Felix Pena evolving into weapon in the Angels bullpen

Felix Peña, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
Felix Peña, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

In a year of uncertainty among the Angels relief corps, Felix Pena has stood out as one of the only reliable arms in the bullpen.

Two years ago, Felix Pena was on his way to being a viable starter for the Los Angeles Angels. A year later he was part of one of the most memorable moments in Halos’ history, but ultimately lost his spot in the rotation when a torn ACL ended his season.

Fully healthy at the beginning of camp, Pena was intent on competing for a spot in the rotation in 2020. The plan of running a six-man rotation with Shohei Ohtani only lent credence his push and he was one of the last men competing for that final spot heading into the final week.

Unfortunately for Pena, that last spot went to Patrick Sandoval and the former was relegated to bullpen duty. Fortunately for the Angels, he’s taken well to the role.

In a year filled with uncertainty for the Angels, Pena has proved to be one of the only known quantities out of the Angels bullpen. That difference have been night and day, and that was front and center on Wednesday night.

With the Angels and Padres tied at three, Joe Maddon called upon Felix Pena to face the top of the Friars’ order. After hitting the lead-off hitter, he went on to strike out both Trent Grisham and likely NL MVP Ferdando Tatis, Jr. before getting Manny Machado to line-out to end the inning.

In contrast, Pena was removed at the beginning of the next inning, and the wheels fell off of the Angels from there. Ty Buttrey, Hansel Robles, and Noe Ramirez faced 11 hitters and needed 40 pitches to get three outs in the eighth. When all was said and done, they allowed five hits, three walks, and eight runs, all earned. The Angels would lose the game 11-4.

Pena was back at in on Thursday night. With a 2-0 lead, he was asked to get the save against the heart of the Padres order. He responded by getting Tatis (ground-out), Machado (ground-out), and Eric Hosmer (strikeout), throwing nine pitches in the process.

Both outings represented the kind of high-leverage situation that Maddon has trusted Pena with all season. He leads the team in WPA/LI (win probability added divided by leverage index) at 0.69, shutdowns with seven, and an 85.2% strand rate. He’s one of just two qualified relievers with ERAs under 4.00. Overall, he’s thrown 19.1 innings with a 1.86 ERA, a 2.20 FIP, and a 10.7 K/9 against a 1.9 BB/9 mark.

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With only a month left of the 2020 season, every player will be auditioning for their roles for next season. In Felix Pena’s case, he could be looking to claim the closer’s role that could be open for the taking.