Cubs Tab Carlos Pena for First Base

For the last four seasons the Cubs’ biggest bats have been right handed. Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Geovany Soto had nary a left-handed complement. The Cubs tried to provide one with Kosuke Fukudome, but he hasn’t been a middle of the order producer. Now they’re giving it another shot by signing Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million contract.

Last season Pena’s numbers resembled those that he produced in his mid-20s. While that might sound good, for Pena it meant a low batting average, a middling OBP, and a decent amount of power. It wasn’t until his late 20s that he blossomed into a high-OPB, power-crazy first baseman. Yet each year he’s seen a decline in his average and OBP. It culminated in 2010 with a .196/.325/.407 line, which is more reminiscent of his 2003 season with the Tigers than any of his previous seasons with the Rays.

In an off-season filled with lucrative multi-year deals, Pena had to settle for just one season. It would appear, then, that he has an eye toward raising his value in hopes of landing a longer term contract next off-season, when he might be a more reasonable alternative to Prince Fielder. If he’s going to bounce back, he’ll need to change a few things that held him back in 2010. A change of scenery could help.

The most noticeable change in Pena’s numbers is a spike in his ground ball rate. Nearly 45 percent of his balls in play were hit on the ground, quite a jump from the 29 percent he hit in 2009 and his 36.9 percent career rate. His BABIP also took a dive in 2010, all the way down to .222 against a career average of .272. The difference might have been a blip, then– something that might even out next season?

Of the 2,483 pitches Pena has put into play during his career, 52 percent of them have gone to right field. Last year he pulled balls at about the same rate, but it was the types of balls in play that were the problem. Over 60 percent of the balls he pulled were on the ground, a nearly 10 percent increase from his career rate. Combined with some teams employing a defensive shift, it certainly can lead to an abnormally low BABIP. That’s clearly going to have to change if he’s going to succeed with the Cubs.

When a team signs a player to a $10 million contract, especially when he’s coming off a poor season, we can assume that they’ve broken him down and found something that they think they can fix. As outsiders we’re not privy to that type of information. The Cubs have made a significant gamble, and the number suggest it might not carry a high potential for payoff. But if Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo can fix whatever caused Pena to pull balls on the ground in 2010, they’ll finally have that power-hitting left-handed bat they’ve sought all these years.

Even if Pena produces something between what he did in 2009 and 2010, he could produce value somewhere close to his $10 million salary. In 2008, when he produced a .374 wOBA and a positive UZR, he was worth $18.1 million in the WAR-to-dollars conversion. Even when his UZR turned negative in 2009 (and he produced the same .374 wOBA), he was worth $12.6 million. With a wOBA in the .350 range and some quality defense at first base, Pena could again cross that $10 million mark. But, again, the Cubs are gambling that he’ll be closer to that .374 mark with good defense. While the downside is considerable — Pena was worth just over $4 million in 2010 — even a modest bounce back could mean the Cubs getting even value. A full offensive recovery could lead to considerable surplus value.

If Pena does recover, the Cubs could be just a few breaks away from contention in 2011. A healthy, powerful Pena, along with a recovered Ramirez, could help fuel the team’s offense. The pitching staff could also see some improvements in 2011. Each of the team’s five presumptive starters — Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, and Ryan Dempster, had a FIP under 4.00 in 2010. These combined could lead the Cubs back into the picture for a relatively weak NL Central.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Eric
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Eric
5 years 7 months ago

$10M for a guy coming off a .196 season seems bizarre but at least it’s only a one-year deal for a guy with a high power ceiling, and compared to the Jayson Werth contract, looks like a lesson in fiscal sanity.

mb21
Guest
mb21
5 years 7 months ago

This is Fangraphs and we’re talking about batting average?

Rich
Guest
Rich
5 years 7 months ago

Contrary to a lot of people’s opinions, Batting Average is a relevant stat. Its less relevant than OBP, but OBP and SLG are directly derived from BA.

Its tough to be a decent hitter while hitting .196, no matter how much plate discipline or power you have.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

Yes, we are.

