Carlos Pena: A Tale of Two Seasons

NEW YORK - JULY 18: Carlos Pena #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays follows through on a first inning three run home run against the New York Yankees on July 18 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It's been a rough year for Carlos Pena, to say the least.  He's spent the entire year with his batting average flirting with the Mendoza Line and he's frustrated fans with his seemingly constant strikeouts and groundball outs to second. He's still leads the team with 20 homeruns, but the fan frustration has been well-deserved. He's been a well above-average hitter the past few years (.374 wOBA last two years), but this year his total offensive package has been league average at best (.339 wOBA). At the beginning of the season, many fans were asking how we'd ever be able to re-sign Pena; now, those questions have turned into, "Do we really want to?"

But here's the interesting deal: Sandy Kazmir has been harking on this point for a while now, but if you look at Pena's splits, his overall line has been hijacked by one bad month. Consider:

BA

OBP

OPS

ISO

wOBA

March/April

0.247

0.379

0.859

0.234

0.372

May

0.120

0.233

0.483

0.130

0.225

June

0.256

0.364

0.920

0.300

0.395

July

0.277

0.370

0.945

0.298

0.411

No matter how you look at it, Pena has been productive for the Rays three out of four months of this season. Of course, you can't discount his month of May and claim that Pena is still a .390 wOBA batter; his true talent level is somewhere between his awesomeness from these past two months and atrociousness from May. The recent series against the Yankees highlighted this fact, but Pena is far from a washed up, valueless hitter. In fact, when he hasn't been slumping this season, he's been one of our most productive hitters.

That said, Pena still needs to stop hitting groundballs. RZ brought this up a few weeks ago, but Pena is hitting an inordinate amount of groundballs this season - 46% of his balls in play, to be exact. We've all seen him hit those weak grounders to the right side, and all those weak grounders have led to a .130 BA on groundballs this season (.139 wOBA). Recently Pena has been hitting more line drives than earlier this year (23.5%, up from 13%), but those line drives have come at the expense of his fly balls, which are down 10% over the same time period. His groundball rate has instead spiked even higher, rising above 50% in June and July.

While our offense could still use another bat, Pena has provided the Rays with plenty of offensive support these past few months. He's not the hitter he used to be and I'm still skeptical about re-signing him - especially if nothing changes with that groundball rate - but he's still got enough pop to be dangerous. Pitchers beware - the :)% is on the way up.

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