April 26th, 2007 → 10:29 pm @ Seth Mnookin
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.
He hasn’t been making me look good. In the days after my post, Wily Mo did indeed get into a few more games, and then, with Coco’s injury, a few more…and he looked god-damned awful. Coming into tonight’s game, he was hitting — and no, this isn’t a typo — .120. His slugging percentage was a pathetic .240. Sure, he’d only gotten 25 at bats…but he’d struck out in more than half of them.
All of which is to say I would have walked Varitek to load the bases and put Wily Modesto at the plate in the top of the eighth of tonight’s game. You had better then even odds that he’d be back on the bench without putting the ball into play, and even if he wasn’t whiffing with such frequency, you’d be setting up a possible double play with one out and a one-run lead.
Pena, of course, didn’t strike out, nor did he ground weekly to short; he did blast a game-winning granny…which should, at the very least, quiet the Fenway boo-birds for a couple of games. Unless, of course, he strikes out with the bases loaded and the Sox down a run in one of this weekend’s Yankees games…
April 14th, 2007 → 6:27 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It’s the 10th game of the season, which means the Sox have played approximately 6 percent of the 2007 games…and Wily Modesta Pena (or, as Joe Castiglione once called him, Wilfredo Modesto Pena) has started exactly zero games and racked up a grand total of four plate appearances. This puts him on pace for about 65 plate appearances over the course of the entire season, which is approximately how many Julio Lugo will have by the end of this week’s Toronto series.*
What gives? Pena was so highly considered by the Sox that they acquired him by trading Bronson Arroyo, a dependable workhorse who had just signed a three-year deal for considerably below market value. In an injury-shortened 2006 season, he showed flashes of the raw talent and awesome power that made him so desirable in the first place: in the first two weeks of August, he had five home runs and 10 RBIs. (It was at that time that I argued that Pena’s potential was as good an argument as any for jettisoning Trot Nixon; at the time, I didn’t realizing the Sox had $14 million a year to play around with.)
I’ve always been a fan of WMP’s, if only because when he’s at bat, there’s always a chance that someone in the Monster seats is gonna get his head ripped off by a line drive. (As Bill James once said to me, sometimes the fact that a player is fun to watch is enough of a reason to want him on your team.) But even if I didn’t like him, I’d be confused by what’s going on. There have been several obvious places where he could — and should — have gotten a start; today’s afternoon start, coming after yesterday’s night game, is one of them. (It’s not as if the team’s outfielders are tearing it up: Manny and Coco have a combined .156 batting average to go along with their six RBIs. Make that seven: Manny just drove in Eric Hinske, another one of the team’s MIA players. And J.D. Drew, the best offensive player on the team thus far, could always use a day off to keep him healthy.) If, for whatever reason, the Sox have lost faith and/or interest in WMP, they’re not helping his stock on the trade market by keeping him on the bench. And if they still think he could develop into a valuable player, they’re not helping his confidence (or his mood) by not letting him play.
Role players almost always play a crucial role on good teams. Wily Mo isn’t a selfish prick in the Jay Payton mold, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who’d be happy seeing so little action. If he isn’t in the starting lineup in the next week — which features both Monday’s 10 am start and the Wednesday-Thursday night-day combo — I’m going to need to assume he was caught doing something very bad with some very important person’s wife.
* As it turns out, Francona told the press before today’s game that Wily Mo would likely get a start in the next couple of days…which would put him on pace for a whopping total of 14 starts all year.
December 16th, 2006 → 12:57 pm @ Seth Mnookin
It takes much more time to drive around suburban Boston to sign book stock than you might think. Which is why I ended up spending about nine hours in the car yesterday. (Having not been to Watertown’s Arsenal Mall since around 7th grade, I was saddened to see that I can no longer buy my checked shirts and skinny ties at Chess Kind. I can’t buy elaborate fark jokes at Spencer Gifts, either. Other than that, though, it felt very much the same.)
On the plus side, that gave me all day to listen to ‘EEI. (More on that later.) On the downside, that gave me all day to listen to ‘EEI. (More on that later too.)
