Fantasy Baseball: Jeremy Peña, freshman of interest

·3-min read

There were eight baseball games Monday. There wasn’t much by way of offense. The 16 teams collectively scored 38 runs.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Welcome to baseball in 2022, where the pitchers are fire-breathing dragons, and the hitters accept that rallies are hard to come by — so you might as well swing for the fences most of the time, hope you run into one.

The MLB batting average is .232 this year, lowest in history (the second-worst average came in 1968, Year of the Pitcher — when batters hit .237). Teams are averaging 4.04 runs a game this season, and while some of that ties into the wonky weather of April — warm weather, please save us — it’s also the lowest number since the 1981 strike season.

Geesh. Thank goodness the pitchers aren't still batting in the National League.

Baseball’s navigating towards some kind of inflection point. Perhaps changing the shifting rules can help offense in future seasons; I’m all for data-driven smart teams, but there can be collateral damage to strategic optimization. Strike-zone reform is a good idea, too — MLB needs to think about adjusting the strike zone, and perhaps automating the judging of pitches (no one wants more Angel Hernandez in their life).

Some people I greatly respect — start with my friend Joe Sheehan — think it's time for the mound to move further from the plate. Again, it’s just so hard to hit the baseball these days.

We’ll see plenty of experimenting in the minors, and some of these ideas will eventually percolate to The Show. Baseball’s still a great game, but it’s at a fork in the road where good decisions need to be made. Here’s hoping the clubs and the players can collectively agree on some proactive ideas in the seasons to come.

This doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, of course. Dominant pitching can be fun, even if there’s more of it right now than I’d like to see. And some players did do exciting offensive things Monday.

Let’s talk about one of them, a kid popping in Houston.

Jeremy Peña taking off for Astros

Who was your favorite American League rookie target this year? Julio Rodriguez? At least he’s running. Bobby Witt Jr.? We’ll try to be patient. Spencer Torkelson? It’s going to take time. Adley Rutschman? Still on back order.

Perhaps Jeremy Peña was the freshman we all should have wanted.

Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña is making a fantasy impact
Rookie Jeremy Peña is making a fantasy impact in the early going. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Peña clocked his fifth home run Monday in a 3-0 win over Seattle, and while his .215 average is hard to look at, we have to see his game in the prism of today’s baseball. Peña is slugging .468 and his OPS+ is 124, where 100 is normal; in short, he’s a plus offensive player, despite a low average. He also has seven walks; when his average inevitably rises, his OBP should settle into an acceptable area.

Peña could probably steal 6-12 bases if he wanted to, though Houston isn’t a proactive team in that area (so few teams are today). A wrist injury cost him most of his final minor-league season, but when he finally got on the field late last summer, he was terrific: a .297/.363/.579 slash, with 10 homers and six steals over a mere 37 games.

I didn’t draft any Peña this year. Shortstop was overflowing with good options — it still is — and I had other players circled on my sheets. I don’t regret the other shortstops on my rosters, but I surely didn’t rank Peña optimistically enough. The Astros didn’t want Carlos Correa to leave, but his absence hasn't crushed the team, either.

The Houston middle infield remains in good hands.