When It’s Time to Give Up on a Carlos Peguero

The other day, in making room for John Buck, the Mariners designated for assignment a player named Carlos Peguero. This means absolutely nothing to most of you, but absolutely something to some of you. Peguero’s out of options now, so in order to return to the minors, he’ll have to make it through waivers. Peguero clearing waivers is a decent possibility. What’s clear, at this point, is that Peguero is unlikely to develop into a big-league star slugger. What’s simultaneously clear — what’s been clear all along — is that Peguero has big-time raw upside, not unlike such predecessors as Wily Mo Pena and Wladimir Balentien. Jesus Colome got jobs because of his fastball. Peguero will get jobs because of his power.

For those of you unfamiliar with Peguero, you’re most certainly familiar with his general player type. But still, I’ll summarize him in two images. The first is a video:

Silliness, is what that is. Peguero has as much peak power as anyone in baseball, by which I mean, at perfect contact, I’m unconvinced anybody can hit the ball meaningfully harder. The problem is in achieving perfect contact, or even imperfect contact. The second image comes straight from Peguero’s MLB.com player page:

pegueroeyes

You can think of Peguero as swinging hard with his eyes closed. It’s an exaggeration, but it’s less of an exaggeration for him than it is for most players. The results have been practically the same. Every team has had players like this, some in greater numbers than others. So even if you’re not a Mariners fan, you can relate to the player type, and to what it’s like to watch such a player go about his business.

With someone like this, the raw skills are unmissable. It’s always a question of how likely the player is to make something worthwhile of the various blessings he’s been given. The Peguero ship, specifically, is beginning to set sail — he’s turning 27 in a month, and he hasn’t made progress over the last few years. But he got me thinking about a little project, based around what we could make of a rookie season like the one he had in 2011. What becomes of players with those sorts of debuts?

That year Peguero batted just 155 times, drawing eight walks while striking out 54 times. Two of those eight walks, additionally, were intentional. Let’s just worry only about these numbers. Peguero’s unintentional walk rate was 51% the MLB league average. His strikeout rate was 193% the league average. Who’s done something like that as a rookie before? Who’s subsequently turned into anything? Has anybody realized the presumed high upside?

I dove into the FanGraphs leaderboards, looking for rookies between 1955 – 2013. That’s as far back as we have intentional-walk data. I set a minimum of 100 plate appearances, and I filtered the ages to 23-25, since Peguero debuted at 24. I identified the players who had walk rates no higher than 70% the league average, and who had strikeout rates no lower than 175% the league average. I was left with a sample of 41 guys.

Peguero included. I’m leaving four players out of the following analysis, because their rookie seasons have happened too recently:

I then plugged the remaining 37 players into the FanGraphs leaderboards in order to evaluate their careers. The hypothesis had to be that the majority of the players wouldn’t become good players. Sure enough, the data supports the hypothesis. It’s a group with names like Todd Linden, Craig Paquette, and Ryan Minor.

The median career WAR of the group is 0.1, and the median career wRC+ is 73. The median number of plate appearances is 559. Six of the players — 16% — posted career wRC+ marks at least at league-average. Four players — 11% — accrued at least 10 WAR. Only one player reached 20 WAR, and that was Bret Boone. The thing about Boone is that he played a fairly premium defensive position. Another thing about Boone is that, in the minors, he posted far more encouraging walk and strikeout numbers. Boone, previously, had shown more polish than Peguero ever has.

The other three players in the double-digit WAR company are Tony Armas, Don Demeter, and Dick Stuart. Demeter and Armas had decent defensive value. Stuart was a first baseman who got his strikeouts and walks a little more under control as a sophomore. Stuart also last played in 1969, and the game has changed an awful lot in the following decades.

An interesting case is Wallace — he’s still young, but for three years now, he’s been a league-average hitter. He still strikes out too often, and doesn’t walk enough. He also owns a negative career WAR and he might not even start this year on the Astros. He’s not a player with a lot of other skills.

