Quick Thoughts On The World’s Best Carlos Peguero
Carlos Peguero just got demoted back to Tacoma by the Mariners, to make room for the re-healthy Michael Saunders. It raised some stir when the Mariners selected Peguero over Eric Thames, given that Thames was out-producing Peguero in triple-A, but Peguero’s assignment lasted all of a few days and it pretty much entirely didn’t matter. Nothing people complain about in sports matters, but this selection especially didn’t matter. Peguero barely played.
When he did play, he did one notable thing: he hit this pitch for a home run.
That pitch came in a full count, and Peguero swung at what would’ve been ball four. Instead of being given one base, Peguero grabbed for himself four bases, as Peguero is wont to do, sometimes. You could say that this is Carlos Peguero in a nutshell, but it isn’t, because he didn’t make an out. Peguero usually makes outs. Maybe Peguero in a nutshell would’ve been a foul home run, followed by a whiff at a pitch in the dirt. This sort of thing is probably why Peguero refuses to tighten up his own strike zone — he knows that of which he’s capable when he makes contact.
A lot of people are of the opinion that it can be fun to watch something bad. Along that vein, I’ve heard a lot of people suggest it could be fun to watch this year’s Astros. It’s not. Don’t do it. The Astros suck and you shouldn’t watch them if you don’t have to. Remember the 2010 Mariners? Remember the 2008 Mariners? remember the 2004 Mariners? Things that suck usually suck to watch, at least in baseball, when there’s so much repetition. Sometimes, though, there can be a certain charm, and I’ll admit that I like watching Peguero more than I like watching other similarly ineffective players. The rule is that bad things are bad to experience. Carlos Peguero, at least to me, is one of the exceptions.
And the Mariners are clearly intrigued. Eric Wedge is clearly intrigued, and it’s not like it takes a rocket scientist to figure out why, particularly because this isn’t a rocket scientist’s field of study. Power. Peguero’s got it. He’s probably got too much of it. An expression, when a player hits a home run, is that he ran into the baseball. Carlos Peguero could probably literally run into a baseball and send it flying 500 feet.
You could say he has “stupid power”, which is a more PC way of saying you know what? Nevermind.
The first thing about Peguero is his strength. The second thing is his approach, since his approach limits his power upside. Looking at Peguero’s PITCHf/x plate-discipline statistics, available at FanGraphs, I got curious about player comparables. I’m talking about swings at pitches out of the zone, swings at pitches in the zone, and contact. What I decided to do was collect all such statistics for all players with at least 100 plate appearances going back to 2008. I then created my own similarity metric, based on the difference between each player’s stats and Peguero’s stats. Peguero’s score comes out at 0.00, since he’s exactly identical to himself. The remaining scores range from 0.15 to 1.55. The lower the number, the more similar the hitter to Peguero, in the three stats noted above.
The least similar hitter to Peguero? Luis Castillo, followed by Dave Roberts and Brett Gardner. These are patient guys who make a lot of contact. It passes the smell test. Now for what we’re actually curious about — the most similar hitters to Peguero:
- Miguel Olivo (0.15)
- Carlos Zambrano (0.19)
- Cliff Lee (0.20)
- Jolbert Cabrera (0.23)
- Aaron Harang (0.24)
Well that should tell you something. You get three pitchers, all of them undisciplined, and the closest relationship is to Miguel Olivo. Peguero really is the Miguel Olivo of the outfield, and since 2008, Olivo’s hit one home run per 25 plate appearances, with nearly eight strikeouts per unintentional walk. Peguero’s hit one home run per 24 plate appearances, with 12 strikeouts per unintentional walk. Do you wonder what a full season of Carlos Peguero might look like, at the plate? We’ve seen it. We actually really hated it.
The next thing I did was split individual seasons between 2008-2013. This could give me some idea of which players might’ve been like Peguero in the past and then improved. Here are the five closest individual seasons to Peguero’s career to date:
- 2009 Miguel Olivo
- 2009 Randy Ruiz
- 2010 Jake Fox
- 2011 Miguel Olivo
- 2012 Juan Francisco
In case you’re wondering, hovering at sixth is 2008 Miguel Olivo. Carlos Peguero is a lot like Miguel Olivo. Yet, interestingly, in 2009, Olivo posted a 103 OPS+. It isn’t completely impossible to make up for everything else with raw power. That is, if you hit for enough of it. But of course, Olivo gains value from being a catcher, so Peguero can’t very well hit like Olivo and have himself a long career.
If you want a reason to hope, consider Chris Davis. In 2009 and 2011, Davis was similar to Peguero in terms of plate discipline, and the Rangers discarded him as a power hitter who wasn’t going to catch up to enough pitches to succeed. Davis has come on with the Orioles, increasing his rate of contact while tightening his zone, and since the start of last season he’s slugged .537. He still strikes out a lot and he doesn’t draw a ton of walks, but he beats the crap out of the ball, allowing him to post a high dinger rate and a high BABIP. Chris Davis once had something similar to Carlos Peguero’s approach, and Davis seems to be making it, now.
But we don’t know if the adjustments Davis has made could be carried over to Peguero. We don’t know if they’re similarly coachable, and players usually don’t learn how to be a lot more disciplined. Peguero hasn’t shown a whole lot of progress, not that we’ve seen much of him in the majors. Chris Davis is one way this could go. This could go the way of Wily Mo Pena, or the way of Jake Fox, or the way of someone else. Or Carlos Peguero could carve out his own way. Comps aren’t fates. Comps just sort of help us mentally process and visualize probabilities.
Something key to understand is that Carlos Peguero does not need to develop good plate discipline. His easy power gives him a strong foundation, not unlike a starting pitcher who has a swing-and-miss fastball. A starter with a great fastball doesn’t need his secondary stuff to be as good, which is how Michael Pineda was able to have such success as a rookie. If Peguero simply improved to having below-average discipline, he’d take a greater rate of his swings at hittable pitches and his swings would do more damage. Peguero with good discipline would be a superstar, but Peguero with below-average discipline instead of terrible discipline could be an above-average hitter. Home runs are the best thing a hitter can hit, and this is Peguero’s natural advantage. This is why Peguero is on the fringes of the major leagues.
So it’s not like Peguero’s pitch recognition needs to take a massive step forward. It just needs to take a step forward, and that’s easier to imagine. It’s just not *easy* to imagine. The odds remain against him, and Peguero needs to be willing to make the adjustments he needs to make.
You can get it, though. Watch Carlos Peguero, and you can get it. Armed with absolutely no idea, Peguero’s slugged .380 in the bigs. What if he were to get an idea? Just any idea at all? At the least, Carlos Peguero will end up an interesting failure.