Anyway, before I head out to Braintree, I wanted to answer some questions that have come up in your all’s comments. Without further ado…
“Seth: When you have a free moment after your whirwind tour of area bookstores, maybe you could weigh in on what Shaughnessy hinted at in his column today (maybe others have hinted at this, too); namely, that the JD Drew deal went down partly as a result of the Sox wanting to sweeten Boras up for the Dice-K deal. If so, does a spoonful of Dice-K make Drew more palatable, even to the doubters?”
Certainly there’s been lots of speculation about this. As I’ve said before, I think the Drew signing was a good one (as do lots of other people, including SI‘s Tom Verducci, although I can’t find that item online). What’s more, signing one of Boras’s free agents with the expectation that that will help grease the way to signing another isn’t part of the Red Sox’s MO — making decisions regarding a player’s value and sticking to that* — and Boras certainly is not the type of agent who would give a team a break because of a deal he’d made with another one of his clients.
With that answer, I’ll anticipate a follow-up question: why the big contract when the Sox appeared to be bidding against themselves? The answer is I think that’s a simplistic way of looking at things: when you look at the type of free-agent contracts that have been handed out, take into consideration that there are basically no more impact bats available, and realize that there’s still more than three months until position players report for spring training, it seems like a team that makes a trade or two and begins to feel like they have a shot but also have some offensive holes will very likely want whomever they can get their hands on. (Who’s to say the Cubs won’t find another $100 million to throw around?) And, as I pointed out in a Dice-K post, that $14 mil contract actually ages pretty well…assuming Drew does, too.
* Two caveats: obviously there are incidents where part of the Red Sox’s thinking takes into consideration a player’s overall worth (and not just his on-field worth), resulting in a contract that might exceed what they think he’s worth in pure baseball terms. See: Varitek, Jason. Also, while I don’t think for a moment the Sox are overpaying some Boras clients to have a better shot at landing others, the Sox, despite it all, have been able to craft an ongoing working relationship with Boras.
Speaking of Boras and his relationship with the Sox’s front office…
“but i guess iâ€šÃ„Ã´m a little confused as to why. why wouldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t boras take the yanks offer [to Damon] back to the sox to see if theyâ€šÃ„Ã´d beat it? was it the time pressure? were the yanks johnnyâ€šÃ„Ã´s real first choice?”
There are a couple of theories I get into in varying levels of detail in the book. (And if you anticipated this, you guessed right: Signed copies available at a store near you! Personalized, inscribed bookplates too! Have I mentioned it makes a great holiday gift?) So briefly: there’s a chance Johnny, for whatever reason — the slammin’ nightlife, Michelle thinking she could be a celebrity on a bigger stage, whatever — actually wanted to go to New York. (It’s true: sometimes players want to leave Boston.) There’s also a chance — and I personally think this is more likely — that Boras wanted to prove he could take one of the most popular players on the most popular team in Red Sox history and have him jump ship to the Yankees; if he can get the two richest teams in baseball to bid against each other’s free agents, that’s only going to raise salaries.
shawn.orourke wants to know if there’s any chance Wily Mo will be used as trade bait. Sure, there’s a definite chance. The Sox need a closer, they have (a bit) of a surplus in the outfield, and WMP would, you’d imagine, get decent value in return. With the obvious exceptions of this year’s new signings, the only people who are really untouchable are Schilling, Papi, Papelbon, and Tek, so it’s possible that anyone could get traded. One of the reasons this front office has been so determined to be frugal about trading away their prospects/young players is so they have those players available if and when they have a hole that needs to be filled. It’s the same thing with the pitchers – MDC, Hansen, et al. — is so they have a surplus of young arms when there’s a need for that last puzzle piece. From a personal standpoint, I hope they don’t trade Wily Mo; he’s one of those players that’s simply fun to watch, and as Bill James once told me, that’s sometimes as good a reason to keep a player around as any. But I’d bet his name has come up in discussions. (Speaking of pitchers, yesterday’s bullpen pickups — Donnelley and Romero — mean it’s even more likely there’s more action on the way with the team’s pitching staff.)
