Thursday, July 24, 2008

What A Pleasant Surprise

A couple days ago the Royals were losing to the Tigers 19-4 in the ninth inning... and then something magical happened. KC brought Tony Pena Jr. in to pitch. That's shortstop Tony Pena Jr.

Here we go:

He touched 91 with the fastball, and struck Ivan Rodriguez out looking with a curveball. He had a low arm angle that's though on righties, and threw strikes. 1 IP, no baserunners. Now normally this would just be your typical blowout sideshow, but considering the way Pena "hits" (152 / 174 / 201, which isn't much better than the average NL pitcher at 140 / 181 / 177) a move to the mound - even as a situational righty out of the pen - may be more valuable to the team than putting him in the line-up at short. Heck, he can even do both; pitching sometimes and being a defensive replacement.

Maybe my new favorite tool, WAR, will provide some insight.

As a position player:

I know Pena isn't as bad as he's looked this season (probably) so let's use his updated Marcel forecast. [Marcel is a relatively simplistic projection method that just looks at past stats, weighting the recent ones more heavily.] Using Excel, using Excel, and... done. Pena is projected to hit 240 / 274 / 337 for the rest of the year. His stats translate into a very poor .262 wOBA. That means that if he only plays about 60% of the time (which is about what's happening), he will be worth -2 Wins Above (which is actually below) Replacement with the bat. He gets +0.5 for being a shortstop, and lets say another +1 for being good with the glove. Then there's the +2.5 for playing on the AL. All that adds up to a WAR of about 0.5 (once the other parts are also adjusted for playing time). Tony Pena Jr. is just a little above replacement level as a shortstop.

As a pitcher:

For the switch to be worthwhile, Pena would need to be able to maintain an ERA of about 4.40 if he gets around 50 IP a year in low leverage situations. That would also make him about a 0.2 WAR player. Can he do that? Maybe. Is it worth finding out? I certainly think so. Maybe once he actually, you know, trains to pitch, he'll become a quality (3.50 ERA) reliever. Then the Royals can use him in the 7th and 8th innings to set up Joakim Soria, and he'd be worth over 1 WAR a year. At the very least, it'll give Royals fans something interesting to follow.

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