: .130
2005: .119

Furthermore, his 2005 started out as a season that Eddie Yost could be proud of. Dividing his 2005 season by month:

April: .190
May: .106
August: .139
Sept/Oct: .064

His April batting line was truly bizarre: .162/.321/.265… out of 11 hits, 5 were for extra bases (4 doubles, 1 HR), but think about this: 11 hits, 15 walks and 1 HBP. Truly bizarre.

It was apparent, though, that upon his return from the minors, he had abandoned that approach, batting .242/.287/.484 in over 100 PA during the month.

To my mind, on the one hand, I say “small sample size”, on the other hand, I have to wonder… We’ve been waiting for the inevitable improvement… How much longer can we wait? Not $2.8 million’s worth, I don’t think.

Posted by jeff k on March 28th, 2006 at 1:49 pm

That batting line of .242/2.87/.484 in over 100 PA… That’s for the month of September. My goof for not getting that in there.

Posted by jeff k on March 28th, 2006 at 2:01 pm

Okay Lee, I’ll amend it: Pena has not developed, and in over 1800 plate appearances in the majors, he has done almost nothing to help the team or to exhibit that he might one day help the team.

The Win Shares are irrelevant. Pena is a guy who can only play first (not well, as was the expectation) and DH. Jeff Weaver is a back (if you’re good) or middle (if you’re not) of the rotation starter who’s a good bet to give you 200 league-average innings per year. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good trade. It was a terrific trade, but using win shares in a straight up comparison doesn’t say anything really. Would you rather have Pena or Weaver?

Posted by Dan on March 29th, 2006 at 10:07 am


Posted by Darryl on March 31st, 2006 at 5:57 pm

Post a comment

Tigers Resources
Baseball Historians
Minor League Blogs
Search TigerBlog

Send email
Your email:



Swag of the Moment
coffee mug swag

Show the love! Pick up your very own TigerBlog coffee mug or other item from the TigerBlog Store today!
Historical Baseball Sites
Tiger / Detroit Sites
Reference Sites
General Baseball Sites
Archives by Month
Archives by Category
Powered by