With the departure of Sean Casey from Cincinnati, it looks like Adam Dunn will be moved to first base, leaving a full-time opening in the outfield for Wily Mo Pena. Pena has been unable to work his way through the minor league system due to contractual issues and was thrown into the major leagues in 2002 at only 20 years old. Since then he has yet to play a full season, but has shown great power potential by hitting 26 home runs in just 364 at-bats in 2004 and 19 home runs in 311 at-bats last year. Now that he’s all but guaranteed a full-time outfield spot, is a 40-home-run season in the cards for 2006?
If you look at his isolated power (ISO), he was nearly off the charts to start the 2005 season, but he came back to earth after a number of nagging injuries (quadriceps, knee and wrist). While his ISO is definitely within the top 20% of all batters in 2005, his HR/FB is quite spectacular at just over 30%, the third-highest in baseball. Unfortunately, there’s another stat in which Pena ranks very highly: strikeouts.
I guess “very highly” is a bit of an understatement; he’s number one (or dead last, depending on how you look at it) in strikeout percentage (K%). He actually got worse when just a year ago he struck out in 32% of his at-bats as opposed to his 37% in 2005. His walk percentage (BB%) isn’t much to write home about either, as he only walks in just over 6% of his plate appearances. He did, however, show improvement in his walks toward the end of the season, which seems to have carried over into the Dominican Winter League where he had 13 walks and 19 strikeouts in 80 at-bats.
Because of his tremendous power, Pena might be able to come close to 40 home runs next season despite his awful plate discipline, yet I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 home runs is probably a bit more realistic. I don’t think his sub-par batting average of .254 is likely to improve (and might even be worse) unless he shows some major improvement in his strikeouts. For a 24-year-old with little minor league experience he’s done pretty well for himself in the majors so far. His numbers aren’t so far off from NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard, who’s about two years older.