Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on Hunter Pence

Although I generally don't have a lot of warm, fuzzy thoughts about players on opposing teams who play against the Giants, there are sometimes individual players who catch my eye and make me say, "you know, I wish the Giants had a player like that!"  Of course a few years ago, one of those players was AJ Pierzynski, so what do I know?  On the other hand, I can also count Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro in that category, so it isn't all bad.

One such player who I have admired since he broke into MLB is Hunter Pence.  Here are some of the things I like about Hunter Pence:  His size.  His rawboned athleticism.  His intensity.  His combination of power and speed.  There is one more thing that I love about Hunter Pence that sets him apart from other good MLB players.   He chokes up on the bat!   Yes! He is a power hitter who chokes up on the bat!  Do you know who else choked up on his bat?  Yep!  Barry Bonds!  In fact, I believe watching Barry Bonds hit, is where Hunter Pence got the idea to choke up on his bat!  

I have never figured out why more power hitters don't choke up on the bat.  I know, choking up is for banjo hitters and slap and dash guys. It's all about gaining bat control and placing Texas leaguer hits, hitting 'em where they ain't, Wee Willie Keeler.  Power hitters want to be down at the bottom of the bat getting every inch of leverage they can out of their swing.  I happen to believe that is the wrong way to look at it.  Right now, there is nobody in baseball hitting the ball farther than Hunter Pence.  Before him, nobody hit the ball farther than Barry Bonds. Do you think those two get some speed into that bat head?  

Here is what I think choking up did and does for Barry Bonds and Hunter Pence:  1.  It allows them to extend their arms for maximum muscle leverage while exposing less of the bat handle to the ball.  2.  It creates more rotational bat speed allowing them to get around on an inside pitch faster while also maximizing the force of the bat on the ball at point of contact.  Think of it this way:  What happens when a figure skater is spinning with their arms extended and then pulls them in?  That's right, they spin faster!  Hitting a baseball is all about the radial spin of a bat around a central anchor just like those figure skaters.  In addition to choking up on his bat, Barry Bonds used a bat that was noticeably shorter than most.  Nobody got around on a pitch like Barry Bonds!  That added rotational speed allows the batter to wait longer before starting his swing giving him an extra split second for pitch recognition.

One more thing I love about Hunter Pence is his remarkable consistency.  Yes, he is a streaky hitter.  He's got those long arms and legs that sometimes get all out of sync and he can go 0 for 20 or 30 before you know it.  The other side of that, though is he gets into hot streaks that are awesome to behold and can carry a team.  When all is said and done at the end of a 162 game schedule, his season stat line looks remarkably similar from year to year(All stats start in the year 2008 and run through 2013, a total of 6 seasons):

HR:  25, 25, 25, 22, 24, 27.

RBI:  83, 72, 91, 97, 104, 99.

Runs:  78, 76, 93, 84, 87, 91.

Still not convinced?  Here is his slash line from 2013:  .283/.339/.483.  Here is his slash line season average for his career:  .285/.339/.476.

The dude is just a machine!  I have often just stared at his career stat sheet marveling at the consistency of it.  His MLB career is now over 1000 games and 4000 AB's.  I think you can take your wRC+ scores and  your OPS+ and any others you think might have predictive value.  With a track record like that, I would rather look at real runs crossing the plate.  You can pencil this guy in for 90 runs, 25 HR and 95 RBI's and be quite confident you will be very close in all categories at the end of the season.

So, there you have it:  Athleticism, Tools, Intensity, Choking up on the bat, Consistency.  Those are the things I like about Hunter Pence.  So it was an overpay by a couple of $ M/year.  BFD!  Are we really going to quibble over it?  Larry Baer went on the TV broadcast with Kruk and Kuip and addressed the overpay issue head on.  He said the Giants are a classy organization.  They do not try to take advantage of a player who wants to play for them.  There is a reason why players want to play for the Giants.  If the Giants want a player and there is mutual interest, they want the player to feel wanted and will do what it takes to get it done and not worry about whether it is a modest overpay.

I am totally on board with that as long as it does not become a roadblock to the acquisition of other needed players, but I defy anyone to show that any contract has ever become such a roadblock for the Giants!  Hunter Pence is a Giant, something I could only dream about when he was a young player breaking in with Houston.  I really don't give a rat's behind what the overpay was.  I like Hunter Pence as a player and am very happy I will get to watch him play for the team I root for over the next 5 seasons!

