Christopher who? The case for Wily Mo

August 14th, 2006 → 12:43 am @ // 24 Comments

In 1993, Lou Gorman chose Christopher Trotman Nixon, an 18-year-old left handed hitter, with the Red Sox’s first round pick (and seventh overall). Nixon signed with the team that same summer; this August marks his 13th year with the organization. For the last eight years, he’s been the team’s regular right fielder. When Trot went down with a strained right bicep on July 30, most of Red Sox Nation groaned: the last thing the team needed was an injury to one of its catalysts. Instead of Wily Mo Pena backing up Nixon, now the team would have Gabe Kapler backing up Wily Mo…and how could that be a good thing?

It’s true that, in an abstract world, having Gabe Kapler third on the depth chart instead of second would be nice. The problem is that we don’t live in an abstract world. And as Wily Mo has shown over the past week, there are a lot of good reasons he should be the regular right fielder even when Nixon comes back. This month, Pena has 5 home runs and 10 RBIs. (Manny has 3 homers and 9 RBIS, Papi has 4 and 5.) Even after a horrendous start to August — before Saturday’s game, Pena’s batting average for the month was .205 — his August OPS (.894) was higher than Trot’s for the season (.822). Look at the season as a whole and it’s not even close: WMP’s slugging percentage is more than 100 points higher than Nixon’s (.549 to .426), his OPS not much less than that (.917 to .822).

As I wrote in Feeding the Monster, last year Kevin Millar demonstrated the extent to which players can hold a team hostage. Even while vying for the position as the worst everyday player in the American League, Millar made it clear that he’d piss and moan if Francona sat him. Towards the end of the year, when he was finally platooning at first, Millar anonymously badmouthed Curt Schilling in the press. Later, he made up inane t-shirts that read “Fuck Everyone”; somehow, that slogan didn’t catch on the way “Cowboy Up” did. (The back of the shirts read, “2005 Sox: All We Have Is Each Other,” which only made sense if by “have” Millar meant “have knives in each other’s backs.”)

Nixon is much too classy (and talented) a guy to pull that kind of crap. And he deserves a lot of respect. He’s a loyal player, he works hard, and he’s put up some impressive numbers in his career. From 2001 to 2003, he averaged 26 home runs a year; in 2003, he pushed his average above .300 and had an OPS of .975, good for fourth in the league. (He trailed only Manny, A-Rod, and Carlos Delgado.) As good as that is, there’s a decent chance Wily Mo could top it. He’s only 24-years old. His power is awe-inspiring; as Alex Speier pointed out in last week’s Union Leader, Pena can launch balls even when he gets his bat sawed off. In the past two weeks, he’s hit four home runs of more than 430 feet, and one more that nearly decapitated a fan sitting on the Green Monster. (Thanks to gator92 for the hit-chart link.) Unlike Manny, who gets his incredible power from his nearly perfect balance, Wily Mo’s power is oftentimes in spite of his balance. If he ever developed a stroke like Manny’s, he’d be able to hit balls into the Citgo sign.

Still, the most likely scenario upon Trot’s return is that he’ll be back as the Sox’s regular right fielder, with Wily Mo getting the lion’s share of starts when there’s a lefty on the mound. Trot’s a veteran and he’s in the walk year of his contract. He’s also the original Dirt Dog: the pine tar on the helmet, getting thrown out of games while on the disabled list, etc.

That would be a shame, and not just because WMP has a .705 slugging percentage against righties. The future is now, and his name is Wilfredo Modesto Pena.*#

***

One more note to the WMP saga. The baseball season is a long one. Playoff spots are won over months, not weeks, and trades (and signings) should be evaluated over years, not months. When Bronson Arroyo began the season on a tear — both on the mound and at the plate — and the Red Sox’s pitching imploded, there was plenty of moaning about what a mistake the Red Sox’s front office had made. (One half-season even convinced some writers who had been in favor of the trade when it was made to come down against it. And yes, I’m looking at you, Shaughnessy.) Let’s examine this again when the season’s over. And then again when next season’s over. And then again when the 2008 season is over, because it’s only at that point that Pena will be eligible for free agency.

* Before I get a bunch of emails and comments about small sample sizes and how a couple of good weeks can make someone like Todd Walker look like Babe Ruth, let’s remember that Pena has been heralded for his power for as long as he’s been in baseball. The knock on him has been that he has bad plate discipline, and he does still strike out a lot. But he’s clearly been learning, and the fact that David Ortiz has taken him under his wing can only be a good thing.

