There were many who believed that Cliff Pennington would be a breakout superstar in 2011, and why not? He had stolen 29 bases in 2010 and with a 21.5% line drive rate there was reason to believe that he could translate his talents to a significantly better average (.250 courtesy of a .296 BABIP in ‘10).
Many saw him as a late round alternative to top names such as Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, with his potential to swipe over 30 bases and hit near the top of the A’s lineup. Unfortunately things did not quite go as planned as Pennington posted the following line:
515 At Bats
.264 Batting Average (136 Hits)
8 Home Runs
14 Stolen Bases
.319 On Base Percentage
.369 Slugging Percentage
.314 Batting Average on Balls in Play
He actually did a better job in hitting the ball on a line, posting a 24.8% line drive rate. However, while his BABIP was realistic, with that type of line drive rate to go along with his speed you could easily see him capable of maintaining a much better rate and therefore a better average.
While the power may not ever be there, especially playing in Oakland, the speed should be. It wasn’t like his ’10 SB total came out of no where. In 2008 across three levels he stole 35 bases in 42 attempts. In 2009 across two levels he had 34 stolen bases in 43 attempts. So why should we believe that he’s suddenly a 14 for 23 stolen bases artist?
There’s no basis for it and we can easily expect him to regain his form in 2012. Is he going to steal 40 bases? It’s not likely, though seeing him reach at least 25 and possibly 30 is a very realistic possibility.
You also have to look into his surge over the second half of the season, as he hit .303 with 5 HR and 8 SB. Those aren’t blow away numbers, though they did come in just 60 games (221 AB). You project those numbers over a full 162 games and you get a player with 14 HR and 22 SB. Is anyone complaining?
When coupled with the line drive rate, even if he were to “regress” back to his ’10 number, and there’s a lot to like. While Jemile Weeks will probably hit in the leadoff spot, depending on the makeup of the roster come March it is not unreasonable to think Pennington could be the steady #2 hitter for the team. That should give him an opportunity to score close to 90 runs.
He has all the makings, though you would like to see a little bit of a better strikeout rate (he posted an 18.2% mark). He does have the ability to draw walks, with a 13.3% minor league mark, and he should be able to improve on that strikeout rate, given his 13.8% minor league mark (over 1,852 AB). In fact, in 596 Triple-A at bats he walked (99) more than he struck out (88). That’s an ability that doesn’t go away.
Just to feed fuel to the fire, Pennington will also enter the 2012 campaign at the magical age of 27. It’s just another reason not to write him off after he disappointed a year ago.
Let everyone else in your league ignore him because he failed to live up to his 2011 hype. Grab him late in your draft and look to benefit the rewards.
What are your thoughts of Pennington? Do you think he could breakout in 2012? Why or why not?
Make sure to check out all of our preliminary 2012 rankings: