On Monday the Houston Astros signed Carlos Pena to a one-year contract, and he'll likely serve as the club's primary designated hitter while also seeing time at first base this year. Pena struggled last year, hitting under .200, and striking out at his highest rate since 2005. A low batting average and strikeouts have always been part of the package that comes with owning Pena. Unfortunately, they didn't come with his usual thump. He hit only 19 home runs, his lowest total since 2006, a season in which he spent most of the year in the minors. It's possible last year is a sign that Pena has reached the end of the line of being fantasy relevant, but I don't believe so.
Pena moves from Tropicana Field, which had a park factor for left-handed home runs of 85 (100 being neutral) over the last three years according to Stat Corner, to Minute Maid Park, which had a left-handed home run park factor of 106 over the same time frame. With that in mind, I expected the ballpark dimensions to be significantly more favorable for left-handed pull power (which is where Pena gets all of his power) at Minute Maid Park than at Tropicana Field, but as you can see at ESPN's Home Run Tracker ballpark overlay that isn't really the case. Regardless, the park factors don't lie, and Pena should find his new digs more homer friendly.
Pena struggles with contact, as you can see in his plate discipline data, but last year looked more like a bad year than an alarming cliff season. One thing that does stand out, and looks flukey, is a spike in infield flyball rate. His infield flyball rate last year was 16.5 percent after sitting just below 10 percent in 2010 and 2011. The rate was a career worst. Baseball is a game of inches, and those inches were unkind to him last year. A regression to his normal infield flyball rate should earn him a few more hits, perhaps even a few more taters. He should return to the 25-plus home run territory this year, which makes him a cheap source of power for owners in large leagues that can stomach his poor average.