Trivia Time! Who pitched more innings in 2010; Tony Pena or Jake Peavy??? The answer….Jake Peavy…..but it was close!
1/3 of the way through this season wrap-up of Tony Pena, I’ll go down with an injury and be replaced in a pinch by Tony Pena
Stat Line: 100.2 IP, 5.10 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 108 H, 10 HR, 56 (5.01 K/9 IP), 45 BB (4.02 BB/9 IP), 4.63 FIP, 0.2 WAR
What did we expect?: Hard to say what you “expect” from good
stuff/no control relievers entering their 4th “maybe this is the year he
figures it all out” season in a row.
“Got better as the season went along last year after
initially looking like a long shot to throw a strike in a major league
game after coming over in July. Becomes even more puzzling when you
remember that the Sox dealt their top 1st Base prospect for him.”
Yes, yes, Brandon Allen struck out 20 times in 45 at-bats this season,
so maybe he’s not the next Fred McGriff just yet, but that wasn’t the
most incorrect thing I put in the season preview.
“He can eat some innings, but is definitely the
type you need to pull right away if he doesn’t have it.”
After coming over as a bullpen shot in the arm for a team that had no
business thinking playoffs anyway in ’09, Tony showed an alarming
tendency to have outings where he breezed through an inning or two, and
outings where he couldn’t get within 30 inches of the strike zone on
alternating nights. With his stuff, it wasn’t inconceivable that he
might emerge as the right-handed set-up man of choice in ’10, but neither was
an 11.00 ERA by the end of May and a demotion to Charlotte…or
Birmingham…or the White Sox video department.
The result: Perhaps one of the wackier seasons ever recorded. With Putz somewhat buried in an attempt to slowly bring along his repaired elbow, Santos still figuring out how to put on his glove, and the other option being Scott Linebrink, the right-handed set-up job seemed like Pena’s to lose, but by mid-June he was fairly well entrenched as the long reliever–the mop-up guy, the D.J. Carrasco, the ‘whatever the hell way they were using Henry Rowengartner in ‘Rookie of the Year.'”
As much as he seemed initially opposed to the role, it turned out to be his salvation, as Tony posted a 3.93 ERA in all outings over 2 innings, and a less desirable 7.59 ERA in all appearances 2 frames and shorter. In absorbing 100.2 of some of the least desirable innings on the season, Pena earned himself certified ‘bullpen hero’ status, which was buffeted by a couple of memorable rescues; 4 shutout innings in a 5-4 win over Cleveland after Mark Buehrle was ejected by Joe West, 3 innings of shutout ball after a disastrous Buehrle start during a 8-7 comeback win versus the Indians that started the June hot streak, and 4.1 innings of one-run ball after Jake Peavy’s season injury hit in a 4-1 win,
Anyone’s going to get a little irrational about the person who saved them when they were the most vulnerable, so perhaps the White Sox can be forgiven for getting wrapped up in a ‘maybe Tony should start!’ fever after Pena was convincingly not terrible in three emergency starts. A disastrous final outing seems to have snuffed this movement.
What made the Tony Pena season particularly bizarre is that all this hubbub emerged around him while he put up the worst stats since the beginning of his career. Even when he succeeded, he did so in unimpressive fashion. His control was atrocious, the bases teemed with runners constantly, and his strikeout totals made him look like Mark Buerhle….if Buehrle were blindfolded and made to pitch barefoot while standing on mousetraps. Not since Cal Eldred has a White Sox pitcher been so revered for such a middling quality of performance.
Love him or leave him?: Tony is under organizational control for another two seasons, and at the very least has proven himself to be versatile. With all the turnover that could occur in the bullpen, locking in the “crap hits the fan” guy in the bullpen sooner than later seems prudent. But with a $1.2 million salary that will see a raise in arbitration, Tony’s a little pricey for a guy with an ERA over 5.00.
There’s a difference between a pitcher who serves an important role and a pitcher who is valuable. Pena definitely earned a soft spot in the hearts of White Sox fans for taking the ball when ‘forfeit’ seemed like an equally viable option, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be assumed that he filled this role better than any other player ever could. His statistics simply don’t justify his salary. Strikeouts, ERA, wins above replacement, are qualities that teams pay should money for. Willingness and adaptability can be coached….unless they can’t….and you have a crappy coach. Say, did you hear Jerry Manuel got fired the other day?…
I would imagine that Pena’s self-sacrificing performance in 2010 earned him the esteem with management necessary to get his arbitration raise picked up, and that’s fine. He’s a useful and versatile player….can we just kill the bullpen MVP talk for a while, please? Matt Thornton’s too polite of a guy to complain about how ridiculous that is.