WMP– You gotta prove yourself, kid!
July 17th, 2007 by czar

It drives me batty to continually hear the gripes of the Wily Mo Pena sympathizers. “He’ll hit 60 HRs someday!” “Theo is an idiot for not realizing the supremely talented bat he lets rot on the bench!” Those are overly brazen, of course, and are usually brushed aside as your run-of-the-mill fanboyism. However, the most annoying generalization thrown around lately is “Well, look at his body of work from the last four years! He deserves to play!” Ok. Let’s look at it.

For starters, let’s take WARP1 (wins over replacement player) and normalize it to 162 games. This will account for both hitting and fielding, and will also hopefully help bring the data to a more natural mean.

WMP career WARP1 normalized to 162 games = 2.38
Alex Cora career WARP1/162 G = 2.51
Eric Hinske career WARP1/162 G = 2.89

Shocking. Over the last four years, even when his statistics are normalized Pena lags behind perennial bench warmers Alex Cora and Eric Hinske (although admittedly, Hinske did have a few seasons where he started. He was the 2002 American League Rookie of the Year, after all) . But the point of this statistic is not to argue “who will be better?” or “who is on the uptick and who has leveled off,” it’s merely a quick and dirty (and by all counts, it’s a little messy) way of getting at what a player’s overall value to a team has been over whatever time interval looked at.

Quite simply put, Wily Mo Pena’s last four years have not been anything to write home about, even when you bring everyone onto the level playing field of 162 games. Does that mean he’s a bad ballplayer? No. Does it mean that as a 25 year-old he can’t get any better? Of course not. (In fact, he’d be hard-pressed to perform any worse than he has in 2007.) That aside, past performance doesn’t merit handing him at bats like some Sox fans claim he deserves.

Some will cite David Ortiz (blasphemy I say!) as a comparison. If you recall, before Ortiz was his clutch-homer-mashing self in Fenway, he was struggling along as David Arias through the Minnesota Twins organization. It wasn’t until 2003 (at the age of 27) that he managed to show enough in limited at bats that Theo Epstein found it acceptable to move Shea Hillenbrand for the savior of the 2003 season (another argument for another day), Byung-Hyun Kim. But while on the outside, Ortiz looks like a great comp, he’s really not. While mired on the bench in Minnesota, Ortiz continued to pound away in limited time, putting up a line of .266/.342/.462. Not mindblowing numbers by any stretch, but still well ahead (especially in the plate discipline department) of Wily Mo Pena.

But that’s a complete aside, the argument isn’t to whether in 2 or 3 Wily Mo Pena will reach David Ortiz status. The issue right now is whether Pena should be taking at bats away from J.D. Drew, Coco Crisp, or Eric Hinske. Defensively, he’s clearly the weakest link out there, but we can only go on what we see because the terribly small sample size for WMP this year don’t give us a good feel for how he plays in the outfield (for example, if you were to extrapolate his LF stats, he be almost 12 fielding runs below replacement levels. WMP isn’t that bad, and even if he was, no team would ever allow such a player to accrue so much time at a given position). But the lack of faith the organization has in him starting in the field can’t be ignored.

Offensively, he has performed poorly this season. There is no sweetening up a .213/.284/.369 line. Consistent playing time or not, you’re going to be hard pressed to find some metric that would translate that to much above a .245/.295/.390 if you considered some form of regular playing time to bench time ratio.

Now, in the offseason, some will remember that I was actually against the Drew signing because I wanted to see WMP full-time in RF. I still stand by that. I think tying $14-15 million a season in an injury prone RF when you had one that could perform at at least 75% of Drew’s output for a fraction of the price on the bench. But that’s neither here nor there anymore, and what’s done is done. The point is, and remains, that it is clear by now that the Red Sox are not going to hand Wily Mo Pena at bats. He can luck into them (if Drew trips over a shoelace and tears his ACL, for example) or he can do what every other bench-player-turned-star in the history of baseball has done; force his way into the line with excellent hitting off the bench. There comes a time when all the “he was rushed to the big leagues and couldn’t develop” and “Terry sits him too much” arguments need to stop. He needs to step up to the plate and start playing up to this potential we hear so much about if he wants to run with the big dogs.

Posted in Observations

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About The Site

  • Traversing the land that is known as Red Sox Nation, The Czar Who Wears Red Sox is an attempt at compiling a repertoire of my ever-so-sexy forum posts (when I'm too lazy to write my own damn entry) and other random baseball thoughts that strike. For those whose posts serve as the inspiration of my epiphanies and rants, do not be angry, but merely, be honored that you have achieved such status. Names will never be revealed. Feedback appreciated, as this is a work in progress.

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