Is Carlos Pena Done?

By Robbie Knopf

One of the greatest moments Rays fans can remember was when we heard that the Rays had re-signed Carlos Pena, even ponying up 7.25 million dollars to do so. Another one was when Pena delivered a grand slam against CC Sabathia on Opening Day. But since then, things have gone completely downhill. In April, Pena was great, posting a .286/.412/.488 line with 5 doubles, 4 homers, 13 RBI, and 27 strikeouts versus 15 walks in 23 games and 102 plate appearances. Since then, Pena’s season has imploded. He has managed just a .165/.295/.305 line with 11 doubles, 12 homers, 37 RBI, and 132 strikeouts against 58 walks in 106 games and 420 plate appearances. Pena still walks. But his power is just about gone, his pure hitting ability wasn’t there in the first place, and the exorbitant amount of times that he strikes out cancels out any benefit his walks may provide. Pena has struck out more than double the amount of times he has walked for the first time since 2006. Is this it for Carlos Pena?

Pena has always been a player who strikes out a lot. But in 2012, he has been as bad as ever, striking out in 30.5% of his plate appearances, his highest clip since 2005. And even when he has made contact, he simply isn’t hitting for enough power. Pena’s .151 ISO is the lowest of his career. Same story with his 6.3% XBH% (extra-base hits divided by plate appearances), his 16% line drive rate, and it’s not as though Pena is trading power to hit for a higher average. His .188 batting average is the lowest of his career, and his .251 BAbip is third-lowest. Is that low BAbip bad luck? No. He just isn’t hitting the ball hard. Pena’s swing has been too long all season, preventing him from making contact and hitting the ball with authority when he has.

It’s not like this is only happening versus lefties either. On the season, Pena has a .200/.334/.350 line versus righties and a .162/281/.316 line against lefties. His sOPS+ has been 84 against righties compared to 85 versus lefties meaning that Pena’s OPS has been 16% below average compared to the league OPS for lefty batters against right-handed pitchers while being only 15% below average as a lefty against a lefty. Pena has actually been better against lefties than righties from that perspective, but in any event, he’s terrible against both. For his career, Pena has a 110 sOPS+ versus right-handed pitchers compared to 76 against lefties, so he actually has been better than his career norms versus lefties this season, but he has completely fallen off against righties. And in any event, no team can tolerate a regular first baseman with an OPS 15% or higher for very long.

Carlos Pena is not the same player anymore. His power is down, his strikeouts are up, and even against right-handed pitching he just isn’t good enough anymore. What is Pena these days? A good-fielding backup first baseman with a little pop. Look for Pena’s playing time to continue to decrease for the Rays the rest of the season and who knows what happens after this year for him.