Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Francisco Pena
Season stats: 58 G, 142 PA, 10 R, 27 H, 3 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB, 6 BB, 43 K, .203/.239/.271, 40 OPS+, -1.0 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Goat 1
Overall grade: C
Positives: Played more than most Cardinal backups have played in the past decade….more than doubled his total career games played, having just 28 before this season….seemed to have the Yadier Molina Seal of Approval, which likely played a role in him getting more time than Carson Kelly when Yadi was out with his significant injury….had back-to-back three hit games against the Phillies in May and had another one two weeks later against the Brewers….15 of his 27 hits came in May, when he hit .254….hit .235 against righties but his home runs were evenly split….had a .545 OPS at home, which was much better than his road mark….went 1-for-4 as a pinch-hitter….had a .558 OPS on the first pitch….hit best when the count was even (.237)….had a .320 average when there were no outs in an inning, which was remarkably the largest chunk of his plate appearances (though just barely)….had a .597 OPS in low leverage situations….had a .790 OPS in the second inning….both his home runs came off of relievers….had a .649 OPS against finesse pitchers….also had a .693 OPS against groundball hitters….hit .308 against the Brewers….with those crazy games, wound up with a 1.231 OPS in four games (three starts) against the Phillies.
Negatives: Overall, fit nicely in the Tony Cruz/Gerald Laird category of people that have backed up Yadi….had a total of 35 plate appearances in the second half of the season….made one start in August (and, in five outings, totaled four plate appearances), which means that he just barely played more than you and I….hit .114 against left-handers….hit .180 with a .470 OPS away from Busch….went 1-19 in June….hit .071 batting in the seventh slot….hit .167 when he was ahead in the count….had a .413 OPS with runners in scoring position….had a .309 OPS in high leverage situations….hit .056 in seven games–six starts–against the Pirates….allowed 20 wild pitches in 56 games (30 starts)….fourteen of fifteen baserunners were successful.
Overview: Do you remember, back in the spring, when Kelly struggled and somehow Pena emerged as the most likely backup catcher? And when the Cardinals waived Breyvic Valera (which, granted, no big shakes) to make room for him on the 40-man? And we said, like that dog sitting in the fire, “This is fine. Kelly wouldn’t play behind Molina anyway and if Yadi gets hurt for any length of time, Kelly will get the callup and starting nod.” How sweetly naive we were. Kelly did get called up when Jordan Hicks and Kris Bryant teamed up to take out Molina for a while, and while he didn’t grab the job with both hands, he didn’t get much of a chance. Meanwhile Pena has those games against the Phillies and somehow gets to be the starter the rest of the way until Molina heals up.
It really doesn’t make any sense while the Cardinals didn’t commit to Kelly, though there’s no doubt that the organization as a whole has had issues with that. (It can’t even be assigned completely to the former manager, given his use in September, but we’ve already talked about Kelly.) The Cardinals should just be thankful that Yadier Molina trains for 174 games, because when he missed a month that meant he could basically play every day from when he returned, keeping Pena from causing too much more damage. I appreciate his bloodline, I appreciate that he accepted his role well, but he just didn’t bring a lot to the table.
Outlook: Pena was waived and elected to go to free agency rather than be assigned to Memphis. It’s on the edge of possibility that the Cardinals sign him to a minor league deal around the time spring training begins, but since they just signed Joe Hudson and Jose Godoy to that sort of minor league deal, it feels much more likely that they’ve decided to part ways. Pena will have to hope to latch on with that minor league deal somewhere else and, with his experience and pedigree, probably will, even if he doesn’t make it back to the majors.