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Carlos Pena: 2011 Fantasy Sleeper

Two major power hitters hit below the Mendoza line last year—Carlos Pena (.196) and Mark Reynolds (.198)—and I’m here to tell you that at least one of them (it’s the one moving away from the AL East) is going to have a bounce back year.

That’s right, the move over to the National League isn’t only beneficial to pitchers.

Pena has always brought the power ever since the Tampa Bay Rays gave him a shot in 2007. He went on to hit 46 home runs—and even hit a respectable .282–but pitchers quickly figured him out, especially the left-handers. He has still averaged 33 home runs over the last three years, but his batting average (.224) has suffered.

Pena’s inability to hit left-handed pitching has been weighing on his fantasy value for years, but his move out of the AL East, which boasts some of the top lefties in the game, could mean an improvement in the batting average category. Of course, improving on .196 isn’t the hardest accomplishment in the world.

A quick look at his splits:

vs. Lefties: 35.2 K% | 10.5 BB% | .318 OBP | .222 ISO | .220 AVG

vs. Righties: 29.6 K% | 14.9 BB% | .367 OBP | .262 ISO | .250 AVG

Playing in the AL East, Pena has had the misfortune of facing two of the best lefties in the game (C.C. Sabathia and Jon Lester) and two up-and-coming southpaw aces (Rickey Romero and Brian Matusz). In 86 career at-bats against these pitchers, Pena has managed seven home runs, while posting a triple slash line of just .186/.314/.453.

Now, he hasn’t faced the NL Central enough to give us a good idea if he’ll fare any better, but the left-handed pitchers aren’t quite as impressive. It’s a list headed by Wandy Rodriguez that also includes J.A. Happ, Randy Wolf, Jaime Garcia and Paul Maholm. Meh.

We won’t see Pena hit .282 ever again, but even an improvement to the .240-.250 range would be a huge help. He had an unusual year last season as he struggled against both righties and lefties and his 44.9 GB% was easily his highest in any full season of his career. Against right-handed pitchers, Pena hit ground balls 44.7 percent of the time, which is a lot more than his average of 31.6 percent from 2007-2009. If he can correct this problem against right-handed pitching you can expect a nice spike in his home run production. It also doesn’t hurt that Wrigley Field has consistently outranked Tropicana Field in ESPN’s park factors for home runs—and by a large margin most years.

It’s clear that Pena’s underwhelming performance in 2010 left much to be desired for fantasy baseball owners, but leaving the AL East could bring back some of the magic Pena possessed in his 46-home run season in 2007.

2011 Fantasy Projection

.243 | 81 R | 36 HR | 95 RBI | 2 SB

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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