It’s .196, which most people understand is such an extreme that it cannot be due to simply good/bad luck on BABIP.

When it’s that extreme, it’s significant.

If someone were hitting .446, we’d be discussing that “batting average” as well, as it’s very likely someone could “good luck BABIP” there was to .446

There’s no need to so self-limited other that stat-snobbery is empowering?

The English Language
Guest
The English Language
5 years 7 months ago

“There’s no need to so self-limited other that stat-snobbery is empowering?”

What?!? I demand an apology.

Ben
Guest
Ben
5 years 7 months ago

But Carlos Pena batting .196–while awful, to be sure–is not as big a deal as Vlad Guerrero (or to take an even more extreme example, Jeff Francoeur) batting .196 because Pena’s value does not rely on him being a high-contact or high-average hitter. He can provide plenty of offensive value and only hit for a .235 average.

Citing his BA in isolation doesn’t make sense because of his particular skill set, and BA is only marginally relevant to the discussion.

Synovia
Member
Synovia
5 years 7 months ago

only if he continues to have an isoP in the .300+ range, which he hasn’t.

As BA lowers, so does isoP and isoD. If you can’t get good contact, you’re not going to hit for power, or walk much.

As a first baseman, he needs an OPS in the high 800s to be valuable, and thats real tough to do when you hit .195. Essentially you need an isoD of .150+, and an isoP in the .350+ range. Thats tough to do when you’re hitting a ton of weak ground balls.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

What?!? I demand an apology.

You’re sorry. *grin*

Not sure an apology is warranted, despite the demand for one.

I’m not a big fan of the disregarding comments in reference to a specific stat, without addressing the accuracy (or not) of the overall conclusion. Seems to me that the only reason for comments like these are to let people know that certain stats or ideas are beneath discussion … at least here at FG (Do you read all the articles and comments here?)

Rather than just make a snarky comment, why not provide a point or counterpoint that shows the inaccuracy of the comment?

Describing that even though his BA was .196, his wOBA was .326 and close to league average. Pena generally has a very good wOBA for such a lowish BA (but usually better than .196).

There are some reasons to refer to BA from time to time, especially if a specific point is being made. I don’t see many reasons never to discuss certain stats.

I apologize for assuming the reason for your comments (empowerment).

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
5 years 7 months ago

Holy cow Circle, that apology line went ten feet over your head…it was made by the English language, because you had just mangled it six ways from Sunday. Wasn’t a serious request in the least.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

Pena’s swing path is “home run or nothing” (simply stated).

Throw him in the Mark Reynolds category.

You keep measuring the good v. bad, and when the bad takes over, you cut bait.

But despite the low average, he’s still rather valuable.

Of course he just moved to a division that features Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder at 1B … but I think he’ll be league average or better (2.0 – 2.8 WAR) even while hitting .230. He’ll dump 30 homers and walk 80-95 times.

Rick
Guest
Rick
5 years 7 months ago

It has to be concerning when a high strikeout hitter in his 30s sees a big dip in his LD rate. Is it a random abberation or evidence of a slowing bat? He sustained his contact rate, but at the apparent cost of quality (and thus power). It’s hard to go wrong with a 1-year deal, but were I a Cubs fan, I’d keep my expectations tempered.

Matt
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Matt
5 years 7 months ago

A 1 year deal? Wow how did the Cubs manage that in this market?

BX
Guest
BX
5 years 7 months ago

Its probably a “prove yourself” type deal, ala Adrian Beltre last year.

Rebound in a friendly NL hitters’ park, then play somewhere else with a multi year deal.

Matt
Guest
Matt
5 years 7 months ago

Yeah, that’s exactly what it looks like. It’s just that “prove yourself” deals are so last year.

Mr. Sanchez
Guest
Mr. Sanchez
5 years 7 months ago

Probably the .300 point drop in OPS in the last 4 years is how. Carlos Pena certainly seems like one of the aging sluggers who at some point fall off a cliff.

