By DAVID MARTIN
The 2008 Royals finished 13 games out of first place in the AL Central -- an improvement on the recent past with much work still be done.
The 12-game losing streak was out of the ordinary. Few saw the 13-2 finish coming. But at Jose Guillen's last angry glare, the club's record stood at 75-87 -- below average, not embarrassing and pretty much on par with spring-training predictions.
The hitting of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler didn't take the forward leaps that many foretold. At the same time, it was easy to imagine Brian Bannister, the brainy but hardly overpowering starting pitcher, struggling in his second full season, and that no good would come from journeyman Ross Gload getting 400 at-bats. Only the frequency and content of Guillen's outbursts were unknowns, his antisocial behavior being a fact as certain as his right-handedness.
Still, there were revelations. The unheralded infielder Mike Aviles came up from the minors on May 29 and never stopped hitting. David DeJesus, putting a logy 2007 behind him, did a reasonable impression of Tony Oliva, leading the team in batting average and slugging percentage.
Alas, the 2008 Royal who made the most profound mark on the game did so by being inept. According to a statistic called Value Over Replacement Player, shortstop Tony Pena Jr. was the game's worst offensive player.
VORP estimates a player's value by comparing his hitting statistics to the typical performance of a player at his position that a general manager could obtain cheaply and easily (a guy in triple-A, for instance). A star like Albert Pujols creates 70-90 more runs a season than this theoretical replacement player.
Pena finished with a VORP of -24.9. He was so ineffective, in other words, that a generic shortstop in the minor leagues inserted into his spot in the lineup would have gained the Royals nearly a full run every week. (VORP does not take a player's defensive ability into account.)
Pena's VORP was twice as bad as 2008's second-most-feeble shortstop, Omar Vizquel, who is 41 and was always more of a glove man than a Derek Jeter-type.
Pena's VORP is pretty shocking considering that he was benched (in favor of Aviles) most of the year. The 2007 season's negative VORP leader, the Twins' Nick Punto, made 536 appearances at the plate in amassing his -27.1 figure. Pena did similar damage to his team's chances in just 235 trips to the plate, nearly all horrible to watch.