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Jeremy Peña’s Improved Plate Discipline

Mar 17, 2023

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Jeremy Peña's rookie season was a success for all intents and purposes. Not only did Peña's defense match his reputation, he was also a slightly above-average hitter for the season. Sure, there were peaks and valleys in his production, specifically at the plate, but, according to FanGraphs' version of WAR, the World Series MVP was worth about 3.4 wins. That was a massive win for a club that allowed Carlos Correa to walk away in free agency.

Today, I want to concentrate a bit on Peña as a hitter in 2023, as his continued progress will ultimately determine his ceiling as a player. Considering his fielding ability, the 25-year-old shortstop possesses an already high floor. Even if he hits slightly below average for a prolonged period, that glove goes a long way toward establishing his value. But if his bat, specifically in plate discipline, continues to improve, Peña's offensive value will only rise.

One of my primary criticisms about Peña as a hitter last season centered specifically on his ability to get on base, an old adage of the sabermetric movement. Of all qualified hitters last season, Peña posted the tenth-lowest on-base percentage (.289) in 2022. While a low on-base percentage doesn't preclude a hitter from being productive, a rate higher than .289 certainly helps. You likely already know that much, but I felt it was important to reiterate. It wasn't exactly an accident that Peña's overall production as a hitter improved when his on-base rate exceeded .300.

We all know by now that Peña adjusted his leg kick late last season and his numbers since have trended upward. But that isn't the only thing that has changed. Whether directly or indirectly related to his leg kick adjustment, Peña's plate discipline numbers have also steadily improved. We’re still only in early June, so take the figures below with a grain of salt, but I like the direction of this trend compared to last season.

In short, Peña is swinging less in general, especially on breaking and offspeed pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. He has become a bit more selective. Whiff and strikeout rates are also down while his contact rates have risen. It isn't a coincidence that Peña's on-base percentage is currently situated at .310. This is the trend I hoped to see from Peña entering the season and it is nice to see that actually materialize. While a slightly improved walk rate (5.3%) is also responsible for this increased OBP, his swing decisions are more optimal and have led to additional contact. While his overall wRC+ (106) isn't far different than his 102 mark from last season, it is encouraging to see that improved plate discipline is at least manifesting in a way that could help raise his offensive ceiling.

Considering the state of the lineup outside of the top hitters, it has become increasingly important that Peña at least maintains an average to slightly above-average bat. He has proven capable to make the necessary adjustments and those decisions continue to bear fruit. If these improved plate discipline trends hold throughout the entire season, I feel confident in stating that Peña's offensive value ought to improve, especially with the power threat he presents. For a lineup that needs as much production as possible, Peña's bat could help alleviate the struggles of others.

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