Pena, 33 in February, landed with the Eagles midway through the 2022 season and immediately stepped into their rotation, finding success right out of the gate. He took the ball 13 times, logging a 3.72 ERA and 3.44 FIP with a 24.6% strikeout rate, a 10.2% walk rate and an enormous 70.9% ground-ball rate in 67 2/3 innings. Yoo notes that Pena’s season ended prematurely when a line-drive fractured his nose. Fortunately, it seems he escaped long-term injury.
That 70.9% ground-ball rate vastly outpaced any mark that Pena posted in his pro career in the U.S., although he’d seemingly made that an area of focus in recent seasons. Pena scrapped his four-seamer in favor of a sinker upon joining the Angels in 2018, and he’d turned in a 53.3% grounder rate in Triple-A with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate this past summer before signing in South Korea.
A solid swingman with the Halos from 2018-20, Pena turned in a combined 215 2/3 innings of 4.34 ERA ball with a 23.6% strikeout rate, a 7.7% walk rate and a 43.4% grounder rate during that three-year run. He’s made 24 starts at the MLB level in addition to another 80 relief outings. He suffered an ACL tear with the 2019 Angels, rebounded with a solid 2020 effort and then posted disastrous results both in the Majors and in Triple-A during the 2021 season. A hamstring strain shelved him for the first six weeks that season, and he was clobbered for seven runs in just 1 2/3 frames upon returning. The Halos passed him through waivers and retained his rights, but he surrendered 61 innings in 68 1/3 Triple-A frames over the remainder of the year in Salt Lake.
With another solid KBO showing in 2023, it’s possible that Pena could put himself back on the big league radar, though he’d be a free agent in advance of his age-34 season, which isn’t ideal. If nothing else, another quality year there could open the door for a larger salary upon re-signing a third contract with the Eagles — or perhaps for a jump to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. Regardless, the $850K guarantee on Pena’s deal with the Eagles is more than he’d have earned while spending the majority of the season in Triple-A on a minor league deal with an MLB club, so it’s easy to see why he preferred to return for a full season.