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Jeremy Peña’s first 45 games, his outstanding WAR, and his case for Rookie of the Year

After two months in the Majors, Jeremy Peña has done an excellent job for the Astros. Let’s take a look at it.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s forget Jeremy Peña is Carlos Correa’s replacement, and there was a void-filling scenario in the environment. Let’s focus on the fact that he’s a 24-year-old rookie serving as the everyday shortstop of a team that only takes winning and aims at the World Series season after season – way different from being the regular shortstop of, say, the Pirates or the Reds.

Having said that, Peña has been outstanding for the Astros. Before telling you guys an incredible stat, let’s start with the basics. Peña got to Saturday with 45 MLB games under his belt and 45 hits, seven doubles, a triple, and eight home runs. In addition, he’s plated 23 runs and scored 23 as well, along with three steals in three attempts and a .280/.330/.484 slash line plus a .814 OPS.

Among AL rookies, Peña is first in home runs, second in hits and extra-base hits (16) and third in runs batted in, OPS, and total bases (78). Lastly, he’s fifth in games. So far, Peña’s biggest competitors for the Rookie of the Year award seem to be Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr. and Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez.

But there’s a hidden factor in the traditional stats that helps Peña have an edge above any other rookie in the American League and the National League. It’s his fielding.

According to FanGraphs’ Defense stat –which measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average—, Peña ranks first in the MLB among all major leaguers with a 7.7 register. There are only three players with a 7-plus mark: Peña, Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop (7.3), and Athletics’ Sean Murphy (7.2).

Also, Peña has the third-highest number in runs saved in the Bigs (7) and the second-highest mark in outs above average (7, tied with Rays’ Brett Phillips) according to Statcast. As if it wasn’t enough, Peña combines all his tools with a pretty good speed on the basepaths: 29.4 feet per second, the seventh-best register in the MLB, and the third-best among all shortstops.

But the stat I mentioned above that would leave you shocked is WAR. According to Baseball-Reference, Peña is sixth in wins above replacement in the Bigs with 2.5 wins, leading all rookies and tied with Red Sox’s Rafael Devers, Mariners’ JP Crawford, and none other than Angels’ Mike Trout.

Baseball-Reference

Better yet, Peña’s 2.5 ranks fourth in WAR when it comes to position players, only behind Mariners’ Ty France, Guardians’ José Ramírez, and Yankees’ Aaron Judge. Regarding defensive WAR, Peña is the second most valuable player in the Majors (1.0), behind only Orioles’ Jorge Mateo (1.4).

At this point of the season, Peña is a clear member of the top three candidates for the Rookie of the Year award. It remains to be seen how the 24-year-old keeps adjusting to the league and whether he can stay productive all year long. But so far, so good for Peña.