On the scale of exciting Hot Stove News, the Giants signing Tony Pena Jr. to a minor league deal probably ranks near the bottom of anyone’s list. Pena Jr., the son of former baseball player Tony Pena, has spent parts of 4 seasons in the majors as a shortstop. Unfortunately for Pena, his career as a position player is in the past as the Royals transitioned him to the mound halfway through the 2009 season. As a shortstop, Pena has been a fantastic defender — rating at +15 runs per UZR/150 — but, to put it mildly, he’s never been able to hit. Over 870 career plate appearances the newly converted pitcher owns a .237 wOBA. That’s a huge offensive sinkhole to crawl out of even if you’re an amazing defender at your position. In 2007, Pena was worth 1.6 wins due mostly to an amazing +17 run defensive season at SS. Since ’07, he’s been worth -1.3 and -0.8 wins.
The Royals, desperate to extract any sort of value from Pena, converted him to the mound and the initial results are encouraging. In a scant 19.1 IP across three levels (most of which were in A-ball) Pena struck out 18 hitters, walked 6, and gave up 14 hits while posting an ERA of 2.33.
Thankfully for us, there is a blip of pitching data on Pena already at the major league level. The Royals let him pitch the 9th inning of 19-4 blowout against the Detroit Tigers in 2008. There’s nothing better than watching position players pitch in baseball during blowouts, but little did Pena know that taking the mound would be a sign of things to come for his career in baseball. The all-seeing eye of PFX captured Pena’s stuff on that night.
Let’s see what he was throwing. First, here’s the typical vertical x horizontal breakplot that’s customary of PFX analysis.
On the night Pena threw 12 pitches (8 went for strikes). From the above plot, you can see what Pena was throwing. 8 of his pitches appear to be fastballs. Pitches in the upper left of the graph indicate heaters — they have little vertical movement and run horizontally. In fact, a few of Pena’s fastballs were getting some nice horizontal movement. If I had to guess, I would guess that he was throwing a 2-seamer of some sort because of the movement. The other 4 pitches appear to be of the slider/curve variety.
Here’s the velocity by pitch in his only MLB appearance.
If you’re looking to convert a position player into a pitcher you would do well to look at most shortstops. On average, I would say that most non-Eckstein shortstops have pretty solid throwing arms. Pena’s fastball worked in the 90-91 mph range and his slider/curve sat around 75 mph. Click here for a video of Pena pitching the KC-DET blowout. From the video you can see that Pena throws in side-arm motion. With a slightly funky delivery, a 90mph 2-seam fastball, and a developing breaking pitch, you can see the makings of a bullpen pitcher. Pena is an interesting pick-up for the Giants and if he can develop/hone a secondary pitch, he might see some time in the majors this season. Of course, we can’t know much about Pena the pitcher from just one outing in ’08, but he’s got some of the tools needed to succeed as a reliever.
And, how cool would it be to see Pena come in from the bullpen to play a few innings at SS in a blowout? In terms of roster construction, having a back-up SS that can also pitch has to have some advantages (even if they are small). Maybe it’s time the Giants did the same thing with Brian Bocock?