One of our main goals on the site is to remain objective. Yes, we are fans. Yes, we have our favorite and our least favorite players. However, we try to be fair to all partiers because after all we are fans of the team first and foremost.
Carlos Pena is one of the tougher players to be critical about. The guy is a saint off the field and a masher on the field. However, after his latest bucker-esque error, I decided to look at the numbers on Los.
Offensively at age 31, Pena is in the middle of his second best season as a pro. He is leading the American League in home runs (23) and runs scored (58). He is also second in walks with 51, just two behind Marcos Scutaro. His .914 OPS is third best on the Rays among qualifying batters. If it weren't for Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixiera, Pena would be a leading candidate for his first all star appearance.
Defensively at age 31, Pena is in the middle of his worst season as Ray. A gold glove winner in 2008, Pena has been a below average defender in 2009; regardless of the metric. For the traditionalists, Pena has made eight errors in 78 games this year. He made just two errors in 132 games last year. UZR wise, Pena has been earned a -2.7 rating this year; a 6.6 run decline from his +3.9 in 2008.
Before we have any thoughts of putting Pena out to pasture on the DH farm, let's remind ourselves that UZR is good measurement of what has happened so far. It does little in the way of projecting the future of one's defensive performance. Pena also plays one of the lesser demanding positions and can easily bounce back. Just for comparison's sake, a 31 year-old Todd Helton had a -2.7 UZR in 2004. He rebounded to average a +2.6 UZR over the next three seasons ages 32-34. Now Helton is just one example, and no comparison is perfect, but it gives a better idea than "oh my god Pena has lost it."
Is there a chance Pena has declined defensively? Sure, but as we know defensive metrics aren't perfect and it's better to look at a few years instead of just one. Over the past three seasons, he has been an above average defender. I can't count the amount of times he's saved his fellow infielders as well as show amazing reflexes on scorching line drives.
The Rays have Pena under contract through 2010. At that time Pena will be 32 going on 33. One would think he would have a few good years left in his bat. Pat Burrell's contract also runs through 2010. If Pena has declined that much defensively, the Rays could seriously look at Los as a DH; or at least that's my hope. I'm not one for sappy/happy endings, but I'd love to see Carlos Pena end his career in Tampa Bay. Hopefully, he and the Rays do too.