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Jeremy Pena is the Best Hitter in the MLB When Batting Second

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Today, we explore the interesting phenomenon of Jeremy Pena batting second.

Last year, I wrote about this "demanding" Dusty put Pena back at two. We all saw Pena doing incredible things in the postseason batting second.

But WHY is Pena so good batting second?

First, let's look at some numbers.

In 2023, in the 66 PA where Pena batted 2nd, he has a 191 wRC+!

In 2023, in the 183 PA where Pena hasn't batted 2nd, he has a 73 wRC+.

How good is a 191 wRC+? Well, here are the top 10 qualified batters sorted by wRC+. Pena would be on top.

Therefore, Jeremy Pena is the Best Hitter in the MLB When Batting Second!!

OK, now the more humbling stat. Pena's 73 wRC+ when NOT batting second in the lineup would be 157th out of 162 qualified batters. It is truly the best of times and the worst of times.

In the ten games since Pena moved to second, the Astros have gone 7-3 and scored 6.0 runs per game (vs. 4.4 runs per game when not at second).

So why is the production so different? Why is Pena so different?

Let's expand the data we are looking at to include 2022 to weed out statistical anomalies.

In most of these metrics you see the same excellent performance when batting second and frankly terrible results in the one and six spots.

Notice two lines however:

  1. Exit Velocity is basically the same at 1,2, and 7. For some reason batting 6, Pena is not creating exit velocity on the pitches he sees when batting 6th.

  2. The BABIP is 0.220 at #1 and is 0.335 at #2. That difference alone explains a huge part of delta between #1 and #2. The BABIP does not explain the difference between #2 and #6 or #2 and #7.

Is Pena seeing different pitches at #2 vs. other spots in the order?

The answer is somewhat.

Pena sees

  • significantly LESS 4-seam fastballs at #2 than #1 or #6

  • less sliders at #2 than #1 and #6

  • more sinkers at #2 than at #1

  • more changeups at #2 than at #1 and #6

  • more cutters at #2 than at #1 and #6

  • more sweepers at #2 than at #1

Here are the numbers.

You will notice the wOBA and xwOBA data for each pitch.

When you put all of this together, the xwOBA at each spot in the lineup is essentially the same. Therefore, yes, the pitch mix is indeed different, BUT the expected performance (both calculating with wOBA and xwOBA) does NOT explain the Pena performance bump at #2.

When I go to write an article, I usually have a hypothesis I want to test out. My theory here was pitch mix. I just proved that hypothesis was wrong or not sufficient to explain the difference here.

Let's go back to the summary table.

I added three more lines.

  • Iso- Pena is hitting with a LOT more power batting #2. Are the pitches more in the zone? I am not aware how to find that split per spot in the batting order.

  • BB%- This one is interesting.

    • Batting first Pena is drawing almost 50%MORE walks. Is he thinking I should just work to get on base and let #2/#3/ #4 drive me in? I think that is very plausible. PERHAPS, this means he is being tentative and NOT swinging at the best pitch to hit.

    • Batting sixth Pena is drawing 50% LESS walks. Is the opposite happening here? Is Pena trying too hard to be the RBI guy and being too aggressive? I think that is possible.

    • It is interesting how similar #2 and #7 look. It is like he is in the same mental mindset batting #2 and #7

  • K%- this data tends to validate what I just said in the BB%.

    • Batting first Pena appears tentative and trying to work for walks which he does. He focuses on walks and contact and not power. The good news is he strikes out less.

    • Batting sixth Pena is chasing more, swinging at balls out of the zone, and thereby striking out more. This could also explain the lower exit velocity from before.

    • Again at #2 and #7 there seems to be a very similar approach.

Ok so now I think I have a validated theory of #1 vs. #2 and #2 vs. #6.

What about #2 vs. #7? Well, you remember that the 2023 data did not include #7 data. He only has batted #7 for one game in 2023. In fact, 62% of his #7 games were EARLY in his rookie year. Ninety- six (96) percent of his #7 games were before 8/27/22. Pena changed some of his approach in late 2022, and honestly, most rookies get better as they progress. The #2 vs. #7 performance difference could simply be more time in the MLB.

Let's summarize the reasons Pena is so good at batting second vs. the other spots in the order.

  1. Some BABIP Luck- this would even out with time

  2. Difference in APPROACH

    1. Pena may be too patient when batting first

    2. Pena may be too impatient when batting sixth

    3. Pena seems to be just right when batting second and seventh

  3. Experience made Pena better batting second vs. seventh.

Let me know if you see something else in the data.

I know I learned a lot writing this. I hope this helped you understand Jeremy Pena better as a hitter.

Just remember

Jeremy Pena is the Best Hitter in the MLB When Batting Second!!

Now you know why.

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