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Clash of Countries: Wily Mo Pena or Trot Nixon?

[editor's note, by Randy Booth] Note: Stats may be from earlier in the week

by Hugh Perry

Here's a confident prediction - or a surefire way of bringing down the vengeance of the Baseball Gods, depending on your point of view. In Wily Mo Pena, we have a future All-Star, a superstar slugger on the cusp of breaking out, a cult figure in the making.

He's massive and hugely powerful. The other night, against the Phillies, he was standing next to Ryan Howard at first base. Ryan Howard, all 6-4 and 252lbs of him, looked like Mini Me. I swear, Wily Mo looked like a giant redwood.

Pena hits the ball harder than anyone on the Red Sox. Anyone. We could have a genuine monstrous bat on our hands for the bargain price of a decent end-of-rotation pitcher.

But for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. With the arrival of Wily Mo, are we witnessing the last rites on Trot Nixon's Red Sox career?

Source: AP
Since we drafted him in 1993, Nixon has proven to be a Red Sox player through and through. It's a beautiful thing that he's a product of our minor league system. He's been around the clubhouse for a very long time now, seen it all - won a ring.

The decision over Trot's future rests on a large range of factors. Will he keep up his strong start to the season? Will he get crocked? How much will he insist on in free agency? And so on.

It's not inconceivable that Trot is retained. His 2006 salary is $7.5m. I don't think you could justify increasing that for the future, so in Theo's shoes I'd attempt to retain him on a two-year contract at about $5m-6m per year. For much more than that, in years or greenbacks, I'd bid him a fond and regretful farewell.

Trot's numbers so far this season are good. His BA of .302 and OBP of .418 are above his career norms, though the SLG's down a touch.

Pena's stats are impressive too. Just for fun, I compared Wily Mo's numbers for 2006 to those of another AL East rightfielder. Yes, it's your friend and mine, Gary Sheffield. Stick with me, because this is reasonably interesting...

As of earlier this week, both had 101 at bats. Wily Mo's average (.327) was 10 points higher. He had one more hit, at 33. The same number of home runs at four. RBIs tied at 18. OBP of .374 against .381. His SLG was .505 against .475.

Am I saying that Wily Mo Pena = Gary Sheffield? Not quite. But he's got potential by the bucketload, particularly against left-handed pitchers. If he can haul up the numbers against righties, look out. He's a work in progress, but it'll be fun to watch that progress.

For what it's worth, I'm not sure we'll see much in the way of fielding improvements from Pena. (Is there a precendent for a player who has improved in their mid-twenties? I'd be interested to hear about them.) He makes terrible reads on the ball, gets bad jumps and generally gallops around with all the grace of a knock-kneed wildebeest. It's pretty clear that WMP's natural position is DH, though that seat is taken by another Dominican Dominator.

Well, here's my tilt at a three-year Pena Projection. I've based this on his awesome power potential, on increased playing time, on an upturn in plate discipline and flat line on fielding ability. I also expect, under the influence of Papa Jack, Papi and Manny, the splits between lefties and righties to become less pronounced.

And following are my efforts at Nixons' Numbers. Sorry, Trot Fans, but I think there'll be a fall-off over the next couple of seasons as the years and wear-and-tear begin to tell. I've assumed Nixon moves to a club where there are fewer opportunities for driving in runs and less protection in the lineup. He'll still be a valuable Major Leaguer though and you'd want him as a team-mate.

(See table at the end of the post)

Ultimately, I think Pena replacing Nixon is good for the Red Sox. In fact, I think it's going to be a blast.


by Anders Olsson

Christopher Trotman Nixon and Wily Modesto Peña. Those are the two main candidates for next year's assignment as primary right fielder. Before I outline my position on who should get the gig, let's take a closer look at both candidates.

Trot IS the Red Sox. He is 32 years old, was drafted in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft and hasn't spent a single day with another team since. That makes it 13 years that he's been wearing a Sox uniform.