# Pena’s full name actually appears to be Wily Modesto Pena, but Joe Castiglione called him Wilfredo Modesto on Saturday, and that’s too good not to use.


Post Categories: Trot Nixon & Wily Mo Pena

24 Comments → “Christopher who? The case for Wily Mo”


  1. s1c

    11 years ago

    I think that Trot is gone also, I like Trot, but like my BIL says, “if you got to platoon, you need to upgrade” and Wily Mo is an upgrade with the bat.

    Reply

  2. yerfatma

    11 years ago

    It’d be nice if, upon Trot’s return, we were discussing he and Coco platooning in right.

    Reply

  3. Kevin

    11 years ago

    I am very glad that Boston is finally getting on the Wily Mo trail. I am not glad that once Trot comes back, he’ll be starting in right most times even if he’s batting .116.

    Reply

  4. deversm

    11 years ago

    The fact that Wily Mo has taken some much better swings at breaking balls (including getting some hits) over the last week or so is encouraging as well. The thought of a 3-4-5 of Ortiz, Manny, and Wily Mo is exciting. Unless you’re an AL pitcher, of course.

    Reply

  5. Neil

    11 years ago

    Would Nixon be worth keeping if it meant moving Pena to center field and trading Crisp? Pena is without a doubt the most productive player of the three, but a .390 OBP, even with reduced power numbers, is hard to sneeze at. Plus with Nixon’s injury history being well known around the league, you might be able to get him back for a bargain, and you have David Murphy waiting in the wings. I just don’t know how well it pans out when you factor in defense and whether Crisp is ever going to learn that hitting fly balls takes away his only offensive weapon.

    Nice to meet you in Hadley last month, Seth.

    Reply

  6. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    Indeed, we should make Coco do 20 push-ups every time he hits a fly ball, a la Willie Mays Hays. Even when it clears the fence.

    WMP sure looked good this weekend, but don’t you wish that he could produce in the 5 spot? Do you think Francona is scared to put him in that slot? A little consistency and I think he will be in there, which would be a fearsome heart of the lineup. It is heartening to see signs of improvement, although incrementally when it comes to plate discipline (lay off the sliders, man).

    Reply

  7. CursedNoMore

    11 years ago

    Wouldn’t it make a hell of a lot more sense to platoon Nixon, Pena and Crisp? Trot plays RF against all righties, and on those days Pena gets the bulk of time in CF. Against lefties, Pena plays RF and Crisp plays CF. Let’s face it: there’s a reason Nixon hits in the 5-hole (even though he’s better suited to hit 3rd in the order for most teams, due to his high walk total and high OBP), and it makes absolutely NO SENSE WHATSOEVER to start Wily Mo Pena ahead of Trot Nixon against right-handed pitchers when you can start him ahead of Crisp instead (not to mention that Pena is a better center fielder than he is right fielder).

    Reply

  8. daltonjones

    11 years ago

    Leaving aside the Coco-platoon question, here’s what jumps to mind whenever I hear talk of a Nixon-Pena platoon, with Wily Mo “getting the lion’s share of starts when there’s a lefty on the mound,” as Seth writes.
    This year …
    Wily Mo v. LHP: 14 for 64 (.219), 1 HR, 7 RBI, 7 BB, 26 Ks, .307 OBP
    Nixon v. LHP: 16 for 75 (.213), 2 HR, 9 RBI, 14 BB, 17 Ks, .355 OBP
    I’ll take Nixon, his plate discipline and his defense.

    That looks more like a fluke than anything else: over the last three years, he’s been better versus lefties in BA (.276 vs. .237), OBP (.347 vs .286), SLG (.537 vs. .454), and obviously OPS (.883 vs. .740). He’s not going to keep on flailing against lefties any more than he’s going to keep up a .697 SLG versus righties. This same argument could be made to say that this whole year has been a fluke, but there’s historical evidence to back up WMP developing into a masher; thus far, there isn’t any to support a failure against lefties.

    — Seth

    Reply

  9. daltonjones

    11 years ago

    Oh, absolutely, and I’m not talking long-term. … It’s a small sample and it’s certainly possible, even likely, that Wily Mo simply has had the bad luck of seeing tougher lefthanders than Nixon has faced in those ABs. … I’m talking about the last 6 weeks of the season. … Not sure I’d prefer Wily Mo over Nixon v. a leftie in a big spot.