Turns out you can learn a lot from just a rookie player’s strikeouts and walks, at least if the rates are extreme enough. It’s not fair to Peguero to ignore his isolated power, since that’s his big skill, but that’s also the case for most players who reach the majors despite swinging over-aggressively. And Peguero doesn’t really do anything else. He needs to hit, and these players haven’t hit much. These players haven’t become stars down the road.

To step back, to make this about more than just Carlos Peguero, I noticed the numbers were a lot more encouraging for players who debuted at younger ages. You’d expect that to be true, since those younger players are selected to participate in the majors for a reason. Alex Rodriguez was bad in 1995, and overaggressive, but he was 19. Matt Kemp was overaggressive at 21. If a player posts lousy strikeout and walk rates as a rookie, but he’s younger than 23, he seems to stand far better future odds than a player who posts similarly lousy numbers at 23 or older. Taken even just on its own, debut age correlates very well with future success.

It’s also important for a player like this to be at least a little well-rounded. A shortstop or a center fielder, at least, might be able to make positive contributions in the field. Teams will tolerate overaggressive approaches from players who can do other things. If all you’ve got is power, then all you can do is hit for power. And as much as a guy might put on a show in batting practice, there’s not a long track record of hackers developing enough to be more than decreasingly intriguing hackers.

There’ll always be Bo Jackson. Maybe that’s the model. Maybe teams are intrigued by overaggressive powerful types because of the chance that player might turn into Bo Jackson. There’s only ever been one Bo Jackson, and he had a good year twice.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


35 Responses to “When It’s Time to Give Up on a Carlos Peguero”

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  1. BoKnows says:

    I hope no one is using Bo as a model. Because, athletically speaking, there have only been a handful of men on this planet that were as gifted as he was. And that number wanes even further when one considers how many of them have ever played two professional sports simultaneously at a high level.

    However, he is the model for snapping one’s bat.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Thing is, Carlos Peguero is a freakishly talented athlete in his own right. This has been part of why the Mariners have been held out hope for him for a long time. He’s 6-5, 250 but cut out of marble; not chemical bloat muscles, he’s always been titanically strong and looks it. And F-A-S-T; man he can run. His BABIP has consistently been .330+ despite the fact he takes moonshot swing every time. Some of Carlos’ most memorable plays have been when he hits a left-side dribbler and has beat it out at first. He’s like a missle on the basepaths (now idea how to steal a base though). Carlos has a strong and accurate throwing arm, too (on the rare instances he intercepts a baseball in the outfield)

      Peguero isn’t a one-dimensional hulk, he has massive tools. Just very little control of them.

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      • Boris Chinchilla says:

        I went to a Devil Rays @ Mariners game in 2011 in which Peguero hit 2 moon shots to center field. They were impressive, now if he could just do it more often…

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  2. tz says:

    A light-bulb moment!

    1. Super-aggressive but young rookies = aging curve peaking in mid-to-late 20′s once said players develop (

    2. Super-aggressive but older rookies = don’t develop, and don’t stick in the majors.

    3. Young but polished rookies = don’t develop much due to polish already there = flat aging curve.

    As the proportion of rookies in the third class as grown over time, we should have expected an overall flattening of the hitter aging curve.

    Whattya think?

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  3. Pirates Hurdles says:

    This reminded me of how excited I was for Brad ‘Big Country” Eldred back in 2004-05. Visions of HRs dancing in my head, I still wonder what if he hadn’t tore that thumb ligament in 2006, he was never quite the same afterwards.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Carlos Peguero as Dick Stuart! This thought has occurred to me more than once in the past, so it’s good to see an actual comparison. Carlos is a much better athlete, but despite that a very poor defender too. I saw a great deal of Tony Armas in Oakland when he came up in the late 70s, and while his numbers are a fair comparison, Armas and Peguero aren’t particularly good comparaples. Armas was a gifted defender. Armas refused to walk, I never liked that but he was totally a ‘Latin hitter’ of the time who seemed to feel that watching ball four was an unmanly loss of an opportunity. Tony never had Peguero’s massive strength; bat speed, but not strength. It wasn’t until Billy Martin got inside Armas’ head and worked his pull-hitting voodoo like Martin seemed to on many players that Armas routinely slugged for big numbers. Even then it was mostly HRs, Armas never used his speed well on the bases, and then it was gone. But Tony Armas squared up a lot more fastballs in a year than Carlos Peguero looks to do in a career, which is all the difference in the world.

