Before we get started, I want to point out that I crushed with my Starting Nine World Series Prediction. Astros in 6? Check. But lose Game 1? Check. Altuve bounceback? Check. Houston pitching too deep to overcome over in a 7 game series? Check. Hatter sings his own praises about a rather obvious series prediction? Check.
A Tale of Two Shortstops
This is a tale of two rookie shortstops in 2022.
See if you can spot the difference:
2022 Rookie Shortstop Comparison
|Name||Bobby Witt, Jr.||Jeremy Pena|
|Name||Bobby Witt, Jr.||Jeremy Pena|
You can’t. Jeremy Pena and Bobby Witt, Jr. had nearly identical seasons at the plate. They were twins. Until you look at their season bWARs:
- Bobby Witt, Jr: 0.9 bWAR
- Jeremy Pena: 4.8 bWAR
Now they seem more like twins of the Schwarzenegger and Devito variety. That’s nearly a 4 win difference between the two. Why such a discrepancy?
Pena was worth 15 runs from fielding for a dWAR of 2.5. In contrast, Witt was “worth” -23 runs from fielding for a dWAR of -1.7.
Fangraphs has Pena and Witt a little closer in overall fWAR (3.4 to 2.3) , but it’s not from an appreciable increase in valuation of Witt’s glove. Witt rated -4.3 Def compared to Pena’s +10 Def. (The reason overall fWAR is a bit closer is because Fangraphs rates Witt’s Off a little higher, likely due to his 30 SB and baserunning.)
In fact, Jeremy Pena ranked first among all AL shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved with 15.
The difference between Bobby Witt and Jeremy Pena in 2022 is the difference between having a poor fielder and having a Gold Glove at the second most important defensive position (apart from pitcher.)
Man Kid with the Golden Glove
Jeremy Pena winning the Gold Glove at shortstop as rookie is nothing short of astounding. For context, Gold Gloves have been awarded annually since 1957. In all that time, rookies have won the award at their position a total of TWELVE times coming into 2022.
- Frank Malzone, 3B - 1957
- Ken Hubbs, 2B - 1962
- Tommie Agee, OF - 1966
- Johnny Bench, C - 1968
- Carlton Fisk, C - 1972
- Fred Lynn, OF - 1975
- Sandy Alomar Jr., C - 1990
- Charles Johnson, C - 1995
- Ichiro, OF - 2001
- Nolan Arenado, 3B - 2013
- Evan White, 1B - 2020
- Luis Robert, OF - 2020
It is incredibly difficult for a rookie to win a Gold Glove, because the award is voted on by players and managers, so a lot of it is based on reputation. The kind of reputation that gets Rafael Palmeiro the 1999 Gold Glove for first base, despite only starting 28 games at first base. And it’s really hard for rookies to have that kind of reputation to boost their case to those voters; they just haven’t been in the league that long.
White and Robert’s Gold Gloves are the exceptions to this. In the 60-game pandemic shortened 2020 season, Gold Gloves were awarded solely on SABR Defensive Index and not by voting. (A curious decision to employ this method in the shortest season as defensive metrics usually take a long time to garner any significance.)
So, really, players and managers had voted a rookie in as a Gold Glove just 10 times before this season.
Brendan Donovan joins this list in 2022 winning the inaugural Gold Glove for an NL utility player. Jeremy Pena becomes the first shortstop to ever win the Gold Glove as a rookie.
And yes, defensive metrics support the selection of Pena. But the takeaway here is not just that Pena had great defense in 2022. It’s that players and managers were talking about it enough that he could even win the Gold Glove to begin with.
PeñaMania (Move Over, CorreaCrazy?)
During the World Series, I mused to a friend that it seemed incredible that the Astros had lost a Gold Glove winning postseason hero in Carlos Correa, only to replace him with... another Gold Glove winning postseason hero in Jeremy Pena. You’d think they grow them on trees in Houston. (Must be the annual floods that makes the soil so rich.)
I had a lot of fun with it during Pena’s scorching hot May, especially when I realized that every single Jackson 5 song seemed to be written about the Correa-Jose Altuve-Pena “throw-mance” triangle.
Oh, darlin', I was blind to let you go— mhatter106 (@mhatter106) April 9, 2022
(let you go, baby)
But now since I see you in his arms
(I want you back) pic.twitter.com/8jEt2TPEg0
Don't you know I sit around— mhatter106 (@mhatter106) May 10, 2022
With my head hanging down
And I wonder who's lovin' you pic.twitter.com/ISwL24nmXX
After a postseason that saw Jeremy win both the ALCS and World Series MVPs, PeñaMania came into full swing in Houston, and rightly so.
But let’s pump the brakes on the “Who needs Carlos Correa?” takes.
Who needs Carlos Correa? EVERY Major League Baseball team needs Carlos Correa.
Jeremy Pena is a very good and solid player, but Carlos Correa is a top 10 player in the game today, at minimum. He is the prize free agent of this offseason, projecting to have more value over the next few years than the presumptive 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. And every team needs that.
But Carlos was injured! He was injured during the first Twins-Astros series in 2022! Isn’t that always the story with him? Okay, but the rest of the year he was healthy. In fact, Correa played more games in 2022 than Pena did.
As hot as Pena was in the postseason, he was also that hot early on in the season in May, and he finished 2022 with a 102 wRC+ and 101 OPS+. He was a league average hitter. Correa in contrast posted a 140 wRC+ and OPS+. Correa’s worst offensive season in the majors (not including the 60 game 2020) was 2018 and his production that year was about the same as Pena in his rookie season.
