When the Giants traded for Hunter Pence last season they thought that they were getting a big bat to fill the middle of their lineup.
It didn’t quite turn out that way for the Giants with Pence hitting just .219/.287/.384 in 248 plate appearances, not that it ultimately mattered as the Giants won the World Series in spite of his offensive ineptitude.
Looking back at his partial season with the Giants, he put up numbers well below his career norms. His full year stats also resulted in career lows in batting average, slugging, isolated power, strike out rate and Wins Above Replacement. His season was so bad that he lost 7 points on his career batting average, 4 points on his on base percentage and 10 points on his slugging percentage.
Overall, things were ugly.
So the big question for the Giants is what to expect this season? Should we expect the weak hitting guy who suited up for the Giants last year or the middle of the order threat they thought they traded for last season?
Taking a look at his batted ball data it suggests that he might have been a little bit unlucky — his batting average on balls in play was .261 compared to his career mark of .321. Using the expected batting average on balls in play calculator from the Hardball Times, Pence would have been expected to be closer to .320 than the .261 he ended up with.
If he had done that, he would have expected something along the lines of an additional nine or so hits, boosting his batting average toward the .260 range. That wouldn’t have been great but it does help us when we are looking for what to expect next season.
The next thing that is important to look at is his power. Pence’s Isolated Power (ISO), which represents slugging percentage minus batting average to take a look at a player’s ability to hit for extra bases, has fallen pretty significantly from his early career numbers.
Early in his career he posted ISO’s that were near All-Star level. Since then it has fallen into the merely above average range. The trend is a bit worrying for the future, especially considering AT&T Park’s history of sapping power numbers.
The projection systems all seem to be in agreement that Giants fans should expect a rebound but should also temper expectations for him. The most bullish projection is the Bill James (it is almost always the most bullish projection system) that projects a .277/.338/.464 line. The most bearish system is ZiPS, which projects a .262/.320/.410 line.
The average of the projections from Steamer, Bill James, Oliver, ZiPS and PECOTA is .268/.329/.432 and approximately 2.0 wins above replacement. If Pence’s line ends up in this neighborhood the Giants’ offense could be in trouble.
Looking forward, it is hard to pin down whether last year marked the start of Pence’s decline phase or if it was just an anomaly and he will return to his previous career norms. With the coming season marking the beginning of his 30s, unfortunately it’s probably safer to bet on the former than the latter.
If there is one saving grace in all of this, it is that Pence is playing for a contract. Perhaps the draw of one more big payday will propel Pence to beat the projections.