The San Francisco Giants, for the second time in three years, won the World Championship. Marco Scutaro was amazing throughout, and Barry Zito saved their bacon of excellence on the hill, but the spiritual leader of the Giants was no doubt Hunter Pence. After collecting more than 100 RBIs, in what has roundly called a “down” season, what should we expect from Mr. Pence?
It might surprise some people to note that Pence had 104 RBIs in 2012 (that includes a finishing kick of 45 in 59 games with the Giants despite hitting .219 in the city by the Bay). Not only was that total a career best it was more RBI than Buster Posey (103), the NL MVP. It was also two more RBIs than Matt Holliday and Adrian Beltre, five more than Jay Bruce, eight more than Andrew McCutchen and 10 more than Robinson Cano. Still, Pence’s season was disappointing. Let me count the ways.
Pence hit .253, a career worst.
Pence stole five bases, a career worst.
Pence had a .425 SLG, a career worst.
Pence had a .319 OBP, .020 points below his career average.
Pence had a career worst 21.1 K-rate (145 Ks).
Pence had 26 doubles, tying a career worst.
Why did all of this happen and should we still look at Pence with fondness in the fantasy game?
Why did a guy who had hit at least .282 the previous three seasons, one who owns a career .285 mark, hit .253? Well I already noted the career worst strikeout total, and that certainly played its part. At the same time he walked a bit more than normal and the resulting 0.39 BB/K ratio, while not a good mark, but a dead on match for his career rate. What about his ability to lash the line drive? Same as always there too. In fact, his 17.0 percent line drive rate was the third best mark of his six year career an above his 16.1 percent career mark. Well then what about his BABIP? Though his mark was still a league average .290, that was a career low and well off his normal .321 mark.
The guy might be the most consistent hitter in baseball when it comes to GB/FB ratios. In six years the mark has been between 1.50 and 1.67, and the last four years it has been between 1.60 and 1.67 (it was 1.60 in 2012). Statistically speaking, you just can’t do that, yet he has year after year. Given the totality of his approach, one would have to expect his batting average to rebound next season.
I’ve written this many times about Pence in the past, and what I wrote then still holds now. The guy will never hit 30 homers. Simply put, he hits too many balls on the ground. I just noted his GB/FB ratio which speaks to this. Pence has a ground ball rate between 51.1 and 53.1 percent the past five years. You can’t hit more than half your balls into the ground and be a big home run hitter even if you are as consistent as all get out in the HR/F category as Pence also is (between 14.7 and 16.0 in each of his six seasons). I mean seriously folks, the amount of consistency that Pence puts up year after year in the GB/FB and HR/F categories is simply astounding. It’s no shock that he went deep 24 times in ’12. Do you know how many homers he averaged from 2008-11? Come on now, you know you want to guess. If you guessed 24 you win a big sloppy kiss – not from me but from someone you are attracted to.
So let me boil it down for you.
Pence posted the same GB/FB ratio as he always does in 2012.
Pence posted the same HR/F ratio as he always does in 2012.
Pence posted the same BB/K ratio as he always does in 2012.
Pence hit the exact same about of homers as he always does in 2012.
We can blame his batting average dip as a bit of bad luck in BABIP, an a return to the mean if you will. Pence hit a career best .314 in 2011, a number that isn’t indicative of the player he is. What does Pence hit if you add together his 2011 and 2012 batting average? He ends up hitting .283 the past two years. What is his career average again? Oh that’s right, it’s .285.
I’m telling you folks, the guy’s consistency is unbeatable. There hasn’t been a player in baseball that can match that consistency since Pence graced major league ball fields.
The only area of concern with Pence is his steal total. The first four seasons of his career he never stole less than 11 bases and never more than 18. For those four years he averaged 13.5 steals. The last two seasons he’s only stolen 13 bases. Not an extremely fast runner until he gets his wheels rolling, Pence may never steal 18 bags again, but he still has to be looked at as a 50/50 bet to get back to double-digits in 2013.
Don’t be one of the group of people that will look down on Pence in 2013. Draft him as you normally would despite the dip in his batting average and steal total last season. Chances are pretty good that Pence will be the same player in 2013 that he has always been – a darn good one.
By Ray Flowers