Finally, michaelmc and dbvader are having a debate over whether J.D. Drew’s history shows he’s a chronic injury risk or a player who has gotten over the bulk of his physical problems. The answer, I think, is a little of both. If you go to the link for the graphic titled “Drew’s been hurtin’ for certain” in this Nick Cafardo piece, you’ll see a somewhat frightening run-down of Drew’s medical history. However, if you take a look at the last three years, pretty much every “injury” has been more along the times of a couple of days off for some normal wear and tear: with the exception of a broken wrist bone that resulted from getting nailed with a pitch, Drew’s time off since the start of the ’04 season has been limited to three games (stiff neck), five games (hamstring), three games (quad), and five games (knee). That doesn’t worry me too much; unlike, say, Nomar or Trot, those three years look pretty normal to me…
November 20th, 2006 → 7:48 pm @ Seth Mnookin
The $8 billion to Cubs paid out to Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano make a couple of things clear:
* Despite all the talk about a new, smarter generation of GMs, there are still folks who are more than willing to shell out crazy amounts of money regardless of the long-term consequences.
* Coco Crisp’s three-year, $15.5 million contract extension (with an $8 million team option for 2010) is looking a lot more attractive. How attractive? Well, as Buster Olney points out, Carlos Lee, one of the remaining big-time free agents on the market, must be salivating at the prospect of an obscene payday (Lee is already said to have a five-year, $60 million deal on the table). From ages 24-26, Lee averaged (and I’m eyeballing this), a .275 average, a .345 OBP, and a .475 slugging percentage. If you take at face-value the notion that Coco was injured last year, his 24 and 25 year old seasons average out to somewhere around .298, .345, .450. That’s $7 million more a year for 25 points of slugging percentage. Let’s say Coco does end up being a bust; it still puts the Sox’s decision in much better perspective.
* Speaking of perspective, the WMP deal — while still, considering the dearth of good pitching (to say nothing of good two-tone mullets), an occasionally painful one — makes even more sense. Here’s a guy who has the potential to be an absolute monster who’s under the Sox’s control for two more years.
* All of which offers one more illustration of why it made sense to offer up that $51.1 million posting figure for Matsuzaka. The Sox have the revenue to spend a lot on payroll, but don’t want to shell out obscene amounts for free agents who want to be signing until they’re 52 years old. They do, however, want to spend that money on 26-year old studs.
* Finally, if the Sox were really thinking about J.D. Drew as a Trot replacement, that option just got a helluva lot more expensive. It’ll be interesting to see what happens here; overpaying on dollars and years for someone like Drew would seem to go against everything the Sox have been working towards as of late; on the other hand, maybe they can get Drew at a relative bargain because of his injury history.
September 15th, 2006 → 6:14 pm @ Seth Mnookin
The headline to Keith Law’s column on the woes of the Red Sox: “Prescription starts with more pitching.” (The full column’s only available to ESPN Insiders, but you don’t need to read it to get the point.)
Accompanying the piece, right next to a bit about how the Sox should play Wily Mo PeâˆšÂ±a as much as possible, is the following graphic:
Wily Mo PeâˆšÂ±a
Starting pitcher (Emphasis mine)
Boston Red Sox
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
72 .307 11 41 .348 .528
I hear he has a helluva curve.
August 29th, 2006 → 5:13 pm @ Seth Mnookin
August 29, 5:00 pm Red Sox press release
MANNY RAMIREZ AND WILY MO PENA TO RETURN TO BOSTON FOR FURTHER EXAMINATION
BOSTON, MA–Red Sox outfielders Manny Ramirez and Wily Mo Pena will return to Boston on Tuesday to undergo further examination by team Medical Director Dr. Thomas Gill.
Ramirez has appeared in just one of Bostonâ€šÃ„Ã´s last five games due to soreness in his right knee. Pena has missed the last three games due to soreness in his left wrist.
Both players are expected to be further examined on Wednesday.
August 14th, 2006 → 12:43 am @ Seth Mnookin
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.