Synovia
Member
Synovia
5 years 7 months ago

Well, I don’t think that 1 year of 1.072 OPS was anyting other than a fluke. He’s been a consistent .800- .875 OPS guy,

Seriously though, his three highest OPS years have been his 29,30,31year seasons, and now hes showing some decline at 32. Color me surprised.

Slow? Check. Value based on HRs and Walks? Check. Lots of Ks? Check. Low BA? Check.

Early decline? Check.

James
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James
5 years 7 months ago

The race to lead the Cubs in strikeouts just got much more compelling…

Rich
Guest
Rich
5 years 7 months ago

Probably a good risk with a 1 year deal.

What are the chances of Pena being a type A/B next year if he has a good year?

CubsFan
Guest
CubsFan
5 years 7 months ago

Got to say, I prefer Pena at one-year, 10mm much more than Dunn at four years, 14mm per. The Ricketts seem to recognize that the Cubs will not be competitive next season, so they are signing some short contracts to bridge to the likes of Jay Jackson, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Carpenter. If they can build a strong young rotation and pair it will strong homegrown defensive players at traditionally weak positions, then they should flex their payroll to bring in corner studs and staff aces.

The problem is that those players aren’t hitting the market in the next couple years, since I can’t see Pujols coming to Wrigley and A-Gone was a huge loss from the free agent pool that I bet the Cubs were counting on. The chance of a huge deal to Prince Fielder is positively terrifying, and after Cliff Lee, I don’t see any studs hitting the market for awhile. They really might have to make a trade for a guy like Greinke.

Dan
Member
Dan
5 years 7 months ago

As a Cubs fan, I like the deal. Is it an over-payment, yes, but it’s on a one year deal. I’d rather see that than a longer term over-payment like the Cubs have a history of doing recently (Soriano, Zambrano, Dempster). But it’s a decent move that could turn in their favor. Are they expected to win next year, no, but if things go well and Pena does turn things around, they are right in the mix in a weak division like Joe said. Then it frees them up for free agency next year when a bunch of money comes off the books and they can make a splash.

Boomer
Guest
Boomer
5 years 7 months ago

.196 or not…he’ll still make less out than Tyler Colvin given the same # of at bats.

$10 mill is overpaying, but this still sticks with the plan of shedding payroll AFTER the 2011 season.

Mr. Sanchez
Guest
Mr. Sanchez
5 years 7 months ago

“he’ll still make less out than Tyler Colvin given the same # of at bats” So you assume his numbers don’t continue in their extremely downward direction? I’d expect his numbers from last year to get worse, even considering a bump to the NL Central and it’s plentiful hitter’s parks.

Synovia
Member
Synovia
5 years 7 months ago

Tyler Colvin is young. His plate discipline should get better. Pena on the other hand, projects to just decline more.

JamesDaBear
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Some of the money is deferred (I’ve read as much as half). This makes this a screaming deal. The Cubs could also hedge their bets with the rumored Davis/O’Day deal from the Rangers. In that deal, O’Day would be good enough. So, Davis would be “gilding the lilly.” He goes to Iowa or provides the Cubs with a good LH pinch hitter and spells Pena occasionally. This is good work for the Cubs on almost all levels.

AustinRHL
Member
AustinRHL
5 years 7 months ago

I think that Pena is going to be worth the $10 million contract (albeit with substantial risk associated, given all of the very accurate comments about his old-player skills likely leading at some point to an earlier-and-steeper-than-average decline), but I’m surprised that he got that much – I expected nobody to give him more than $8 million given his struggles last year.

DIVISION
Guest
DIVISION
5 years 7 months ago

I don’t see why people are surprised at the contract given the market this off-season. Pena had several offers to choose from and the Cubs had to pay the most to get him. It’s not really that difficult to understand. Supply/Demand. Also, given that Jaramillo (the premiere hitting coach in MLB) is there, you’d have to think Pena would benefit…

Some of you people really don’t see “big picture” at all. There are reasons behind a guy coming off a downyear getting $10 million. The Cubs paid a premium for their one year and you can bet that most of the other offers were probably for 6-8 million/2 years. Pena wasn’t getting money AND security, so he took the money.

