Jeremy Peña has been a hot topic of conversation. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
The name on the lips of so many Astros fans of late has been Jeremy Peña. Sports (and the debates that are sparked from them) often unfairly position certain guys as lightening rods for dramatic storylines. Through no fault of his own, Peña finds himself filling the shoes of the greatest SS in team history and now leading off in the order in replacement of the team’s greatest second basemen ever. The latter or which sparked conversations on air:
With Jose Altuve out, Jeremy Peña has been tasked with leading off the #Astros lineup.
Is this the right move by Dusty Baker? @JakeAsman, @Cody_Stoots, and @BradKellner certainly seemed to think so when the news broke earlier today on #TheWheelhouse. #LevelUp pic.twitter.com/Z270k4yjuT
— ESPN 97.5 Houston (@espn975) April 20, 2022
How did Peña respond to that pressure? Here’s his first home run at home in MMP:
There's a new shortstop in H-Town and he can swing it.
Top @astros prospect Jeremy Peña goes up and out for his first Minute Maid Park blast. pic.twitter.com/roqhStT2ry
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 20, 2022
Besides that mammoth shot, he’s also putting up some impressive numbers already.
Hitters with the most barreled balls in MLB during this very young season. Barrels are the ideal blend of exit velocity & launch angle.
Last year, barreled balls resulted in a .772 AVG and 2.591 SLG in MLB - 84.8% of all home runs were barrels.#Mariners pic.twitter.com/osX9lhncvP
— Luke Arkins (@luke_arkins) April 20, 2022
284 of the 311 HR(91.3%) this year have had LAs between 18-35*
Hitters with most BBE 18-35*:
Jose Ramirez: 15
Jeremy Peña: 13
Alex Verdugo: 13
Michael Brantley: 13
Luis Robert: 12
Ozzie Albies: 12
Marcell Ozuna: 12
Nick Castellanos: 12
Josh Bell: 12
CJ Cron: 12
Marcus Semien: 12
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) April 20, 2022
So while Houston fans understandably spent the winter arguing over whether the Astros would miss Correa, now find their concerns shifting to missing guys like Lance McCullers Jr and Jose Altuve.
McCullers is on the 60 Day IL. Altuve is on the 10 Day IL with a strained hamstring. The Houston sports gods giveth and taketh.
Interestingly, that infamous deal that didn’t get done, an extension for Correa, has overshadowed the deal that did: Justin Verlander’s extension. And THAT one is looking like classic Jim-Crane-doing-Jim-Crane-things: specifically, out-maneuvering the Yankees. The only difference between the Astros’ & Yankees’ offer to Verlander was the extra guaranteed year. How much do you think Brian Cashman would LOVE to have Justin Verlander’s dominance distracting New Yorkers from Gerrit Cole’s current spiral?
The Yankees pulled Gerrit Cole with two outs in the second inning.
‣ 1.2 IP
‣ 2 ER
‣ 5 BB
‣ 68 pitches pic.twitter.com/aKowug5kC7
— Sporting News MLB (@sn_mlb) April 20, 2022
Meanwhile in Houston, Jim Crane’s feeling some heat of his own as fans continue to watch the team shed a considerable amount of payroll and team depth. He had some interesting quotes for Mark Berman you can hear here:
Jim Crane w/ a message to @astros fans:”Talking about the payroll.The payroll’s driven by the fans-They pay the bills.I try to use the money wisely.We have great fans.Thank u Houston for your support-If we got to make some adjustments at the turn,we have the resources to do that” pic.twitter.com/t3L53SL3tg
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) April 18, 2022
Say what you want. Jim Crane’s the best owner this city has ever seen. Admittedly, that’s not historically been a “super” high bar, but it is now. He’s also one of the best owners in MLB as evidenced by the 5 straight ALCS appearances and going to 3 of the last 5 World Series. Both the money he DID spend over the offseason (JV) and the money he didn’t (Correa) both look good in early returns.
But Houston’s cold offense and shaky bullpen in a small sample size have some fans speculating on what might have been if the Astros were more aggressive. Make no mistake, if you’re betting against Jim Crane, you’re betting against the trend. As the gambler’s saying goes: the trend is your friend.
Prosperity berths high expectations. Yes, the Astros are coming off winning the pennant again, but what have you done for me lately, Mr. Crane?
We just expect the Astros to flip a switch every year at the beginning of the season and turn on the winning machine. And for the most part, that’s exactly what they do. But not every season plays out the same, and even the best seasons have their struggles.
Here is how the Astros 2019 team looked vs this year’s team in the first 7 games.
The 2019 team is one of the greatest offensive teams in franchise history. #7GamesDontMatter pic.twitter.com/dpkZnagaIx
— Michael Schwab (@michaelschwab13) April 16, 2022
So yes, in this time of Astros uncertainty, in this stupidly young season, take heed of perspective.
If there’s one thing we can all be certain of, the fans will always be patient and level-headed.
RIP Astros this season
— Omar Villarreal (@OmarV1016) April 20, 2022
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.