      I really enjoy watching Carlos Peguero, and the constant ridicule of him that has passed in comments most everywhere for years has never sat well with me. For all that, it’s highly unlikely that Carlos ever has more of a major league career than he has had thus far, the reasons being (at least) four.

      1) Carlos Peguero always tries his utmost to do the utmost on every play, part of what makes him enjoyable and a guy to root for him to succeed. But the concept of ‘staying within himself’ never translates to whatever language Carlos speaks when he talks to himself. Carlos tries to do too much on every pitch, and that is a flaw which smart pitchers can ruthlessly, rightfully exploit. There’s a finer grain to that, but realistically Carlos puts far too much pressure on himself to make a legendary play EVERY play for him to succeed on any play.

      2) Carlos Peguero cannot hit a fastball. This has been documented in comments before in various sites. Nearly all of Peguero’s HRs have come off of offspeed stuff, often well down in the strikezone, exactly the opposite of what one would expect. Carlos makes very good contact with offspeed pitches, but simply flails through anything above 90 mph; it’s like a joke. Carlos’ swing is all strength, little speed, and hugely long, so he starts that cut early and often. If anybody, anywhere, could do the head-voodoo to get Carlos to cut down his swing at times, very, very different results might follow. The Mariners have tried for years to get him to modify his approach, but Carlos just can’t seem to bring himself to adapt, which is why he’s DFAed now. Even if Carlos could just foul off some fastballs in the zone he’d have a chance for a borderline major league career, but a guy who can’t hit a fastball is a dead buffalo at the major league level.

      3) Carlos cannot seem to track balls visually at all well. He has tremendous difficulty picking up flyballs in the outfield and judging their trajectory. He’s made fun of for this, but the fact is he just doesn’t seem to be able to judge the ball. This is a problem for him at the plate too, though it’s harder to tell what part this is in his struggles. Carlos has swung at a lot of offspeed stuff off the plate in the majors. Part of that is bad pitch recognition, but some of it may be that Carlos knows he can and must hit offspeed stuff so he expands his zone reaching for it, with bad results. I have wondered for some time, though, whether a large part of Peguero’s problem making contact with fastballs is a function of visual perception, i.e. he can’t ‘see’ the ball well enough to line up his swing, so he has to cut blindly at anything swift and just hope—which is EXACTLY what his swings at fastballs look like. This might not be an ‘eyesight’/ophthmalogical issue which could be corrected by contact lenses/LASIK as much as an visual cognitive issue, i.e. one of neurology. I really don’t know. Both could be fixed, but the fix for the latter if it works takes long enough it’s too late for Carlos to have a career, probably. But Carlos can’t seem to SEE a high, fast ball well enough to line it up, as a batter or a defender. He’s been ridiculed for that, but to me he seems to be trying his utmost but just unable to do it. To me, it’a a lot of dweebs ragging on a big man trying to do something beyond his abilities, which is which I dislike that ridicule. Carlos tries, and it’s very clear he wants to succeed; it’s just beyond him, so far and maybe always. He’s not arrogant or a blowhard; he’s really just a big 8-year-old in a massively athletic body with bad vision.

      d) Carlos Peguero does not give the impression of being a particularly bright individual. Very much the opposite. I’m not saying that to ridicule him, and I don’t think it’s a situation in which he had a choice, so laughing at him is cruel jerkiness. But the fact that Carlos takes a lot of reps to ‘get things’ by all evidence really hurts him professionally because he needs to make multiple adaptations to his approach that he’s a couple-ten steps slow on. By the time he ‘gets’ the changes he needs to make, if he gets them, it will be way too late for him to have a career. He’s made some progress to my eyes, but is still far from a guy who can adapt fast enough to have a successful at-bat, let alone a successful career.

      I think Carlos is a lock to be picked up off the DFA, somebody will always bet on the package, and why not? It costs nothing, and if on the 1% chance things go right you’ve got Joey Batts’ numbers without any question marks. I’d love for Carlos to turn out to be Dick Stuart. I just wouldn’t bet on it. But if somebody could fix what seems to be a visual issue—LOOK OUT BASEFALL, THE HULK IS HERE! And btw, having watched Wily Mo Pena bat at Safeco too, I can attest that Carlos Peguero is far, far more entertaining. Good luck, Big Man: you’ll need it.

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      • Tim says:

        #3 sounds like me as a teenager, except for the excellent athlete part. It took until my thirties before anyone figured out that I was slightly walleyed, and my lack of depth perception was correctable.

        I haven’t tried to hit a baseball since then. Maybe I should.

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        • Balthazar says:

          I had not depth perception either when young, and was a non-athlete. . . . I couldn’t pick up a hard shot in squash at all, the game I do play, which comes in at the mid 90s; I had to swing and hope, but was usually late on it. I fixed both conditions, but I’m long past any competitive age-frame. I so wish this could get fixed for Carlos is it applies to him, the guy really WANTS to succeed, but the dice are loaded against him. He just looks _as if_ he’s swinging with his eyes closed, but I’m guessing he can’t see the pitch. When we consider he’s made it to the fringes of the major leagues without, likely, being able to neurophysiologically see major league cheese, we should stop laughing at Carlos and applaud him for a minute.

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      • Chris from Bothell says:

        I really enjoy watching Carlos Peguero, and the constant ridicule of him that has passed in comments most everywhere for years has never sat well with me. For all that, it’s highly unlikely that Carlos ever has more of a major league career than he has had thus far

        Thank you so much for saying this. My god, I really thought I was the only one who felt this way amongst all the online commenters over the years. The bitching about his routes in the outfield especially got really tiresome.

        Here’s to his hopefully impending and glorious NPB career.

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  4. triple_r says:

    A wise man once said:
    “Chris Davis is why that one strikeout-prone power prospect is still in your favorite team’s system. Most of the time, you end up with a guy who strikes out too much. Every once in a while, though, you’re left with someone able to amaze.”
    In this case, Peguero seems to have turned into the former; that’s not to say, however, that he shan’t turn into the latter. As an Orioles fan, believe me when I say: there is hope.

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    • Thing about Davis is there was minor-league precedent of acceptable walk and strikeout numbers. Didn’t translate right away, but there was proof of strike-zone concept against high-level professionals. So it wasn’t just a scouting thing — there were statistical reasons to believe in Davis. Peguero doesn’t quite have that. He’s struck out more than 30% of the time in Triple-A.

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      • Ajax says:

        I don’t think that’s right about Davis. I remember fellow Ranger fans complaining about his lack of walks in the minors.

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      • Balthazar says:

        The bit about acceptable _walk_ numbers for Carlos Peguero is off, Jeff, even while it’s right in the overall context of his ‘skill’ set. In extended tours at AA in2010, then at AAA 2011-13, Carlos had BB% of 10.1, 5.8, 9.0, and 8.3. That projects to a below average rate at the major league level, but not abysmal, even though yes, IBBs were a non-trivial share of that. It’s the K% for Carlos which has always been horrific, not getting under 30% in the high minors. A career impediment for sure, and so consistent we can’t expect it to change not at Peguero’s age, no.

        Everybody THINKS he doesn’t walk because he strikes out so much and because Carlos has been hyper-duper-aggressive in his few chances in the majors. I have actually seen Carlos let a close ball four go by at the majors (more than once!) so I think that his walk rate might actually come up closer to what projections of his career norms in the minors suggest if Carlos had any consistent playing time in the majors—but so would his K%, to something like 38-40% which is a yikes!

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  5. Evan Gattis says:

    so should i be worried, since i was 26 in my rookie season???

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  6. Johnny Ringo says:

    Peguero’s minor league Triple A stats the last few years look pretty good. Anthony Rizzo came up with the Padres and totally sucked, but he still projects to be a good player and is over 25.

    Carlos just sounds like a guy that needs to learn more about his swing. Can he play defense?

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  7. Llewdor says:

    I think Peguero will have a fine career.

    In Japan.

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    • AK7007 says:

      After the Wladimir/Andrew Jones success, I’m going to be extremely surprised if more don’t go this direction. Doesn’t matter if you close your eyes if the pitcher is taught to actively throw balls with the intention of contact.

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  8. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Another thing about Bret Boone is that he was a steroid addict that fueled his only success.

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  9. Evan says:

    I really expected to see Jesus Montero on this list somewhere, but I guess he doesn’t strike out enough? He would also have fallen under the “young enough to still be promising” category, even if that’s not the case today.

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  10. DR. W. says:

    And I’m sure that the M’s decision to release had nothing to do with Mrs. Peguero and her close relationship with Mrs. Hernandez.

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  11. PackBob says:

    I’d think that as player moves from Peguero-land toward acceptable walk and K rates the odds of becoming an acceptable ML hitter increase accordingly. The interest in mashers like Peguero may stem from not looking a whole lot different from players that can make it by striking out a little less and walking a little more, the distinction obscured by the power.

    It would be interesting to see a graph of early walk and K rate related to success in the majors.

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  12. Mr Punch says:

    Dick Stuart was the original “Home run hitters drive Cadillacs” guy – he established himself in the majors, belatedly (military service) on his power, and I suspect was unwilling as a matter of policy to take many pitches. (Nobody much was talking about OBP then.) This may also be what’s going on with some of the other comps. I saw Stuart play, and don’t think there’s anyone like him now; in the interim period, I’d say he was like Jack Clark without the walks (Stuart was a better fielder) or Dante Bichette with more Ks.

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  13. Brian Cartwright says:

    Here’s the problem – look how consistently Oliver has translated Peguero’s major league equivalent K rate each of the last five years: 386, 390, 389, 414, 399.

    Once he makes contact, Peguero’s power is a solid ‘A’, but he can’t survive striking out 40% of his plate appearances.

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    • 1L SA says:

      Those strikeout totals are not 40% of his PA. Those ridiculous strikeout toals (if you calculated them correctly) are about 60%, which I will gladly put my soul on my line for under. Oliver projects him for “only” 227 strikeouts in 600 PA next year, so I don’t know where you got those numbers from.

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      • Spencer D says:

        I think he was implying that those numbers were 38.6% K, 39.0%K etc.

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      • Brian Cartwright says:

        Sorry for the confusion, but yes, I said “rate” and lazily dropped off the decimal point. My intention was to show how consistent his strike out rate was after adjusting for age, parks and level of competition. 227 K in 600 PA is 37.8%, so Oliver is giving him a little regression!

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        • Balthazar says:

          I think your estimate of Carlos’ K rate is likely good. I’d guess him for 37-40%, having watched him. It’s just very hard to have a career at that rate. It’s not like there are no positives for Peguero, but the negative is just too big at this point.

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  14. Kermit says:

    What happened to his wife after she was arrested for strealing all of Mrs. Felix Hernandez’ shit? I never did hear how that turned out

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    • Balthazar says:

      Does it matter? Carlos wasn’t involved by all accounts, and who’s to say she stays his wife? Let’s talk about him, and not a situation which was likely outside his knowledge or influence, and doubtless personally embarrassed him enormously as well as hurting what small prospect of a career he actually has.

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