Minggu, 27 November 2011

Could Japan's Next Star Be... Wily Mo Pena?

We learned last weekend that Wily Mo Pena has signed on to play for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball. Pena, 29, has always been kind of an odd story, and him going to Japan is just something of another interesting chapter in his tale.

Pena came up with the Reds way back in 2002, just 20 years old at the time, and showed tons of potential. He slugged .527 as a bench player in 2004, and fans of the teams for which he played will remember his prodigious power.

Red Sox fans will remember that he was shipped to Boston in exchange for Bronson Arroyo (who has since thrown 1300 innings and posted 13 WAR) before the 2006 season. Unfortunately for Pena, he was blocked by an outfield that included Manny Ramirez and Trot Nixon, then JD Drew at the corners, and never did develop the plate patience the Red Sox had hoped for. He was flipped to the Nationals in mid-2007 but didn’t stick there, and has since bounced around the organizations of the Mets, Padres, Diamondbacks and Mariners.

For a guy who once hit .300 and once hit 26 home runs, it is surprising that Pena has never been able to find a home, but a mediocre glove and a run of bad luck have prevented him from realizing what we all thought was big potential (three-time Baseball America top-100 prospect) – he suffered various nagging injuries and was constantly held back by teams stocked with veteran outfielders.

Pena, however, will now have a shot to make an impact somewhere in pro baseball. What I am interested in finding out is what kind of player he can be in Japan – and I think it’ll be quite a good one.

Pena can hit – that was never really a question. He was a little short on patience, but, by and large, he always had the tools. I mentioned that that he’d bounced around after leaving Boston, but during that time, when he was serving as an org player (an up-and-down, Quadruple-A type), he still hit: he has a .278/.343/.483 career batting line at Triple-A, and this year went .358/.440/.712 in 332 PAs. I believe he can hit now as well as he ever did, and for that reason, for the conversions, I will be using his career line of .250/.303/.445. Yes, his numbers in the majors have been awful of late, but between his great Triple-A numbers and the Jeremy Giambi effect, there is plenty of reason to believe he is still that guy that can hit 460-foot homers if you throw him anything belt-high.

With an assist to Jim Albright, I’ve worked out the modifications for batting average, OBP, and SLG: 1.144, 1.098, and 1.333, respectively. When applied to Pena’s MLB numbers, this makes him a .286/.333/.593 hitter in Japan – he could OPS over .900 over there.

I like these conversions for one main reason, and that is the nature of Japanese pitchers. They have a habit of being fine, of keeping to the edges of the plate, and I think that this will suit Pena fine. He makes his living off of mistake pitches, and mistakes happen no matter where you’re trying to throw. I also think that this approach will probably exploit his main weakness at the plate, his lack of discipline, so unless he hits 40 homers over there and earns some mad respect walks, I don’t see his OBP climbing too sharply.

Pena’s career path has been one of the most twisted, convoluted and tumultuous you’re going to see from a guy who’s never had serious injury or off-field problems, and it should prove interesting to watch him perform for Fukuoka. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, not in the Majors, and not in Japan, but hopefully Wily Mo Pena has finally found a place where he can be a star.

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