20 comments:

  1. Good stuff Doc!
    I agree completely.
    Overpay by comparison is Andre Ethier.
    You cannot put a price on what Hunter brings to the club house.
    I listened to his interview with Tom T on knbr podcast yesterday.
    Any father would be proud to call Hunter his son.

    Richard in Winnipeg

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    1. I wouldn't pay $90 M just for clubhouse presence, but yeah, when two dudes have similar on-field numbers and one radiates energy to the whole team while the other is looking at himself in the mirror, it's a pretty easy call.

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    2. My boys love watching Hunter Pence. While he definitely shouldn't make any instructional videos, the way he plays hard every pitch is definitely something to emulate. Of course, being young, they are tickled pink that his nickname is Captain Underpants.

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    3. Great read. The Giants had to retain Pence. It was good to see Pence get that contract after hearing him say from the moment he got traded here that he would like to stay.

      Though his offensive statistics have remained consistent, he has improved his ability to successfully steal bases. They asked him last year about stealing bases because of his good speed and he mentioned he was reluctant to run. Over the off season he said he worked on his speed and he ended up setting a career high in SB and SB%.

      pi.fa

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    4. Shankbone, it's funny you should say he shouldn't make any insturctional videos. Check out this satirical take on how a Hunter Pence baseball camp might look:
      http://extramustard.si.com/2013/09/26/hunter-pence-infomercial-weird-mechanics-kids-youth-baseball-camp-hunters-hitters/

      Dan

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    5. *instructional

      Dan

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    6. Thanks for the link Dan, that's pretty good.

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  2. 5 tool guy who does it his own unique way. I'm very happy with having him back, and really don't care about the extra scratch past "value" either. Wish we could have got him in 2011 but we didn't have the steaks in the freezer for it.

    I think there is a lot of value in seeing him "prove out" in our park. Its not an easy place to defend, and its not an easy place to hit obviously. Among those lines, Pence's ability to run, field and throw are pretty underrated, at least on the blogosphere. The comps to Swisher are laughable. And the "let it get to open market" could have gone the way of Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth just as easy as the Swisher. I think the tilting points would be Pence's athleticism, durability and speed game. 20/20 players are rare. Finally, he's young in the FA scheme of things, and a good bet to retain his skills. Here's my question to the saber dorks: where is his regression? Show me in the stats, where has he regressed? When is his peak? Is it already here? They have no idea. I think he's a good bet to continue, not regress. Of course, we never know when bat speed goes, and trouble begins. All contracts carry risk. I'm glad the Giants snagged, which allows them to concentrate on other parts of their lineup, retain their draft pick most likely because they're not out chasing all the guys who do cost draft picks. The FA market costs money. Good for them for cheerfully paying up and then a little somethun'.

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  3. Also, here's a quick small time example of what happens with trying to get the best deal. The Yanks batted around the bunny with Russell Martin. They wanted to sign him for 2/12-14MM. They were still in talk stages... Pirates came over the top with a 2/17MM and he's gone baby gone. Small time example, but that is what happens with FA. Pence seems like a guy who has a number in mind that is fair, not a max-it-out type. It's always a double edged sword, because Sabean is definitely a quick trigger bird in the hand guy, while he's got some good deals by waiting it out. Have to juggle it, and there is the occasional misfire, but generally going out early in the market hasn't been the worst strategy in the world. Or in this case of not allowing any open market. They have a month with Timmy to bounce around the bunny, it'll be interesting to see how strong their offer gets.

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    1. On Timmy. I will be shocked if Timmy signs before playing out the full FA string. He just seems comfortable rolling the dice. The Giants will at least tag him, which should give a lot of clubs a second thought and worst case a draft choice. Prediction, Timmy signs 2/$35. The problems a) has he been humbled enough to start pitching and b) can his gymnast body (per Doc B) maintain velocity with command/control at 90+. Would not go 2+ years in any case.

