Carlos Pena has always been a streaky hitter. When he’s on, he mashes home runs, hits through the shift, and draws walks in bunches. When he is off, the strikeouts pile up, ground balls are hit right into the shift, and two strike bunt attempts roll foul. And right now, Pena is very much off.
Pena managed to turn himself into an everyday player, and a former All-Star, through his ability to hit for power and his glovework. However, Pena may have been better served as a platoon player – against right handed pitching over his career, Pena has a .250/.370/.509 slash line with 192 home runs. He has also struck out in 29.6% of his at bats against righties. Meanwhile, against left handed pitching, Pena has been utterly awful, with a slash line of .208/.309/.420 with 74 home runs. Meanwhile, Pena has struck out in 36.1% of his at bats against lefties.
This season, Pena started off hot, hitting at a .284/.412/.488 clip with 4 home runs in April. In May, he hit another 4 home runs, but only hit at a .134/.288/.289 rate. Through this time, Pena’s batting average has dropped from .284 to his present .203 average. Granted, he has never been much of a hitter for average (.237 career); however, his last few seasons have not been good.
Is Pena on the downslope of his career? Pena is 34 years old this season, and is playing on a one year contract. While he may be safe this season as an everyday player unless the Rays call up Leslie Anderson (which is pretty unlikely), but he may not be going forward. As of this point, Pena looks like a platoon player, unless he lands on a team without a lot of first base depth.
An interesting parallel may be Dave Kingman. While Pena does walk a lot more than Kong ever did, both provide power and not much else offensively. Kingman was out of baseball after age 37, despite hitting 35 home runs in his final season. Is that Pena’s future?
Should Pena continue to struggle through the end of this season, it will be interesting to see how long the Rays continue to play him. The end for Carlos Pena may be approaching rather quickly.