One of the benefits of WAR is it’s ability to show the value of any player over the course of a season and throughout that players career. Even though different websites may have different formulas to calculate WAR, the different tiers of value are still the same: anything before +2 is considered a role player, 2-3 is a solid starter, 3-4 a good starter, 4-5 an All-Star, 5-6 a superstar, and anything over 6 is considered an MVP candidate.
If one was to ask even the most die-hard Rays fan as to who the Rays first true MVP candidate would have been, most people polled would likely respond with Carl Crawford or Evan Longoria. Perhaps Fred McGriff would get a response or two. However, based on WAR, the Rays first legitimate MVP candidate did not come along until the 2007 season, in the form of Carlos Pena.
Pena had been signed on January 29th of that year, after spending most of 2006 with the Yankees and Red Sox AAA teams. Signed for a mere $800,000, he was perhaps the first reclamation project of the Andrew Friedman era. In exchange for that paltry salary, the Rays received a truly spectacular season, as Pena responded with the best season of his career. in 2007, Pena produced a .287/.411/.627 batting line, with 46 home runs and 121 RBIs while drawing 103 walks. His reputation as a good defensive player seemed to begin that year, as he led the American League in assists by a first baseman, and was credited with 8 defensive runs saved. All this led to Pena being the first Rays player to have a WAR over 6, as he finished at 6.8, fourth in the AL. Despite being snubbed for the All-Star Game that year, Pena won the Silver Slugger Award at first, and finished ninth in the MVP vote that year.
While Pena was never able to replicate his stellar 2007 season, it kicked off a nice run as a member of the Rays from 2007 through 2009. During that time, he produced at a .252/.382/.553 batting line with 118 home runs and 323 RBIs. He finished ninth in the MVP vote again in 2008, and won his only Gold Glove Award that year. In 2009, he led the American League in home runs, and made his only All-Star team. Pena was also worth 14.4 wins above replacement during that time, meaning that he was a borderline superstar for most of his tenure with the Rays.
Unfortunately, his time in Tampa ended roughly. In 2010, he still hit for a bit of power with 28 home runs, but only produced a .196/.325/.407 batting line. After a one year exile to the Cubs, Pena returned for 2012. While he had his moments, notably hitting a grand slam in his first at bat on Opening Day in his first game back, he was unable to recapture the magic of his previous tenure.
Now, Pena is likely remembered for for his disappointing last two seasons with the Rays than for his great run from 2007 through 2009. However, Carlos Pena deserves to be remembered for more than that, as he was statistically the Rays first true MVP candidate.