At a glance, it would seem like Hunter Pence is a tough guy to project. He is a wildly unorthodox player and while all the tools are there, it seems as though he goes through peaks and valleys.
But in fantasy baseball, that doesn’t really matter. If Player A hits 5 HR’s per month, and Player B hits 10 HR’s one month and 0 the next and repeats that cycle all year, both end up with 30 homers. In a roto league, that’s all that matters.
Pence may be a little erratic day-to-day, but take a look at his career 162 game average against his 2013 season, when he played and started in all 162 games.
|Career 162 Game Avg.||179/629||87||25||94||14||.285/.339/.476|
So somehow, the streaky hitter with unorthodox motions seems to be wildly consistent.
With that in mind, let’s look ahead to 2014.
What I Like
I like that he seems to get the same kind of numbers every year, and that those numbers are good.
Think of Pence as a B student in school. The B student achieves a 3.0 GPA by earning a B in all six classes. That’s Pence, who probably isn’t consistent enough to get an A in any category, but he has too many tools and hot streaks to fall below into the C range.
One thing that did worry me about Pence was that he was having such a good season in his contract year. If you look at the numbers above, you’ll notice that the biggest discrepancy is in steals, as he nabbed eight more bases in 2013 than his 162 game average would indicate that he should have. Actually, nine more if you stop those averages before 2013. Players in contract years are always risky, especially if their teams are out of the playoff race. You never know if they’re trying to do other things to bolster their free agent price tag.
I won’t say that there was none of that in Pence this year, but he signed a new contract before the 2013 season even ended. He never gave any of the other 29 teams a chance to offer him a contract. So, his performance did bolster his value, but he never tested the waters.
Ultimately, I liken Pence to an Alex Rios. He’s probably a little better as a hitter, but not as good in steals. He’s what you want out of an outfielder in that there just aren’t any big weaknesses on the fantasy stat-sheet.
I also like that since 2008, Pence has played 150 games every year, so the 162 games he logged in 2013 weren’t really a fluke. It’s always nice to know that a guy will be in your lineup every day and that he won’t have lengthy trips to the DL.
What I Don’t Like
Pence is a lot more valuable in roto leagues than in head-to-head. In roto, the hot and cold steaks all offset. In head-to-head, his cold streaks can just kill your team in certain weeks.
I also don’t like the fact that it’s possible we may hear this phrase a few times in 2014:
With two outs on second and third, they’re going to walk Pence and try their luck against Brandon Crawford with the bases loaded.
Let me explain.
Barring some injuries, he 1-2 hitters in the San Francisco lineup will be Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. 3-6 spots in the Giants order will almost certainly be occupied by Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Pence. The question is, in what order?
I’ll say with a great deal of certainty that Posey will be third or fourth. Pence should be in the 3-5 range. But there is a way that he won’t be, and it’s not exactly impossible.
What if he starts 2014 slow, and Sandoval and Belt start hot? If that happens, Pence could well be relegated to the six spot. Now, I still think he’d drive in around 85 or more runs, but that would immensely hurt his power and runs scored. You’re just not going to get good pitches to hit with Brandon Crawford protecting you. Also, we haven’t even considered the possibility that the Giants will sign a left fielder who can hit, which would add add another wrinkle into the heart of the order.
When you’re drafting, you’ll probably get a better sense of what’s happening and how Bruce Bochy is ordering his lineup in Spring Training. But the looming possibility that a pitcher may be facing Pence, look over into the on-deck circle to see Crawford gives me some pause in giving Pence a glowing recommendation. A few more walks would probably mean another 20+ steals, but Pence is a fairly aggressive hitter. He may not be seeing more walks, just swinging at more bad pitches.
Look Ahead to 2014
The bottom line is that Pence has a consistent track record that those other guys (excluding Posey) just don’t have. It’s not impossible to think that Pence may end up in a bad part of the order for fantasy owners, but a lot will need to fall into place for that to happen.
Pence will be 31 next April. Not a young player, but not terribly old, either. He’s never had a real history of injuries, either, so looking ahead, there’s no real reason to expect a massive drop in production.
Historically speaking, he’s just as likely to be at .300 as he is .270. He’s just as likely to drive in over 100 runs as he is to drive in under 90. He’s not Mike Trout, Adam Jones, or Andrew McCutchen. But Pence was ESPN’s eighth best fantasy outfielder in 2013 (seventh if you eliminate Chris Davis). While it seems weird to see him above Carlos Gonzalez, it’s not crazy to value him above Cargo. Yes, there’s more potential with Gonzalez, but more reliability with Pence.
That’s really what it comes down to. If you like reliability and trust that a guy will play to the numbers on the back of his baseball card, Hunter Pence is a guy that you should covet.