For better or worse, Jeremy Peña will forever be associated with Carlos Correa, at least in the mind of Astros fans. The decision to let Correa walk in free agency thrust Peña into the starting role at shortstop following an impressive thirty-game performance in Triple-A last season, when the top prospect slashed .287/.346/.598 with a noticeable power improvement compared to past metrics. Through a combination of who Peña was replacing and his 2021 metrics, the rookie’s performance has been under a microscope since Opening Day.
Before I present any additional numbers, I want to caution the audience that some stats take longer to stabilize than others. For example, a hitter’s slugging percentage begins to stabilize when they reach roughly 320 at-bats. In Peña’s case, he is about 24 percent toward that threshold. On-base percentage is nearly 460 plate appearances. Isolated power is 160 at-bats. Depending on the metric we’re looking at, we have to remember the limitations of those numbers, especially in the early season. That said, we can look at trends and start to glean some insight into performance.
In Peña’s case as a hitter, his power truly stands out at this juncture. Of his 16 career hits, eight have gone for extra bases (three doubles, a triple, and four home runs). His 14.5 percent barrel rate is only second for the club compared to Yordan Alvarez at 17.6 percent. In fact, his 9.2 percent barrels per plate appearance rate is currently ranked 22nd out of all qualified hitters in 2022, tied with teammate Kyle Tucker. While a higher average exit velocity doesn’t necessarily translate into better results (see Martín Maldonado at 91.7 miles per hour), Peña’s 92 miles per hour average exit velocity is, once again, only second to Alvarez. Plus, the eye test confirms what we’re reading in the numbers, at least through the first 22 games of the season. Take, for example, this towering solo home run on April 19.
Thus far, Peña’s power has helped buoy his overall value as a hitter with a 115 wRC+ in 87 plate appearances. His first month as a Major Leaguer has gone relatively, considering the expectations placed on him. However, his batting profile does have some warts, specifically his higher than average tendency to chase and whiff at pitches. His ability to hit for contact will surely become a topic sooner or later. There is also the question of how opposing pitchers will adjust to him. Again, it is far too early in the season to worry that much, but there are trends to monitor. But the early returns have been positive, and while he probably won’t match Correa’s overall value, at least in the near term, Peña’s production has ensured the shortstop position isn’t a hindrance to the club.