Several weeks ago, I wrote a review of the 2008 Royals season. It was a very weird season, to say the least. For starters, Kansas City finished 75-87. It was only the fourth time a post-strike Royals team finished with that many wins and that mark wouldn’t be surpassed again until 2013. They also accomplished that feat despite having three losing streaks of at least seven games. It was a weird year.
But somehow or another, I left out by far the weirdest thing that happened in 2008: Tony Pena, Jr.
He started the 2008 season innocently enough. Justin Verlander struck him out three times on Opening Day, but he also looped the game-winning single into left field.
After that single, he went 0-25 with a single walk. This was just the beginning of arguably the worst single season for a batter in the history of baseball. It also had the weirdest plot twist ever.
Here are five crazy stats from Tony Pena, Jr.’s 2008 season that you didn’t know you needed and most certainly still do not need.
5. -30 wRAA, .174 wOBA
Let’s start with some metrics. Among seasons that spanned at least 230 plate appearances – Pena had 235 in 2008 – Pena’s -30 weighted Runs Above Average is the 101st worst mark since 1920.
That doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, but no player in front of him had fewer than 332 plate appearances in those respective seasons. And it’s worse than
To make matters worse, his .174 wOBA is the 2nd worst mark since 1920 among 23,122 seasons. That’s worse than all but .004% of players in history.
4. Two intentional walks and 38.5% BUH%
This might be my favorite stat of them all. Tony Pena, Jr. walked six total times in 2008 and two of those were intentionally.
Two teams decided to give a free base to someone historically bad at earning bases. One of them made sense, though. In the Royals 7-6 win over the Marlins on May 16, Andrew Miller (!!) walked Pena to face the pitcher Brett Tomko.
The other makes less sense. In an April 25th contest against the Blue Jays, the Royals were up 5-4 against old friend Scott Downs and the Blue Jays with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out.
Downs walked Pena, who had a -34 wRC+ entering the contest, to face the lefty David DeJesus, who hit .307 for the season. And in 2008, Dejesus hit .302 against lefties. Kansas City wound up scoring three more runs and Downs was ultimately replaced by Jason Frasor, which is an added old-friend bonus.
3. 38.5 BUH%
Remember that time that Alcides Escobar hit .293 in 2012, but only because he had 35 bunt hits? Well, Pena had 38 hits during all of 2008. Five of them, or just under 15%, were bunts, which is comparable to Escobar’s 19%. In fact, 15% of his total bases were either bunt hits or intentional walks.
If you take those away, which is unfair but fun, his slash goes from .169/.189/.209 for a .398 OPS to .147/.165/.187 for a .352 OPS. His .398 OPS is already the 2nd worst since 1920 for players with at least 230 plate appearances. A .352 mark would have put him 30 full points behind the next closest season.
2. -8 wRC+ in 235 PA
The granddaddy of all bad stats. A -8 wRC+ across 235 plate appearances. The worst of all-time for anybody with that many plate appearances by a full nine points. In fact, there isn’t a single player in MLB history with a negative wRC+ in that many plate appearances. In fact, there isn’t another negative number in that category until you get to the 180 PA threshold and nobody tops his -8 mark until the 150 PA mark.
Pena was cemented as the starter and played nearly every game until being benched in early June. Who knows if he would have gotten out of his slump to produce at a less historically bad rate, but based on our final stat, maybe the Royals made a mistake* sending him to the bench.
1. 52-43 team record in games played
This is actually the stat that inspired this post. I have always been fascinated at Pena’s 2008 season, which is what made it odd that I hardly mentioned him in the previous post about the 2008 squad.
But this stat is even more mind blowing than him literally being the worst hitter in modern baseball history. If you look at the majority of Major League players, they almost always have worse numbers in losses.
Barry Bonds had a career 1.212 OPS in wins and a measly .859 OPS in losses. Mike Trout has a career 1.131 OPS in wins compared to .856 in losses. The dots are easy to connect. Teams lose when their players perform poorly. This is true even for the worst hitters. Bill Bergen is the worst qualified hitter in baseball history according to wRC+ and even his OPS was 64 points better in wins than losses.
The point being this: Bad players being bad results in losses. Good players being good results in wins. Having an all-time terrible hitter being a blackhole in an already bad lineup doesn’t scream wins. And in theory, replacing him with a far superior player should lead to wins.
Now, onto Pena. Mike Aviles replaced Pena as the starter very quickly when he was called up in May and was nearly the Rookie of the Year. According to wRC+, and using some weird math without two positive numbers, Aviles was 197% better than Pena, Jr.
Yet, the Royals were 52-43 in games that Pena played compared to 51-51 in games played by Aviles. That 2008 Royals team was a different breed of weird.