Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hey kids: Carlos Pena walks, homers and strikes out…TO THE EXTREME!

Carlos Pena will be cooler than Poochie if he manages to lead the AL in homers, RBI, walks and strikeouts while finishing last in the majors in batting average. Photo from this site.

Carlos Pena hit 46 homers in 2007, one season after he spent time in three organizations and hit one major league homer (a walk-off blast for the Red Sox against the White Sox Sept. 4), and helped the perpetually awful Rays to the World Series in 2008. But Pena may be pulling off his most remarkable feat yet as he puts the finishing touches on an awesomely absurd season of extreme statistical accomplishment.

Pena has gotten plenty of ink and pixels for collecting more homers (39) than singles (38), something only Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds have ever accomplished. But that’s nothing compared to his emergence as the poster boy for Three True Outcomes.

Entering play today, Pena leads the AL in homers (39), walks (84) and strikeouts (156) while ranking second in RBI…and last among all major league qualifiers in batting average (.225). That’s right: He may win two-thirds of the Triple Crown (he is three behind Mark Teixeira in RBI) while finishing dead last in the third category.

That is, if I may use the adjective for the second time in three graphs, awesome, and reminiscent of one of the defining seasons of my baseball youth. I recall watching the putrid Mets (some things never change) on WWOR-9 (OK, most things do change) in 1982 as Dave Kingman jockeyed for the NL home run lead while struggling to keep his batting average above The Mendoza Line.

A quick check of confirms my recollections were correct: Kingman led the NL with 37 homers and also paced the circuit with 156 strikeouts, all while batting .204—the lowest mark in the big leagues.

A further foray into also makes it clear that Pena is on pace to produce the most productive season, by far, of anyone who has finished last in the majors in batting average since 1979. No player since Kingman has led his league in multiple offensive categories while ranking last in batting average—in fact, the only players to bring up the rear in batting average and lead the league in anything, positive or negative, are Rob Deer (led the AL in whiffs in 1991 and 1993) and Brian Hunter (led the AL in stolen bases in 1999).

Yet Pena has a chance to do it in FOUR categories—though he enters today with a healthy lead only in homers, where he is seven ahead of Teixeira—and he’ll also likely finish the season in the top 10 in slugging percentage and runs scored as well. Only two players since 1979 have even finished in the top 10 in three categories while compiling the lowest batting average in the game: Kingman, who finished ninth in the NL in RBI in 1982, and Gorman Thomas, who ranked fifth in homers, seventh in strikeouts and ninth in walks in the AL in 1985.

In addition, Pena already has more homers than anyone who finished last in batting average since 1979, and he’ll make it a clean sweep with two more RBI, 13 more walks and 20 more strikeouts.

If, of course, Pena manages to stay first in the race for last. Pena was hitting as low as .211 as recently as Aug. 18, but he’s hit .356 with over his last 13 games to allow Mike Jacobs (.228) and David Ortiz (.229) to creep closer. Pena has seven singles in that span, one more than he had in 38 games from July 1 through Aug. 18. On behalf of minutiae-loving baseball fans everywhere, Carlos, here’s hoping for more Three True Outcomes and less versatility down the stretch.

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