    Reply

  10. Sox Blog

    11 years ago

    Working weekend…

    Reply

  11. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    Seth, With an insider’s perspective, maybe you could validate or debunk a theory I have on Nixon. I’ve got a sixpack riding on my prediction that, not only will Nixon be out of a Red Sox uniform next season, but he’ll choose to retire. He’s not old, only a shocking 32 (seems older), but he’s soon to be a man without a position, and might not want to play elsewhere if the Sox choose not to re-up. Granted, he could be, as CursedNoMore points out, a 3-hole hitter for some teAAAms. But he’s lost a step, so to speak, and each time he swings I expect a shoulder or rib cage injury. It’s easy to rip a guy when he’s down — and now out — but I’m always looking ahead. I love Trot and all, but with these issues, and the fact that he’s a family man with two very young kids, what do you see as his future? Don’t these guys just get tired being hurt all the time?

    Reply

  12. Shalomar

    11 years ago

    WILY MO IS A SPECIMEN. I was at the game yesterday and Wily Mo is a giant of a man who needs to be in the lineup every day, if only for the fact that it seems he could outdistance T Williams’ 500+ ft homer at any time. He broke his bat during one at-bat yesterday and both the ball and the barrel of the bat ended up in left field for a single. The shard almost seared Tejada. There were also a bazillion Pena t-shirts. Baseball is supposed to be fun, and watching him swing is certainly enjoyable. He was yanking his head out of the box yesterday on missed swings; if he learns more from Manny and Ortiz, he’ll be one of the best hitters in the AL within 3 yrs.

    Reply

  13. Mike Greenwell MVP

    11 years ago

    There is no question in my mind that Theo’s thinking that Wily Mo is the everyday right fielder for 2007. I guess there would be a small chance that Trot could agree to a small contract and stay on as a supplemental player, a la Bernie Williams w/ the Yanks this past offseason. (Not Theo’s style but maybe an exception for Trottah) But while I think it would be tough for Trot to leave Boston, I think it would be even tougher for a player like him to play a secondary role on a team. He’s the true definition of a dirt dog, and I imagine he’ll sign on somewhere he can start everyday. His kids are very young; I don’t believe they are of age to have started school yet, and that makes it easier on a family to up and move.

    Reply

  14. bj5485

    11 years ago

    I think that a full year under Red Sox management, learning from Ortiz and Manny and Ron Jackson etc. could turn Wily Mo into a much more disciplined and therefore much more fearsome hitter. Can you imagine putting Wily Mo in the 3 spot? He would get pitches to hit because Papi and Manny would follow.

    Reply

  15. Hannibal Lester

    11 years ago

    Yeah, I doubt we’ll see Trot back next year. He’s easily one of my favorite players on the team, but is an aging, injury-prone right-fielder really worth a good deal of money for Theo and the boys? It won’t be a popular decision (I don’t think Theo’s afraid to make those – i.e. Pedro, Nomar, Arroyo, etc.) but someone like the Astros will throw Nixon a bunch of money and Theo won’t think twice about letting him go. As much as I hate to see him go, I’ll welcome Wily Mo as a starter with open arms.

    Reply

  16. Ogie Oglethorpe

    11 years ago

    Nixon’s legend exceeds the real man. He has never been more than a platoon player. Sure, he gives you everything he has got and has a great attitude but he simply has never been more than slightly above average. He seems to ground into double plays in key situations every game and gets injured every year. I think the Arroyo for Pena deal is paying of THIS season never mind a few seasons from now. He has already played in 55 games due to Crisp and Nixon injuries. If Pena is not on the roster then Adam Stern/Dave Murphy/Gabe Kapler see significant time in the field. Not good. Sure our staff has been banged up but so has our outfield.

    Reply

  17. BaseballFan

    11 years ago

    In regards to your next to last paragraph when you mentioned Wily mo striking out a lot. I have never been too concerned with excessive K’s.

    Jim Rice some of his best years stuck out over 100 times. In 1978 his average was .315, HR 46 RBI 139 OBP .370 SLG .600 and had over 400 Total Bases.

    Back then they used to complain about Rice’s K’s and tried to get him to cut down on his swing. Next thing you know Rice became the GiDP King.

