There was some chatter earlier this off-season that the San Francisco Giants might — MIGHT — non-tender Hunter Pence. As a super two with plenty of counting stats compiled over his career, coming off a very hollow 100 RBI season, Pence stood to earn a huge raise. The Giants opted to stick with their soon-to-be-even-more wealthy right fielder.
Matt Schwartz projected Pence would earn $13.8 million in his final trip through the arbitration process…which is exactly what he got. The Giants are on the hook for nearly $14 million for Pence in 2013. That’s a lot of money.
Hunter Pence agrees with #SFGiants for $13.8M for 2013
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 18, 2013
Pence’s first foray into calling a pitcher’s ballpark home did not end well for the former Phillie and Astro, as Pence posted the worst numbers of his career in 2013. Career lows in batting average, slugging percentage, ISO, wOBA, while striking out more than ever before. Hunter Pence is an unconventional* player who maximizes his considerable physical gifts to overcome his obvious lack of familiarity with baseball fundamentals.
* – in an aesthetic sense
Pence benefited from hitting behind Buster Posey and his .408 OBP by cashing a cool 45 ribbies in just 248 plate appearances as a Giant, despite hitting .219/.287/.384 in SF. He was, by any objective measure, quite bad on the balance of 2012.
His contact rates dipped, making less contact overall and swinging and missing at a higher rate than previously observed. His in-play average nosedived after an unsustainable 2011 rate of .361 (40 points higher than his career number), though his well-hit average also took a mighty tumble. His 2012 struggles overshadow Pence’s career 117 wRC+ and 21 fWAR over 900 career games.
The Giants chose to tender Pence a contract because they figure he will be better in 2013 (possibly because he cannot be worse) and because they lacked a superior option. Plagued by a shoulder problem earlier in the season, a healthy Pence might deliver production similar to his previously established career levels.
A lot rides on Pence’s 2013 season. If he struggles again, the Giants will think long and hard about extending him a qualifying offer at season’s end. ZiPS projects Pence to struggle again in 2013, giving him a .262/.317/.410 slash line and an uninspiring .316 wOBA. Heading into free agency after two straight down seasons? Not good. Heading into free agency after a bounceback year? Back up the truck!
Hat tip Maestro Fresh Wes