Carlos Pena signed a 1-year, $10 million contract with the Cubs last offseason. We knew a few things about Pena: he wasn’t going to hit for average, he would take a lot of walks and have a solid OBP and he would hit for some power. The league batting average last year was .255 and Pena hit .225. Pena’s OBP was .357 while the league average was .321. He slugged .462 and the league slugged .399. He was exactly the player we expected on offense.
Pena’s average projection entering the season was a .221/.349/.475 batting line. He was projected to have a .357 wOBA. Pena’s batting average was nearly identical to his projection, but batting average is a useless statistic when evaluating a player. His OBP was slightly higher while his slugging was slightly less. Ever since I’ve been posting average projections I don’t think there has been a player other than Pena who hit almost exactly as projected in all three rate stats. Because the OBP and SLG are almost identical, we know the wOBA is likely to be quite similar to the .357 projection. It was actually .354.
His offensive WAR projection was 2.7. His offensive fWAR and rWAR last year was 2.7. He only needed a little more than 2 wins to be worth the money and he was worth slightly more than he was paid. It wasn’t easy. He got off to a horrible start.
In 77 April plate appearances he hit a grand total of 0 home runs. Even worse than that was that he struckout in 30% of his plate appearances. He batted .159/.289/.175 (good for a .231 wOBA). Not only did he not have any home runs, he had only 1 extra base hit.
He would hit 17 home runs the next 2 months and batted .243/.356/.557. After April he would have 57 extra base hits and in those 5 months he hit .235/.367/.505. He would also walk 101 times in 2011, which was 23.8% of all the Cubs walks last year. As a team they walked only 425 times. That was better than only the Astros 401 walks. Other than Carlos Pena, the Cubs were easily the least patient team in baseball last season.
Considering the awful month to begin the season, Pena had a damn good season last year. The Cubs will miss his patience, but more importantly than that, they’re going to miss a lot of the patience they had last season.
Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez and Pena combined to make 25.7% of the Cubs plate appearances in 2011, but made up 44.7% of the team walks. Nearly half of the walks the Cubs saw last year are by players no longer with the team. As a team the Cubs only had a 6.9% walk rate. Take away Fukudome, Ramirez and Pena and the rest of the team had a 5.2% walk rate.
The Astros were a league worst 6.5% last year. I looked back through 2000 and only 1 team was below a 6.3% walk rate (2001 Tigers, 6.1%). A few more teams were at 6.4% and 6.5%, but most of the worst walk rates were even higher than that. The Tigers won 66 games in 2001. Obviously the Cubs have or will have replacements for the players they lost, but none of them are going to have the patience that Pena and Fukudome had.
Ramirez had an 8.2% walk rate since 2007. Ian Stewart‘s career walk rate is 10.3%. If Ian Stewart had the same number of PA that Ramirez had last year, he’d have walked 64 times. Ramirez walked 43 times. This is the one spot the Cubs have improved their patience at. Fukudome walked in 13.3% of his PA last season. David DeJesus has walked in 8.6% of his PA since 2007. Fukudome was traded midway throught he season so we’re interested in how much the RF as a whole walked last year. That was 8.7%. They don’t lose or add anything at that position. Pena walked in 16.7% of his PA last year. The Cubs don’t yet have a 1st baseman other than Bryan LaHair so let’s use his projected total. He’s projected to walk in 8.7% of his PA according to CAIRO. That’s 52 walks over the same number of PA as Pena.
The group as a whole is expected to have about 35 fewer walks than the guys they’re replacing. This comes out to about a 6.3% team walk rate. It’s important to note that these numbers are only an estimation. Please don’t quote these numbers.
Depending on who the Cubs add at 1st base, the 2012 Cubs could have one of the two or three worst walk rates since 2000. I’m fairly confident in saying right now that the Cubs will have the worst walk rate in MLB next year. And it’s not like they have a lot of power (they did lose Ramirez and Pena!), or are very good at defense or at running the bases. To be quite honest, I remain very surprised the new front office has spoken so much about the need for pitching when the position players are clearly the weakest part of this team now and in the near future.