Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Can Carlos Pena Rebound For The Cubs?

The Chicago Cubs picked up free agent first baseman, Carlos Pena, according to reports. The move fills the void left vacant when the Cubs traded Derrek Lee to the Braves last year. The question is whether Pena can rebound from what turned out to be an awful 2010. Pena did hit 28 homers and that should play well in Chicago. And the risk is slight with only a one year commitment. But perhaps Chicago can finally get a break with this signing

The good news is that Carlos Pena has averaged 36 homers and 101 ribbies the last four years along with an average of 93 walks a year. The Cubs will be happy with that kind of performance this year. Plus Pena is a decent first baseman with good range and nice hands around first. But his offensive trend is pretty scary.

Pena has lost at least 19 points on his batting average every year for the last three years culminating with last year's sub-Mendoza finish. Many point to his extremely low BABIP in 2010 as part of the problem. His BABIP was .225 which is ridiculously low. So if you combine a high strikeout rate with a low batting average on the balls you do put in play, then a .199 batting average is easy to understand. But Pena has always been a low BABIP guy with a career mark of .272. Yes, if he can get back to that, his average will improve. But there is another disturbing stat.

For his career, Carlos Pena has hit a line drive 28% of the time he's put the ball in play. Last year, that figure fell to 17%. That's scary. It means that Pena is not squaring up on the ball and hitting the ball more weakly when he doesn't homer. That should be the focus on the Cubs to get Pena to get the good part of the bat on the ball and drive it as much as possible. With his power, he will get his fair share of homers, but he has to do something with the other at bats too.

This may be an unfair observation, but none of Pena's teammates (with the exception of Evan Longoria) had a good year at the plate last year. That being the case, you have to wonder a bit about the kind of hitting instruction that is going on down there in Tampa. Perhaps Pena can be supported better by the staff in Chicago--that is taking for granted that he is good at being open to instruction, which may or may not be the case.

But say Pena can bat at least .230 and walk 90 times and hit 30 homers and drive in his share of runs, the Cubs would be more than happy with that. That kind of production would guarantee a return on their $10 million investment. And of course, that is what the Cubs are counting on. It remains to be seen though, if Carlos Pena has that kind of year left in him.

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