In May, Jeremy Pena looked like a leading contender for AL Rookie of the Year. At the least he appeared to be a good bet to end up in the top three for that award. Fast forward to today, and he probably isn’t a favorite to receive top three recognition in the award voting. Good performances by other AL rookies only partly explains the decline in Pena’s chances at the award. The main reason is Jeremy’s poor offensive output in July and August.
Jeremy Pena wRC+ by Month
Mar/Apr 117 May 148 June 103 July 85 Aug 46
However, a little more than a month remains in the season. If Pena can post good offensive stats in September, I think his chances in the ROY Award voting will improve significantly.
In my view, WAR is probably the best metric for ROY because it includes both offensive and defensive value. Yes, I know some ROY voters won’t consult WAR stats in making their selection. But it’s probably the best measure we have to consider the players’ overall contribution. Fortunately, Pena’s excellent defensive contribution has allowed him to maintain a reasonable WAR value despite the plummeting offensive stats over the last two months. Let’s look at the WAR values as measured by Fangraphs (f-WAR) and Baseball Reference (b-WAR).
AL Rookie of the Year Candidates
J. Rodriguez 3.6
A. Rutschman 3.5
S. Kwan 2.9
J. Pena 2.3
B. Witt Jr. 1.9
J. Rodriguez 4.5
S. Kwan 3.8
A. Rutschman 3.7
J. Pena 3.7
B. Witt Jr. 0.7
Despite his offensive struggles this month, Pena falls just outside of the top 3 in f-WAR among AL rookies. Pena is tied for the No. 3 spot based on b-WAR. And, by the way, finishing in the top 3 for ROY would give the team a supplemental draft pick. Based on the WAR comparisons, Jeremy finishing among the top 3 for AL ROY is quite possible.
Of course, any kind of projection would also depend on how the four other rookie candidates perform in September. Fangraphs’ ROS (rest of season) projections for Pena suggest that he is likely to add 0.4 - 0.5 WAR during September. If WAR is used as the metric, whether that is sufficient to put Pena in the top 3 for ROY would partly depend on whether one prefers f-WAR or b-WAR. (The latter is more favorable to Pena.)
If Pena could finish September with excellent offense, it’s possible that he could add 1 win or more of WAR during the month. That would go a long way toward catapulting Pena into contention for the 1 or 2 slot in the ROY. That would likely require Pena to post a monthly offense of 115 - 120 in wRC+. Given his August stats, that may seem unlikely. But Jeremy achieved that level of offense during the first half of the season (117 wRC+). All he has to do is find the right adjustments to achieve his previous offensive output.
Beyond the implication for future awards, if Pena can finish September with an offensive flourish, it would put the Astros in a better position going into the playoffs. During the first half of the season, Pena was an important part of the Astros’ offense, and he needs to return to that form in time for the playoffs.