“I’m going to stick with Tony for a little while. I look at his recent history, meaning last year, knowing he got off to a slow start, knowing he’s one of those guys who has not accumulated a ton of major league at-bats. We would like that to be a productive slot, as you would any other slot.” - Trey Hillman on Yahoo! Sports
Dayton, Trey, you're doing a heckuva job evaluating talent and putting together a roster/lineup.
Tony Pena Jr. is not hitting. Even if we pretend that he's the best defensive shortstop in the league, there is a certain level of competence at the plate that simply isn't being displayed. This is compounded by the dirty little secret that Pena's play at shortstop is uneven and not beyond criticism either.
Think of it this way, and I'll use batting average since, well, we all know how important OBP is around these parts. If Pena improved his batting average one hundred points, he still wouldn't be hitting enough to justify regular playing time. We hear all the time about how a great bullpen shortens the game, which may be true. What then of the free inning the Royals hand right back each and every game?
As jonfmorse mentioned in the game thread today, Pena has done absolutely nothing to earn this blind faith and patience. I'm not a huge fan of Ross Gload the player, but there's a solid body of evidence that he'll hit at a certain level and that he's probably not going to be sporting an OPS under .600 at the end of the year. Compared to Pena, Gload is Jim Thome. But to date, after Dayton Moore acquired him with almost no experience in the upper levels of professional baseball, Pena has been given over 700 plate appearances. Why? Even if you accept that last season was a lost cause and he was a stopgap, how do you explain 2008? The Royals left Surprise with barely a backup second baseman that they trust, much less a shortstop. The Royals have had plenty of time to address this situation, and it's frankly damning that it has been allowed to reach this point.
The Royals are now last in baseball in runs scored. They've been outscored by the Orioles, Padres and Giants. The Nationals have outscored the Royals by eighteen runs already. They are fifty runs from being a middle of the pack AL team, much less a good one. Sadly, the AL Central suddenly looks much tamer than we originally thought -- it might only take 88 wins to claim the division -- and the Royals are wasting a legitimate shot at contention thanks to a lineup that simply isn't good at anything. Anything.
Predictably, Hillman believes that Pena is saving something absurd, like "a run a game" with his defense. He isn't. Everyone understands that defense matters, especially at shortstop. But there has to be a limit, and at a certain point you're out-smarting yourself and hurting your ballclub, all while congratulating yourself on how old-school and gritty you are.