Royals part ways with decade's worst hitter

Leave a comment

New acquisition Yuniesky Betancourt came off the disabled list
yesterday and the Royals cleared room on the 25-man roster for their
new starting shortstop by designating Tony Pena Jr. for assignment.

After years in the Braves’ front office Dayton Moore became the
Royals’ general manager in mid-2006 and brought Pena over from Atlanta
the next spring. Pena was the team’s shortstop as a 26-year-old rookie,
starting 145 games while hitting .267/.284/.356 for the third-worst OPS
in the league. Last season his starts dropped to 61 and his hitting
line fell to .169/.189/.209, and this year he went 5-for-51 (.098) in a
part-time role.

Add it all up an you get a career line of .228/.248/.300 in 870
plate appearances. Baseball-Reference.com has a great stat called
adjusted OPS+ that measures offensive production relative to the
league, ballpark, and era someone played in. An adjusted OPS+ of 100 is
considered average and Albert Pujols leads MLB at 209 this season.
Pena’s adjusted OPS+ is 44, which ranks as the seventh-worst mark of the past 50 years:

                    OPS+
Angel Salazar 36
Donnie Sadler 39
Luis Gomez 40
Mario Mendoza 41
Mick Kelleher 42
Jerry Zimmerman 42
TONY PENA 44
Luis Pujols 44
Rafael Belliard 46
Luis Alvarado 46

Any time you can get on a futility list with the man behind “The
Mendoza Line” you’re really doing something. It’s also worth noting
that the next-worst adjusted OPS+ this decade belongs to John McDonald
at 56, which makes him look like Babe Ruth compared to the above list,
so Pena stands alone as the worst hitter of the 2000s. And the beauty
of the whole thing is that he batted .252/.285/.332 in 2,748 plate
appearances as a minor leaguer, so realistically he probably hit better
than should have been expected. Seriously.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.