That was hard to understand?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

Jaramillo (the premiere hitting coach in MLB)

What is that comment based on?

DIVISION
Guest
DIVISION
5 years 7 months ago

My will, CircleChange………..my will.

Now back to your cave.

We (Phoenix) send our regards to young Clay Zavada……and his lil’ mustache.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

Heh Heh.

JoeIQ
Guest
JoeIQ
5 years 7 months ago

I’d guess Pena just wanted a 1 year deal thinking he can rebound and get a better contract next year.

You’re focused way too much on a 196 average. He’ll likely do better. I’d give him a 250ish average 350 OBP mnimum

35 jacks.

Somewhere around that. He can obviously hit less than 35 jacks, but he can also hit 40.

Lots more lefty starters in AL East than NL. I like this deal for the cubs.

Plus if the Cubs call out of contention, they can deal him if he’s doing ok.

Synovia
Member
Synovia
5 years 7 months ago

Carlos Pena has only had a 250+ batting average once in his career.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

That likely equates to a 4.5 WAR season.

That’s, at the very least, a bold projection.

Doug
Guest
Doug
5 years 7 months ago

Pena gets $5 million this year and $5 million in January 2012. For what it’s worth.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 7 months ago

Anyone else read the fanhouse article that explains the 1-year deal for Pena allows the Cubs to be in competition for Pujols?

As a Cardinal fan, I quickly printed that article … and burned it.

dcs
Guest
dcs
5 years 7 months ago

The last 4 seasons his “dollars” (salary earned) has averaged 15 mil per, and that’s including his down year in 2010. AFAICT, the only thing that changed in 2010 in his profile was his BABIP. Everything else–his BB%, K/AB, TB/H, stayed the same. And didn’t he supposedly have an injury in 2010 (not sure about this part)?

Given all that, the 10 mil/season seems reasonable, and getting it for only one year of commitment is the cat’s meow.

Great deal for the Cubs.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO
5 years 7 months ago

In a bubble, maybe.

But he can never be “worth” 10 million when you have someone like Colvin in-house who can produce similar end results for you for about 500K total. Its throwing away 9.5 million which could have been spent elseware on the club.

Colvin + 9.5MM worth of other players >>>>> Pena alone

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO
5 years 7 months ago

Its ironic when Cubs fans constantly bash a player like Dunn, claiming “old-player skills” despite his constantly defying that theory with one of the most consistent career performances we have ever seen. Then when they sign a player like Pena they turn around and praise him, a Pena who fits that “old-player skills” mold absolutely perfectly with the expected early career peak and continued sharp decline post 30.

As far as Pena and his BAbip though

2002 – .286 BAbip – 21.2% LD% – 18.5% Swing Outside Zone
2003 – .298 BAbip – 20.9% LD% – 20.9% Swing Outside Zone
2004 – .284 BAbip – 16.5% LD% – 15.9% Swing Outside Zone
2005 – .293 BAbip – 18.3% LD% – 26.3% Swing Outside Zone (injured 1/2 season)
2007 – .297 BAbip – 18.0% LD% – 19.8% Swing Outside Zone
2008 – .298 BAbip – 18.0% LD% – 20.8% Swing Outside Zone
2009 – .250 BAbip – 16.8% LD% – 23.5% Swing Outside Zone
2010 – .222 BAbip – 14.5% LD% – 26.6% Swing Outside Zone

6-year track record of 285-295 BAbip and 18%+ LD% before two huge drops; drops which also coincide with big increases in swings on pitches outside the zone.

Some might see this as a correctable problem – just get him to stop chasing bad pitches right? This thinking almost certainly discounts the most likely reason behind the change though.

But the biggest problem here for the Cubs actually comes in the fact that Jaramillo is a “see ball, hit ball” hitting coach, getting players to really focus on separation and recognition of the pitch no matter its location. This is the very problem Pena is experiencing to begin with. Younger players with great bat speed and the ability to make adjustments will often thrive under this type of teaching, but aging players with declining bat speed and strength don’t (and generally end up producing problematic swing% and LD numbers like those of Pena already). Look no further then 2010 Cubs players fitting into that category like Lee, Ramirez, Soriano and Nady – all seeing huge jumps on swings and contact outside zone with weaker overall contact (especially on fastballs) and poor, sub-par seasons produced.

