There was a time, not too long ago, when Carlos Pena was arguably the league’s premier three-outcome hitter alongside the likes of Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds. The last few years, however, have not been kind to the 12-year veteran.
Sure, he was never going to hit for average, but a below-Mendoza BA in two of his last three seasons have made his home run power that much less valuable, even if he can still draw walks with the best of them.
Then, in 2012, the power seemingly went away too.
Not completely, of course. Pena still hit 19 homers over 600 PA in his return stint with the Tampa Bay Rays, but easily set a career-low mark with a .354 SLG and .157 ISO. His full-season OPS dipped below .700 (.684, also a career-low), and add to the fact that he hit the dreaded 30% strikeout mark for the first time in his career, and it meant that he was making more outs than he’d previously done. Instead of being a guy who was good at getting on base and hitting home runs, he was below average for his position in both.
Simply put, 2012 was a year of many firsts for the veteran slugger – and most of those firsts did not bode well for a player that will be entering his age-35 season in 2013.
Having made a change of scenery move to the Houston Astros, the team’s new DH is looking to show his new bosses – and the baseball world – that 2012 wasn’t a sign of regression, but an aberration from the norm. In an effort to do so, he returned to the man that first taught him how to hit – his father, Felipe Pena.
Pena has been working with his father during batting practice at his home in Florida this off-season, with the focus of the sessions being “what he taught [Carlos] as a kid” – namely, hitting for contact.
Pena’s 66.9% contact rate was below his career rate of 69.4%, but it’s not exactly what you’d call a significant regression. The problem was that he simply wasn’t make good contact, as evidence by his 16.5% infield fly rate, which is well up from his (10.1%) career mark.
With his father throwing batting practice to him this off-season, Pena is hoping that a familiar coach will get him back to a mindset where he’s not pressing to smash the ball out of the park each time he swings, and popping it up in the process. Instead, he wants to simply get good contact on the ball, and let his power take care of the rest.
If he can do that and find success in his one-year make-good deal for the Astros in 2013, perhaps a multi-year deal (and a bigger pay day) will find its way to Pena yet.