HomeTeamsAstrosHas Jeremy Peña Found His Swing Again?

Has Jeremy Peña Found His Swing Again?

Despite the Astros’ lackluster 10-20 start to the season, there have been some bright spots in the starting lineup, including the resurgence of shortstop Jeremy Peña’s offense. Peña collected a bunch of hardware during his rookie season in 2022, winning both the ALCS and World Series MVPs, as well as collecting a Gold Glove for his superb defense. While 2023 saw Peña endure a sophomore slump, this season the third-year veteran currently leads all American League shortstops in batting average. He heads into Thursday’s series-finale against the Cleveland Guardians hitting at a .325 clip. Among all major league shortstops, his OBP (.363) and SLG (.444) percentages rank near the top 10. Will Peña be able to keep hitting at this rate throughout the season, or will some regression to the mean occur during the dog days of summer?

During spring training, Peña talked to Astros’ MLB.com beat reporter Brian McTaggart about his retooled swing. He told McTaggart, “I’m starting the bat from a still position on my shoulder, but I’m still doing some kind of movement with the hands as I’m going. I’m not completely getting rid of the wag, it’s just kind of controlling it a little bit more.” So far, his new swing has shown he’s hitting the ball all across the diamond. Last year, he pulled the ball at a career-high 30.1% rate. This year, he’s pulling the ball at a career-low 25.0% rate, while hitting the ball to the opposite field a career-high 22.0%.According to Statcast, roughly a third of his hits have been to the opposite field.

The other good news for Peña is that he’s hitting the ball harder and more on a line this season than in years past. His average exit velocity is 89.2 mph, and his hard-hit percentage is up 6% from last year; it currently stands at 41.8%. His line drive percentage has increased 3% from last year and is now 26.0%. Because of these improvements, his ground ball percentage has dropped to 44.0%, a 9% decrease from his 2023 campaign. He’s also cutting down on his strikeouts to the tune of a 13.7% rate, which is so far a 6.5% decrease from last season. Prior to Thursday’s game, both his ground ball percentage and strikeout percentages are career-lows.

While Peña has been hitting the ball well, he’s not necessarily hitting for more power. On the Astros’ last road trip, he hit 9-for-30, (a.300 mark) with two extra-base hits, a double and a home run. Overall, he’s had 38 hits, and only 8 extra-base hits (5 doubles and 3 home runs). His ISO is .120, a far cry from his rookie campaign ISO of .173. MLB.com defines ISO as “the raw power of a hitter by taking only extra-base hits — and the type of extra-base hit — into account.” Last year, his power struggles were well documented as he didn’t hit a home run from July 5th, 2023 onward. Peña finished with just 10 home runs that season after swatting 22 in his impressive 2022 rookie campaign. Peña also might be the beneficiary of batted ball luck, as his BABIP stands at .361. He should regress a little in this category, as his BABIP last year was .323.

As Roger Angell writes in his book, The Summer Game, “baseball requires a full season, hundreds and hundreds of separate games, before quality can emerge…” All in all, Peña’s new swing and patient approach at the plate have gotten him off to a great start offensively. He’s cut down his strikeout rate and continues to hit line drives all over the ballpark. Only time will tell whether he’s able to keep up this offensive production for the rest of the year.


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