Carlos Pena Brings His :)% to Chicago

Over the next year, we're going to hear a lot of noise about Carlos Pena's statistics. Ready yourself for the inane ramblings of Bob Brenly as he time and again says something to the effect of: "The Cubs brought in Pena to hit home runs. He doesn't have a good batting average, but he hits dingers and takes walks."

He will be correct in saying that alone. When Mr. Brenly begins pontificating about how the game has changed and how Pena compares to some guy he used to manage, feel free to ignore him because at that point he will likely be making stuff up.

A variety of great sites have broken down the statistics for us already, and here's how it looks:

Another Cubs Blog
Pena should hit somewhere from .350 to .360 weighted on-base percentage (wOBA). The wOBA statistic is much more effective than batting average (BA) or on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in evaluating Pena, because his strengths -- walking and homers -- get underplayed by both BA and OPS.

Ol' reliable mb21 at ACB took a look at Carlos Pena's projections and then dug even deeper:

If we adjust that number for Wrigley Field (ignoring league quality), that would be roughly a .374 wOBA. Once we factor in the lesser league he'll be playing in, we get a projected wOBA of about .382, which will easily make him the best hitter on the team.
He continued to examine Pena's defense. As a Rays fan myself, I would (having watched Pena for ~700 games over the last 4 seasons) grade Pena as just above average defensively (not gold glove, but whatever). Mb's research agrees:
Defensive Runs Saved has him as basically an average defender over his career. Total Zone has him worth -22 runs over his career and UZR is pretty similar to TZ. He's likely a below average fielder, but given the unreliability of the numbers and the variance in year to year fielding, I'm not bothering with it.

Joe Pawlikowski over at Fangraphs looked into Pena, seeing much of what mb21 saw. His forecast looks much more exciting:
If Pena does recover [his former stats], 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.
Wouldn't that be great?

Full disclosure: I also write for DRaysBay, so I'm perhaps a bit biased in believing what its past editor-in-chief says.

The venerable R.J. Anderson commented in a DRaysBay thread that the Pena signing was actually a decent get:
If wins are worth $5m, then they're paying for 2. That's not too bad considering they can afford to overpay.
As far as we can tell, wins are still worth $5M and Pena should be worth ~2.7 in 2011.

The Process Report
On the more narration-like side of things, R.J. also reposted the 2010 DRB Annual's article on Carlos Pena. Read it, and understand why I love Pena and why I'm glad to be rooting for him yet one more year.

I like Pena. Over at DRaysBay, we've joked for several years now that Carlos leads the team in :)% -- partly because he's a constant optimist and a funny guy, and partly because he gave us many reasons to smile.

At the same time, though, he's approaching the finish of his career and he's extra weak against lefties. The dramatic infield shift the teams in the AL East used helped crush Pena's batting average and reduce his on-base abilities.

If teams don't do shift on him, if the NL Central ends up having a weak crop of left-handed pitchers in 2011 (which they do right now), if wind in Wrigley smiles on Pena's towering fly balls, and if last year was more happenstance and less omen, then Carlos Pena at $10M is a great signing.

In the big picture, I'm just really glad to see the Cubs acquire someone who doesn't fit the typical mold -- the typical mold usually including a high batting average. Also, I'm glad it's just a one year contract. Thus far, we've seen monster long contracts and huge paydays, which is typical of the early off-season, but the Cubs have paid about market average. I hope this is a sign of good things to come, perhaps a byproduct of bringing sabermetrician Ari Kaplan into the front office.

But, as with all things, only time will tell.

Update: The Cubs have a couple of rumors now swirling about possibly acquiring pitcher Matt Garza from the Rays. I like Matt, I think he's a little overrated, but still a quality pitcher. He's about to get expensive, so the Rays are looking to trade him, thus opening a starting spot for young Jeremy Hellickson.

The Cubs, however, already have 5 decent-to-good starters. Why add Garza now? I don't know. But hello Garza almost certainly means goodbye Tom Gorzellany. Jack has a pretty good analysis of the trade possibilities and how Kosuke Fukudome fits the equation over at Rooftop View:
Tough to say who the best fit would be, but perhaps the Rays, like the Rangers, are interested in one of the Cubs’ catching prospects; Robinson Chirinos would have to be just one of a few prospects headed Tampa’s way for a deal to be reached, but it could be a good place to start. And with Carl Crawford on his way out of town, maybe the Rays are interested in finding another left-handed hitting outfielder, in which case Kosuke Fukudome could be a match.

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  1. Wow, a .380ish wOBA would be outstanding. Nice overview.

  2. Thanks Daver!

    Yeah, .380 wOBA would be sweet. Just a year ago -- 2009 -- he hit .374. He spent the last month on the DL, but still ended up leading the AL in home runs with 39.

    Dude's got power.

  3. Yep, I just noticed, too. Tropicana Field was ranked dead last in park factor in 2010:

    And Pena hit 18 of his 28 bombs there.

  4. I am very very excited about this.

  5. Hey Eddie! I'm glad you're excited! Too much of the Cubs fan base wrongly fears the Pena move because of his low batting average. The truth is Pena merely exposes the insufficiency of batting average.

    @Daver: I'm not sold on year-to-year park factors -- especially for domes. It makes sense if Wrigley just has a bunch of wind-out days, but the Trop is the Trop -- it's 72 degrees and calm even during a hurricane. In the past, the Trop has suppressed left-handed power hitters, but not too too much.

    That being said, he's still going to have an easier time hitting dingers against NL teams and in Wrigley Field especially. If last year was the mirage it seemed to be, then 2011 should be nice for ol' 'Los.