    It seems that Wily Mo’s pitch selection seems to be improving. Whereas he is still on pace to equal his K total of last year his OBP has made a 60 point jump over last year and the because his walk total is on pace to nearly double compared to 2005.

    I guess I would rather see the K than a GiDP as long as the K’s are not record setting.

    Reply

  18. Triple Crown

    11 years ago

    There’s a lot of talk about whether or not Trot will be back with the Sox, and too much speculation that Coco will be traded. I think we have to consider one more possibility. Manny won’t be here next year.

    LF Wily Mo Pena
    CF Coco Crisp
    RF Trot Nixon

    As much as I would hate to see Manny leave the Sox, is it not a strong possibility? His contract is only getting cheaper by the year, hence the more likely it is that Theo will finally move him. This of course puts pressure on Wily Mo to be the number four hitter and protect Ortiz. I think WMP will be a competent cleanup hitter by 2007. In addition, maybe the Sox get a big bat at 1B or 3B if they decide not to re-sign Lowell.

    Once last note on the Coco bashing. It’s not like the guy is hitting .240. His injury set him back and soured everyone’s high expectations, but give this guy a chance to make his adjustments. By next year, I bet he puts up solid, if not big numbers as the Sox everyday leadoff center fielder.

    Reply

  19. rdoyle

    11 years ago

    in a perfect world you can have the OPS of nixon and the SLG of WMP in the same lineup (what a 3-4-5-6 that could be)

    what are the chances of seeing nixon play some centerfield…playing centerfield in fenway does not require the same amount of speed as it it does in other parks for obvious field dimension reasons. his defense has never been in question, he plays hard every game hes out there and his speed is comparable to that of jim edmonds (who is regarded as one of the top centerfielders in the game, who plays at a pitchers ball park in st. louis). he has the strong arm we have not seen in centerfield in nearly a decade and a lineup of youk loretta ortiz manny wily mo trot lowell varitek(upon return) gonzo has to be the best on paper in the major leagues.

    Reply

  20. horn1918

    11 years ago

    I will admit I thought the WMP/Arroyo trade was a mistake after seeing all our pitchers go down…now after seeing him play everyday, I friggin love the guy. He has got a cannon for an arm, a bazooka for a bat and has a great personality to boot.
    He really is a superstar in the making. Coming to a team with 2 of the best Dominican hitters of all time certainly won’t hurt his development either.

    Reply

  21. Information Leafblower

    11 years ago

    A Quick One While I’m Away…

    Sorry for the brevity today. My blogging/lunch time was taken up with my Silversun Pickups interview. I should have that sometime later in the week. Banksy in Brooklyn! Global warming leads to more summer festivals. Interpol to Capitol. Lollapalooza dr…

    Reply

  22. rebbe sox

    11 years ago

    Trot Nixon is the prototype of a player that the current Red Sox regime will not keep. He’s gone at the end of this season.

    Think of it this way…Theo can sign Trot for $6-8 million per year to get .800 to .830 OPS production out of right field. That’s where Trot’s carreer is trending at age 32. Or, Theo can pay Wily Mo $500,000 to $800,000 to get .800 to .900 OPS production from right field. Wily Mo’s carreer OPS is .805 at age 24. His current season OPS is .915 in 57 games.

    I love Trot’s grit and his glove. But honestly, what would you do?

    Reply

  23. maineiac

    11 years ago

    Update from the first four games of the NY Yankees series….

    WMP Stats:
    Game 1 – 0 hits/1 AB
    Game 2 – 0 hits/6 AB (K with bases loaded)
    Game 3 – 1 hits/8 AB
    Game 4 – 0 hits/4 AB (K with bases loaded)
    0.052 BA – 0.052 Slugging – 1 RBI
    Not a single walk.
    WMP’s OPS has now dropped to 0.841 (vs Nixon’s career OPS of 0.852)
    Worse stat is WMP left 14 men on base (six were in scoring position). In the three games he played, WMP accounted for 26% of the 54 men left on base.

    I think much of WMP’s success in the AL was that opposing pitchers had not found out that he will swing at anything so a good pitcher is not going to give him anything that can do damage. Certainly, Poppa Jack has his work cut out for him. I think we would have got something out of Trot against the Yankees.

    Reply
  24. […] I’ve been a WMP cheerleader since last August, when he put an absolute hurt on the ball; less than two weeks ago, I once again was pleading his case. […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: