Carlos Pena is a Tampa Bay Ray again. While it’s easy for fantasy owners to reminisce about the 116 home runs Pena hit between 2007-2009, Pena’s 2010 was the worst offensive showing on his career. After re-establishing some of his value in Chicago this past season, Pena will return to the Trop in 2012. Though Pena has experienced success there before, the park is tougher on lefties than Wrigley Field. At age 34 (in May), will Pena continue to be a useful fantasy option — or will the Trop do him in once again?
The last time Pena played at the Trop, his stats weren’t pretty. Pena remained a decent power source, belting 28 home runs for the Rays in 2010, but his slash line dropped to a miserable .196/.325/.407. His average and slugging percentage that season were the worst of his career. While it didn’t explain all of his struggles, Pena’s .222 BABIP that season was a major reason behind his struggles. Many figured Pena would be a nice bounce-back candidate in 2011.
For the most part, Pena did have a resurgence in Chicago. His ISO jumped from .211 to .237, and his wOBA rose from .326 to .354. More importantly — for fantasy owners, at least — Pena’s slash line rebounded to .225/.357/.462. While a .225 batting average is nothing to brag about, that’s the type of player Pena has always been. He’s never going to give you a strong average, so his power production is paramount to his success. While Pena’s rebound last season led to a twentieth place finish at first base in linear weights ottoneu leagues, his performance wasn’t as impressive considering the change in ballparks.
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In every category, Wrigley field is the superior hitters park for left-handed batters like Pena. While we should have expected a rebound in Pena’s slash line last season based on his playing half of his games in Wrigley Field, we also should have expected Pena to hit for more power as well. Though Pena managed to increase his slugging percentage, it was somewhat disappointing that Pena didn’t hit more home runs in Wrigley. As Steve Slowinski explained recently, home runs are increased by 19% at Wrigley for lefties, while the Trop suppresses home runs by 11% for lefties. That definitely makes his performance last season seem slightly more disappointing.
It’s unclear why Pena failed to see a power resurgence last season. Pena is started to enter the decline phase of his career, so it’s certainly possible that Pena is experiencing the effects of old age. At the same time, Pena still managed to hit fastballs with great efficiency, so it’s tough to blame his power decline solely on bat speed.
One of the reasons behind Pena’s struggles may have been his collapse against lefties last season. While Pena has never been great against left-handers, he hit just .133/.260/.333 against them this past season. Some of that can be traced back to his .127 BABIP against same-handed pitchers, but his overall performance against lefties was a mess. Pena’s wRC+ against lefties last season was an abysmal 59. Pena might see a slight increase in his performance against lefties in 2012 based on BABIP luck, but his track record against them 2011 — and even 2010 — doesn’t offer much hope. Joe Maddon is a creative manager, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pena in a platoon situation if he continues to struggle against lefties next season.
With that in mind, Pena looks like a regression candidate next season. His performance in 2011 wasn’t all that impressive considering he was playing in a more favorable home park. The fact that he couldn’t hit for more power in the friendly confines is worrisome. Moving back to the Trop, Pena cannot be expected to repeat his performance from last season.
Tampa’s park suppresses power, and it’s probably more likely Pena sees some decline next season. Thirty home runs is likely out of the question now, and owners should probably expect around 25 from the former heavy-hitting slugger. Since Pena’s average is going to hurt owners, his value is going to be directly tied to how many home runs he hits. Considering some of the other fantasy options that can hit 25 home runs, Pena’s average might finally do him in next season.