Pena is a good candidate to improve. He was just a rookie in 2022, after all. But his ceiling is not Carlos Correa’s ceiling and it never was. For all the time Correa has missed to injury, he still has a career bWAR of 39.5 through his age 27 season.
Pena’s value lies in the fact that even though Correa was better in 2022 (5.4 bWAR to 4.8), Pena produced while making $700,000 as opposed to $35.1 million.
Houston should be thrilled to have Pena, but Gold Glove, and postseason MVPs aside, Pena is not Correa. We knew that going into 2022, and we tempered our expectations. Now that he’s exceeded them, it is certainly reasonable to adjust our expectations for 2023, just not to Correa levels.
A Farewell to Arms
I’m more than fine letting Justin Verlander walk. I love everything he has done in an Astros uniform. In his 3 full seasons, he had 3 Cy Young worthy campaigns.
But this team has Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, and Hunter Brown under team control through 2026 at minimum. (And that’s to say nothing of the fact that Forrest Whitley projects to finally make his MLB debut next year.) If Verlander hadn’t just spent the last 5+ years here, would Astros fans be clamoring that this team needs to go out and sign the high profile starting pitcher?
“Well, all of Verlander’s stuff is already here,” is not a particularly compelling reason to sign a pitcher who is going to use Max Scherzer’s 3 year/$130 million deal as his benchmark.
Particularly one that didn’t learn to be a good teammate until this past year.
Verlander may not be the best fit for the 2023 team anyways. The Astros employed a six-man rotation for much of 2022, partly because the lockout compressed the schedule, so there were less off days. But also to alleviate the burden on Verlander, who was coming back from Tommy John surgery.
With so many quality starting arms, it would make sense to continue a six man rotation so that they can all develop and stay stretched out. Verlander has stated, however, that he would prefer to go back to a five-man rotation.
So I thank you, Justin Verlander, and I mean it with all sincerity, that I hope you have more success in the GOAT-athlete and supermodel marriage department than Tom and Gisele.
The Legacy of James Click
It’s unfortunate to see James Click go. Front office turnover during periods of success always make me nervous, but this isn’t the end of the world. I think Click did a decent job, but the narrative of “James Click is being let go after he just won the Astros a championship” irks me.
Certainly, Click contributed, but this was far more Jeff Luhnow’s championship than Click’s. Every starting pitcher in the regular season and postseason was brought to the organization by Luhnow except for Jake Odorizzi. Every player who took an at-bat in the postseason was brought to the organization by Luhnow except Altuve (who predates Luhnow), Trey Mancini, and Christian Vazquez.
This was essentially Luhnow’s 2nd championship and 4th pennant.
Click deserves credit for building the 2022 Astros’ legendary bullpen. But what else are we lamenting losing? It’s too early to judge any of his 3 draft classes. None of them have yet made their major league debut, and Click was working at a disadvantage in 2020 and 2021 without first or second round picks and limited pool money.
So what are the highlights of Click’s tenure? Ken Rosenthal suggests that the decisions to re-sign Brantley and Verlander were driven by Crane himself. The Yuli Gurriel extension before he won a batting title and Gold Glove was also Crane’s doing. The reported 6 year $210 offer to Correa reportedly came from Crane as well. Even per the Houston Chronicle, while Click oversaw the contract extensions for Lance McCullers, Ryan Pressly and Yordan Alvarez, it was with heavy influence from Crane.
What does that leave? The Pedro Baez signing? The Jake Odorizzi signing? Niko Goodrum, perhaps? The Yimi Garcia trade? The most notable moves from Click’s time in Houston so far are his trade of Myles Straw for Phil Maton and Yainer Diaz, and his trade of Abraham Toro and Joe Smith for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero. These were solid moves, certainly, the former moreso because it opened up playing time for Chas McCormick, but they’re not the kind of amazing transactions that leave me wondering how anyone could let a GM like this go.
Again, I don’t think Click did a bad job. He did well. Perhaps even better than well once we see how his draft picks develop. But I get the sense that he ran the Astros like he would have run the Rays, and Crane had to constantly remind him that he wasn’t in Tampa anymore. Crane is willing to spend, as long as it’s wisely.
Crane and Click weren’t a match, and that’s fine. But to point to a championship won by a roster that Jeff Luhnow largely constructed, and use that as a mandate to keep Click seems foolish.
If anything, the 2022 World Series title makes the 2020 dismissal of Luhnow look more absurd than the 2022 dismissal of Click.
This League Has Been Turned Upside Down!
For 100 years, the Yankees owned the AL. They were the kings, and they had 40 pennants over a century to prove it.
Then in 2013, the Astros came into the league, like a new inmate looking to set the tone in a prison.
“Who is the biggest and baddest guy in this joint?” they asked.
“Those guys,” responded every other AL team, pointing to the Yankees.
And then the Astros proceeded to beat the crap out of them. And again. And again. And again.
The Astros came into the AL as a 100 loss team just 10 years ago. Since then, they have made the postseason 7 times, the ALCS 6 times, won 4 pennants and 2 World Series. The Yankees have been knocked out of the postseason 4 times at the hands of the Astros.
They have played in 92 postseason games and won 56 of them. That’s almost a 100 win pace in the postseason.
After seeing what the Houston Astros have done in the AL these past 10 years, and remembering the trepidation fans had when the team was going to switch leagues, I think I speak for all Astros fans when I say “We should have done this years ago!”
The coup has been swift. All hail the new kings, the Houston Astros.