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Astros: What is wrong with Pena?

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Today, I had several theories about why Pena seems to struggling since the All-Star break.

I think one of the things that makes this site different than many in sports media is the degree to which I vet and discard theories. There are lots of ideas that you never read here.

Let me take you on the journey and then let's reach the destination together. the question of the day is:

What is wrong with Jeremy Pena?

First, let me say that Clint and I have had MANY discussions about Pena. There are several articles here and one of the major concerns we had was IF Pena could adjust to off-speed and breaking pitches. Per Baseball Savant, Pena currently has a xwOBA of 0.162 on changeups and 0.209 on curveballs. This is EXACTLY what Clint warned us about.

Here is more data that shows the trends with the pitch group types.

Pena has seen more off-speed pitches. In August the xwOBA MIGHT indicate progress. However, the trend may be getting worse against breaking pitches. Pena has had a more of challenge with fastballs in August too.

I decided to look at the season so far in approximately 100 PA groups

Wow the drop off since late July has been bad! Let's look at about 50 PA groups.

In mid June, Pena went to the IL with a left thumb issue. His wRC+ was 130 on June 13th. It has been 68 since returning from the IL.

Is he still being bothered by the thumb? This is where the table above helps.

- In the five games after returning (Pena had no rehab starts), Pena hit a 4 wRC+. It's fair to think he was working back his timing.

- the next 30 PA and the next 51 PA after that Pena was just as hot as he was before being injured and he was hitting with power.

- From 7/28 to 8/10, Pena slumped BADLY and there was NO power. What happened?

- From 8/11 to 8/25, Pena seems to be recovering and there is some power.

To answer what happened 7/27, one needs to look at the box scores. After returning from the thumb injury, Pena had been batting second mainly. Of the 23 games he played in from 6/26 to 7/26, Pena was slotted second 19 times. It was working well for him as he was drilling the fastballs he was getting.

Dusty Baker decided to move Yuli Gurriel to the #2 hole on 7/27 and it has marginally helped Yuli (wRC+ on 7/26 was 91 and it has been 98 since then.).

Pena was moved mainly to the #6 slot (70%). It simply did not work for Pena. It looks like Pena started swinging at bad pitches and the power was gone (0.021 ISO!). This continued until 8/11. On this date Pena was moved down to the #7 spot and has recovered some.

EDITOR'S NOTE- TWO DAYS after this article was written (8/28) Pena was moved back to #2- how did it work?

After 8/28+ 119 wRC+

After 8/28+ AND batting #2 134 wRC+

This table shows Pena at various spots in the order this year.

If Dusty is not going to bat Pena 2nd, he needs to bat 7th. We will explore the best lineup overall in the next day or two. Oh, by the way, here is the same data for Yuli.

It would appear Yuli should be batting 6th not 2nd. At least Dusty stopped batting him 5th.

So what is wrong with Pena?

- He is continuing to be challenged by offspeed and breaking pitches

- Batting him 6th was terrible for his performance

It does not appear to really have anything to do with the thumb injury. Another theory out the window.

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