Thirteen years. He is a career .279 batter with a .366 OBP and .489 slugging percentage. Nothing extraordinary, but OK numbers. Trot started off this season lighting it up, earning the nickname Red Hot Trot (from me alone, but still), and has kept the pace nicely hitting .310 with a .430 OBP and slugging .457. Fielding-wise, he plays Fenway's brutally deceptive right field as brilliantly as anyone possibly could.

Playing a corner that is arguably the trickiest in baseball, he's amassed only 25 errors in 759 games at the position. He isn't speedy but has a strong arm and makes brilliant reads off the bat allowing him to take the shorter route to where the ball will end up.

Source: AP
Wily is a new addition. A beast of a man who looks strong enough to literally carry the entire team, Papi included, that is young and has his glory days yet to come. He is yet to have a season with more than 350 AB's, hitting .257 with a .311 OPB and a .480 slugging percentage.

This year, he's hitting .327 with a .347 OBP and slugging .505 in 101 at-bats. Beautiful numbers, sure, but will he be able to keep this pace?What seems to point against this is his strikeout rate, 32 strikeouts in his 101 at-bats, striking out more than a third of his plate appearances. Another fact of interest is that all but two of his hits this season are to right field. An inability to at all hit the ball to left field might mean trouble when teams start realizing his potential and putting a major shift on.

What speaks for Wily Mo is his increased plate discipline - a trait he seems to have picked up on in about five seconds after joining the Sox. At times he's almost looked reluctant to swing, resulting in a bunch of times he's struck out looking. Defensively, he's so-so. He's not been charged with any errors, but his play in right field has been shaky. Since moving to center, he's been solid, making some nice running grabs. He is still able to demonstrate an ability to handle to odd dimensions of right field.

In order to guess what the future holds, here's my whack at a three-year projection for both players. What they demonstrate is that Wily Mo will be getting better, mainly by slugging better for more home runs, RBI and runs scored. He will also improve his fielding. Trot is ageing and I believe he will slightly decline over the next three seasons. Nothing major, though.

(See table at the end of the post)

So, on the one hand we have a young player who I believe is growing into his role as a slugger. On the other hand we have a consummate professional who has served the Red Sox for more than 13 years but who is getting older and should decline over the coming years. The choice, loyalty aside, seems easy. Well, both of these projections are a gamble.

Trot could stay his usual self for three more years age aside and Wily Mo might go back to his old home-run-or-strikeout self. So what also needs to be factored into the decision is that one player is proven while the other one is not - yet. This decision will surely be a lot easier to make when this season is over. Wily will have an entire season, where he's actually gotten to play a lot, behind him and a nice sample size will be available for making future projections for him.

Another thing that goes into my opinion on whether or not Trot should be re-signed is my emotional attachment to him. Since I started following the Sox, I've found Trot to represent everything I love about the team. I've already written about this in a comment to a diary post by forage, so I won't go into it further here.

My choice, considering what I've laid out so far, would be to re-sign Trot for 3 more years. Wily Mo is yet to prove that he can consistently handle a starting role. The worst that can come out of re-signing Trot is that we have four quality outfielders. Since Wily Mo has proven that he has the range to handle center field nicely, he could be used as a rotation player for all three outfielders, eliminating the nasty days when we have to start Willie Harris and Dustan Mohr.

Also, we won't have Manny for all that much longer (through next season, right?) which would mean that in 2008 we could have Wily Mo in left, Coco in center, Trot in right and The Canadian Babe as our rotating backup man. I really do like how that looks. The trouble with this would be how much Trot will be asking for. My roof would probably be somewhere around 3/30. A Tek-like deal for a Tek-like player, just one year shorter. If we can get that done, I say do it.

Yeah, sure, this decision might be influenced by emotion. Still, the more I look at it, the more I like it for more than the keeping-Trot-factor. What do you guys think?