Well, Chris Davis is obviously the “real” Fantasy MVP. His ADP according to FantasyPros was seven spots worse than Hunter Pence‘s, and he ended up eight spots better in the final rankings. But if you’d have asked me which guy I’d rather have going into this season, I would have easily reached for the power source in Davis. There were just too many warning signs with Pence to pick him. Right?
Here is a complete list of all the stats in which Hunter Pence showed a three-plus year low going into 2013: batting average, stolen bases, on-base percentage, strikeout rate, isolated slugging percentage, speed score, and weighted runs created. That’s a fairly complete drop across the board in all facets of the game. He was turning 30, and it seemed obvious to me that he was post-peak and hitting in the wrong park for his skillset.
Here is a complete list of all the stats in which Hunter Pence showed a career high in 2013 (600+ plus PAs): batting average, home runs, stolen bases, stolen-base percentage, and isolated slugging percentage. His strikeout rate was his second-best, and only once had he driven in more runs.
A stat that might actually help to bring these two divergent paths together is not one usually cited in fantasy articles: games played. Hunter Pence is fourth in the league in games played since 2008, his first full year. Even through all of his ups and downs and streaks, being on the field has helped him average 85 runs and 91 RBI for his career (and of course his 162-game pace is, of course, not far off in 88 and 94 respectively). Hunter Pence stays healthy.
And yet, it’s maybe a health incident that helped depress his numbers prematurely. He had a sports hernia surgery at the end of the 2011 season, and he recently admitted to me that he thought that screwed up his 2011 season, and that he wasn’t fully himself in the 2012 season, either. Pence also told me that he thought his offseason workout regimen — “totally different” — and continued focus on eating healthier helped prepare him for a career season in 2013. Who knows if the looming specter of free agency brought it about, it’s clear that a motivated Hunter Pence can still go 20/20. And a 20/20 Pence with all those plate appearances returns top-ten roto value.
Of course, we can’t end our discussion with at least some thinking about the repeatability of this feat. If the workout routine allowed him to “get faster” as he put it, could he attempt 25 steals again? Seems likely, he’s attempted at least that many three times in his career. He hit 17 of his 27 homers away from home, but the total was only three more than his previous career-high. If we give him 25 stolen base attempts and a more modest home-away homer split, we can still project Pence into a 20/20 season, even with regression.
Batting average is an open question. While Pence has generally stayed within a stable range on his counting stats, his batting average has oscillated from .253 to .314. Some of it is related to his strikeout rate, which has come in anywhere from 16% to 21.1%. Last year’s 16.7% was a tick or two better than his career rate, but that career rate was also suppressed by two less-than-healthy years if you believe the player. It’s certainly possible that Pence could hit .270+ next year, even if his strikeout rate only settles in at his career level and doesn’t swing past it.
Still, even a .270/20/20 guy — if he adds his customary 80 runs and 90 RBI — has great value in most leagues. And, assuming Pence eats healthy and does the same exercises this offseason, that doesn’t seem like a stretch for the Giant outfielder with the funny gait.