The Tigers signed catcher Brayan Pena to a one-year contract today with the expectation that he will be the back-up for Alex Avila in 2013. Pena batted just .236 with 13 extra base hits and an alarmingly low 9 walks in 226 plate appearances for the Royals in 2012. The 31-year-old receiver is a switch hitter, but does not hit well from either side of the plate posting OPS's of .646 versus right handers and .613 versus lefties for his career.
As a veteran of eight major league seasons, you would think Pena would have more to offer than his ability (or inability) to switch hit and he does appear to have some defensive skills. According to my catcher defense algorithm, the five-foot-nine, 230 pound catcher saved the Royals about six runs over the average catcher in 2011-2012. He was above average in preventing passed balls/wild pitches and stopping the running game for the two years combined. He threw out 24% of base runners attempting to steal in 2012 which is only average, but nailed 36% in 2011 and 30% for bis career.
According to Mike Fast's research at Baseball Prospectus, Pena also seems to have a skill for framing pitches. Between 2007-2011, he saved the Royals his team an estimated 19 runs with pitch framing which is pretty impressive for a catcher with limited playing time. No data are available for 2012, but it is apparently a repeatable skill.
While it appears that Pena is a good defender with experience dealing with a lot of different pitchers, it is a little disappointing that the Tigers did not sign a better hitter versus left-handed pitchers which give Avila fits. Avila's recurring knee problems are also a concern as there a risk that he could be out for an extended period leaving a black hole in the line-up at catcher.
One alternative might have been Kelly Shoppach who has a .868 lifetime OPS versus southpaws. Shoppach likely would have cost a little more and may have wanted more guaranteed playing time, so maybe it was not something they could work out. At any rate, they have gone the no bat good glove route with Pena.