Tampa Bay Devil Dogs
DRG back at you today, and today’s topic is everybody’s pick to fall back to earth in 2008, Carlos Pena.

Armchair GM ranks the top first basemen in baseball. Pena does not make the top 5, but he does get the dubious title of “Risky Pick”.

Bouncing to his fourth team in three years (wasn’t he in the Yanks‘ minor leagues for a while?) it looked like Pena headed to Tampa Bay because no one pays attention down there anyway. Once the firstbaseman of the future in Detroit, I think everyone wrote Pena off as a bust. However, I’m guessing there was some sort of deal with the devil in ’07 as Pena had a season that I don’t think even his mother would have projected. 46 HRs and 121 RBI???? If you are expecting him to even come close to that again, don’t be too surprised if you are disappointed by his performance.

Am I the only person in America that thinks that Pena not only can repeat his performance, but that he actually will repeat his performance? For one 46 home runs is not that much of an outlier for Pena. In 2007 he hit 46 home runs or one every 10.6 at bats. In 2005, in only 79 games, Pena hit 18 home runs, or one every 14.4 at bats. Certainly 2007 was an improvement, but there are several reasons to expect just as good of an encore if not better.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • More plate appearances in 2008: Pena was only a part-time player in April after not even making the squad out of Spring Training. Pena was losing ABs to Ty Wigginton and Jorge Cantu! This won’t be an issue in 2008. Certainly we can expect Joe Maddon to give Pena a day off against lefties every once and a while. But it is not unthinkable that Pena racks up 50 more plate appearances in 2008.
  • More protection in batting order in 2008: Last year Pena had Delmon Young and his 91 OPS+ hitting behind him, usually followed by Brendan Harris or Ty Wigginton. DY was not exactly striking fear into the hearts of pitchers last year, unless you consider the fear of being hit by a thrown bat. In 2008, Pena can expect to have excellent and experienced protection in the order in the form of Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes and at some point rookie-of-the-year candidate Evan Longoria.
  • Pena is simply a better hitter now than 4-5 years ago: Maddon and hitting coach Steve Henderson worked hard with Pena last year to teach him that it was OK to use the whole field. And while he is still not hitting opposite-field blasts, he did hit a number of his home runs to straight away center field. This is something that the old Carlos Pena would have never done.
  • Pena is now in his prime: In 2007 Pena was 29 years old. In 2008 he will be 30. Most players hit their prime in their late-20s. In his 27 and 28 year old seasons he was only given a total of 97 games. When he finally received his opportunity he produced. There is nothing to suggest that he is past his prime at 30.
  • Pena was “unlucky” in 2007: DRays Bay showed that at least one statistic indicated that Pena actually performed better in 2007 than his actual numbers indicated. If that is indeed the case, then a “step-back” in his performance could actually produce similar numbers as 2007.
  • Pena is not Brady Anderson: When Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996, it was a fluke beyond all flukes. His previous single-season high was 21. The difference between Anderson and Pena is that nobody ever expected that from Anderson. Many scouts and baseball people expected this from Pena. It might have come 5-6 years later than they hoped/expected, but the actual performance is not outside the realm of his skillset.

Those that know me, know that I am a pessimist at heart, but I am telling you right now. Carlos Pena will not only hit 40 home runs again in 2008, but he will top the 50 home run mark and if the Rays are in the playoff hunt Pena will receive first-place votes for the MVP.

2008 MLB Rankings: First Base [Armchair GM]
Pena, An Unluck Hitter, Who Knew… [DRays Bay]

DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA

  • In a strange twist, both the Vero Beach Rays and the Princeton Rays will continue to wear green in 2008. This is an interesting move considering the Tampa Bay Rays obsession with promoting their new brand. [TBO]
  • Troy Percival will take it easy the first few weeks of Spring Training and will not crank it up until the final week. [St. Pete Times]
  • Scout.com previews Spring Training for the Rays and asks some questions that have yet to be answered about the team. [Scout]
  • Another Top 100 list and this one has four Devil Dogs in the Top 12 and eight overall and each time the writer refers to the team as the “Devil Rays”. Guess that blog will be getting a letter from Matt Silverman. [Top Prospect Alert]
  • Melnick & Greco take a closer look at the Rays top prospects. [Melnick & Greco]
  • Marc Topkin takes a look at the history of Spring Training in St. Pete as 2008 will be the last year with the Rays moving to Charlotte County and Al Lang field set to be torn down. [St. Pete Times]
  • Marc Topkin comes up with his list of the all-time best baseball players that have spent Spring Training in St. Pete. All the teams that have called St. Pete home? That is interesting. For some reason the who’s who of trainees? Not so much. [TampaBay.com]
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2 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    I am really glad to see your projections for Pena in a post. I have been thinking similar things for a while. I am not saying it will happen, but wouldn't it be great if Pena actually outperforms his 2007 season this year! Perhaps not likely, but also not outrageously optimistic.

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  2. Devil Ray Guevara says:

    I agree with everything you say. I am not so foolish to think it is a foregone conclusion or even "very likely". Rather, I just think a few too many people think 2007 was a fluke and I think there are actually more reasons to think he can at least keep up the pace, if not actually improve.

    Believe me, I will be happy with 35 home runs and 110 RBI. That is nothing to scoff at. But I dont think people should be surprised if Pena actually builds on 2007 and continues to grow as a baseball player.

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