Of course there is always that outside possibility there is just a quick adjustment needed that somehow the Rays missed the last two years; but that is improbable. And while Pena’s BAbip was so low that its unlikely repeatable if left alone, Rudy is probably the last hitting coach I would want him working with considering his current problem.

I say
.216/.335/.456/.791, 450 AB, 29 HR, 14.3 BB%, 34.9 K%, .252 BAbip

RotoChamp
Member
Member
5 years 7 months ago

Nice post, JoeyO.

DIVISION
Guest
DIVISION
5 years 7 months ago

Not so fast, Joseph.

Just because Jaramillo employs one particular strategy doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be able to fix what ails Pena. I doubt he’s earned a reputation for being a healer of bats all these years simply for being an “inside the box” type coach.

He’ll look at film and break down what needs to change and I seriously doubt we see another mendoza-esque line from Pena this year in Chi-town.

.257/.385/.500/.850, 38HR/100RBI

Chicago will get a quality year production-wise that will resemble something between his ’08/09′ seasons in Tampa.

JoeyO
Guest
JoeyO
5 years 7 months ago

Like Rudy “fixed” Lee, Ramirez, Soriano, Nady, Tracy, Fontenot, Baker, Theriot, Hill, etc, right?

Like I mentioned before, Pena would have to have a 2+ year hole which Tampa has just blatantly missed. That is extremely improbable. And Rudy has never been considered a “healer of bats” – he has always been one who has been praised for getting the absolute most out of pre-prime/prime hitters who still possessed their natural bat speed and strength. His resume:

1983-1989 Rangers Minor Leagues
1990-1993 Astros Hitting Coach
1994-2009 Rangers Hitting Coach
2010 Cubs Hitting Coach

With his success stories being players like Bagwell, Biggio, Finley, Caminiti, L.Gonzalez, J.Gonzalez, Pudge, Stevens, Dellucci, Teixeira, Barajas, DeRosa, Young, Byrd, etc.

Please feel free to list all the post-30 players he turned around on those clubs though. I’ll even give you the post-injury Ruben Sierra, and wish you good luck in finding any others…

As far as your projected stats? Complete nonsense. Here’s why:
– .257 BA – Would be third highest of career and best since 2007
– .385 OBP – Would be second highest of career and best since 2006
– .500 OBP – Would be third best of his career
– .850 OBP – (.385+.500 doesn’t equal .850, it equals .885 – which would be the 3rd highest of his career)
– 38 HR – would be third highest of his career
– 100 RBI – that’s a possibility depending on where he hits in lineup and how other produce around him. But RBI really has little to do with what he would be producing himself. (Afterall, LaRoche posted 100 with merely a slightly above average .261/.320/.468 line last season)

And it would also mean this (assuming his 4 year average of 480 AB)
– 124 Hits (2nd best career)
– 97 BB (3rd best career)
– 2 Doubles and 0 Triples (which is clearly an impossible outcome. If he is to really have a .257 BA and 38 HR, his SLG would have to be at the very least .538, which would be the 2nd highest of his career. It would also mean a .923 OPS, again his second best)
– .388 wOBA (with those impossible 2 2B and 0 3B outcomes) or .398 (if corrected to a more realistic XBH line.) Either wOBA would be the second highest of his career and would mean at least a 4.0+ WAR (once more, second highest of career)

In the end, your expectation seems to be a career year from a now 33 year old with really just one similar, truly impressive season (4 years ago) under his belt over a 10 year career. Therefore, nonsense.

G in Big D
Guest
G in Big D
5 years 7 months ago

How did he get that much money?
It’s called “Scott Boras” and he rapes MLB teams. (oh, and he was also Maddux’s agent—when the left the Cubs.)

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