You can’t help but root for Hunter Pence. He gives it his all every time he is on the field. He never screws up off the field and ends up in the police blotter. His teammates love him. Fans love him. I mean how couldn’t you? There may be no bigger spaz in the game. It looks like he’s a softball player hacking away at the dish, and when he throws I’m pretty sure about a third of the people watching might be thinking his arm is going to fly off. I know everyone who watches him run thinks the dude must have been a kamikaze in a previous life. But in the end the numbers are there, they always are.
Hunter Pence was coming off a horrible month of July during which he hit .241 with one homer, nine RBIs an a .612 OPS for the World Champion San Francisco Giants (I get to say that for another few days before the 2013 Champ is crowned). There were some who sold him for .70 cents on the dollar because of those struggles, while others in the dreaded 10 team leagues actually let him go looking for the next big thing.
What did they miss? A furious finish from the Frisco outfielder (I hate the term Frisco but I had an “F” thing going there). Over his last 56 games Pence hit .300 with 13 bombs, 48 RBIs, 35 runs scored and eight steals. He wasn’t just good, he was a flat out superstar over the last third of the season. When it was all said and done he hit .283 with 27 homers, 99 RBIs, 91 runs scored and 22 steals. That’s one hell of a season and no one in baseball reached all five of those marks in 2013 other than Pence. No one in baseball matched Pence. Think about that for a moment before you read the next sentence. Mike Trout was the closest but he he finished with 97 RBIs. But, that dominating all-around effort leaves open the question of what should expectations be for Pence in 2014?
Pence hit .283 in 2013. His career mark is .285. He’s hit at least .282 in four of the past five seasons.
His career BABIP is .319. In four of the past five seasons the mark has been between .290 and .308. The only outlier was his .361 mark in 2011.
The last three years he’s had a 17 percent line drive rate each time out. His career mark is 16.3 percent.
What you see is what you get here. That .253 batting average in 2012 was the outlier, just like his .314 mark in 2011. In fact, if we add that up ’11 effort to the down ’12 wanna guess what his batting average was for the two seasons? I bet you pretty much guessed it. Try .283.
In each of the past six seasons Pence has hit between 22 and 27 homers (his mark from 2013 was a career best). The only others to have at least 22 homers the past six years are: Nick Swisher, David Ortiz, Matt Holliday, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
Pence owns a 32.8 percent fly ball rate for his career. The mark has been between 30.8 and 35.8 percent each of his seven career seasons. While that consistency is impressive, wait until you get a load of this next measure…
Pence has a 15.2 percent HR/F rate for his career. In seven seasons, every single one that he’s gotten a check for being a big leaguer, that mark has been between 14.6 and 16.0 percent. That’s a remarkable run of consistency, one that rivals any player in the game.
What you see is what you get here.
RUNS BATTED IN
Each of the past four seasons Pence has knocked in at least 91 runs. The only players that join Pence in that group of profound performers are: Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera.
This is the one category to be nervous about with Pence, and the one that will likely lead to him being over-drafted in the coming campaign. After stealing 13 bases in 2011-12 he went for 22 last season, a career best. The only previous time he had more than 14 thefts was when he swiped 18 back in 2010. He’s averaged 13 steals over his seven season career, and while another run to 20 steals obviously cannot be discounted, it would be much smarter to expect him to swipe 10 bags while hoping for 15. After all, he was only caught three times last season and the other four times that he reached double-digits he averaged nine caught stealing per season.
From 2008-13 Pence has appeared in at least 154 games each season. The only others that join Pence in that group are: Cano, AGone and Fielder.
The guy is, pretty much anyway you look at it, one of the most consistent performers in baseball.
We’ve got an odd situation developing with Pence. Overlooked for years because he was just really good but not great at anything, people are likely to be expecting too much from Pence in 2014. The biggest area of regression is likely to be in the steals column, an all sane people should understand why that is. While you want Pence on your squad, he’s not someone to reach on. As I noted at the top, while he does everything well, nothing he does truly stands out. There’s no “upside” to adding him to your squad. As your third outfielder he’s fantastic. As your second outfielder he’s an extremely strong option. As your first outfielder? That’s not a spot I want to slot Pence in for the 2014 season.
By Ray Flowers