Carlos Pena‘s bat and clubhouse leadership will bring a big presence to the 2012 Rays. But there could be another reason that the signing of Carlos Pena will be vital to the Rays success. As we all know, Evan Longoria‘s 2011 season was not quite up to his par. It was still a great season, but it did not quite live up to the high expectations everyone had for him after his first three seasons. Many attributed that to nagging injuries. I have another explanation.
Most of last season, Longo did not have a bona-fide clean-up hitter hitting behind him. Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman are great hitters, but they aren’t exactly the feared power hitters you would want batting fourth. With Pena entered into the equation, the Rays now have a feared hitter to go behind Longoria.
Pena has the chance to provide Longoria with the needed protection to get him pitches to hit. Last year, pitchers could pitch to the corners with Longo because they knew they had a greater chance of retiring the guy behind him than Longo. They could give him pitches out of the zone and not worry if they walked him. Longo, therefore, found himself chasing more bad pitches, leading to his decreased average.
Pena, unlike Zobrist and Kotchman, will strike more fear in pitchers. Pena always has that chance to go deep. Pitchers may give Longo more pitches to hit in the hopes of getting him to ground or fly out so they can avoid Carlos Pena. Pena’s presence in the order alone may allow Longo to see more pitches in the zone, and, most likely, more pitches to hit.
Some people believe the protection theory is a myth. They say that it doesn’t matter who is hitting behind your great hitter, they will still hit. Longo, to an extent, did that. He put up 31 homers, just about what you would expect from him entering last season. But his average dropped by 50 points from 2010. Sure, injuries could have been a factor. But that doesn’t explain how it dropped by 50 points while still hitting 31 homers.
The numbers just show that Longoria was able to capitalize on the good pitches he got last season. He seemed to be chasing and making more bad swings last year than he ever had before. But when a pitch was in his power zones, he made the pitcher pay. Just look at his previous three seasons, all of which he had Carlos Pena batting behind him. In 2010, Longo didn’t quite have the power numbers at 22 homers, but hit .294. In 2009, his first full season in the Big Leagues, Longo hit .281 with 33 homers. In 2008, he hit .272 with 27 homers. And he only played in 122 games.
To me, those numbers clearly show that Pena’s presence has a big effect on Longo’s production. I would expect Evan Longoria to have a bounce back season this year. He will be healthy, but he will also have Carlos Pena back behind him to give him some protection. Longo will not have to see as many bad pitches because pitchers will be more likely to attack the zone, trying to get Longo out. Longo will be able to wait for the pitcher to miss their mark so they can make them pay. If this is true and Pena is the key to Evan Longoria’s success, Longo could be on his way to an MVP season. Just look what he did in 2009. Or 2010.