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  4. On Pence, my biggest gripe has been his 0'fer streaks that can really kill the batting order mojo. In 2012 and the middle part of 2013 it wasn't pretty at times. However, I have also watched him clam down and become more consistent when he knows he is part of the team. 2013 hot to start (he is part of a WS team), before/after trade deadline (he is unsettled on/off the team) and late Aug/Sept (he is on the team and the team wants him and is negotiating). Now he is home. Next 5 years with the Giants!

    My prediction -- Pence has found his Giant Home and will be more consistent and productive over the full 5 years. Plus the dude eats dino kale!

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  5. Great analysis. Giants did hte right thing here--focus on guys who are consistent at PacBell (I refuse to call it ATT) Park. Rowan comes to mind in what not to do. We now have one more "core" guy to be added to Posey, Belt, Crawford and Pagan. I don't count Panda (because he's fat, ... uh, out of shape), Hector (needs to show more commitment, but could be on cusp), Scutaro (he's getting long in the tooth) or anyone on the line up sheet with LF next to it (assuming Pagan is in CFof course). We are never going to compete with BosSox, Yankees or Doyers on salary. The As and Pittsburgh have shown you don't need to. In a short series, pitching wins and we have guys in 2015 (if not 14) to get us there. IF we have the core behind them and this signing helps accomplish that.

    As for dollars and other signings, I don't know enough about payroll, but just don't see how it is the case we are precluded from signing the right guy. Forgetting if we still have dead money (do we?), we save $11m after the buyout of Zito's contract and another $6.5mm on Vogelsong. And Timmy was pulling down $22mm or so. Even if we sign him, I can't see more than 2 years at somewhere between 13-15mm (which I think is probably too much for a guy with a 4.40+ era, but realize we may have no real option). So, at a minimum, we have probably north of $20mm in payroll savings. Yeah, Pence, Cain and Bumgarner (are there any big escalators?) make more, but we should still have room.

    I can definitely see this not happening, but I wonder if we'll sign the Cuban 2b. He appears to be better than Abreau (sp?) and then you have Crawford and that guy for a while, with Scutaro as a great back up or trade bait (along with Panik). Maybe that gets you a SP. Signing Abreau would be fine too since that puts Belt in LF. I think both of those signings are probably doable at decent prices relative to payroll (yeah, Puig has changed the market, but these guys are still relatively unknown).

    PiLamBear

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    1. I don't know enough about payroll either.

      A long time ago, it was simpler. You get the right players, not having to worry about who much they make and team payroll,

      I will say this though, a solid #3 starter under team control - cheap and can only get better - would have gone a long way toward putting together our 2014 roster.

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  6. Choking up.

    Why don't they just order short bats - I am always curious.

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    1. Choking up these days just gets the bat back into a normal configuration, as I see it. Today's bats (from players' preferences, I'm sure) have much longer, thinner handles than they used to. Batters think this gives their swing more of a whip action. But you then get more broken bats (with the resultant weak grounders) and you have less "good wood" to put on the ball.

      Choking up on older-style bats would, indeed, indicate a punch-and-judy hitter. Today, it just makes good sense.

      Or, as BuyLow indicates, they could just make the bats better. But that would take players demanding a change.

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  7. If you're going to emulate a hitter, might as well emulate Bonds.

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  8. One more thing to chew on... Going to B/R's leaderboard here is what Pence gives you:
    8th Offensive WAR (5.0)
    1st Games played (162)
    9th Runs Scored (91)
    5th Hits (178)
    2nd Total Bases (304)
    4th HRs (27)
    7th RBI (99)
    9th SBs (22)
    7th Runs Created (102)
    4th Extra Base Hits (67)
    9th Times On Base (233)
    2nd SB% (88)
    2nd in Power-Speed (24.2 - ahead of McCutchen!)
    8th in outs made (474 - hey it ain't all pretty)
    7th in situational wins added (4.1)
    10th in Base-out wins added (3.8) (This is the beat out the grounder spaz routine!)

    Not bad at all. All over the leaderboards. The Power/Speed combo - that one is impressive.

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    1. Oops. That's the NL leaderboard, not MLB.

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  9. I really think we should try to lure Nolasco away from the Doyers. I don't think he is a #1 or a #2 but he could definitely be a good #3 and anchor down the back of the rotation. Before he was traded to the Doyers he was 4-0 with a 0.83 ERA at ATT. I am wondering what he ends up signing for. 4/60M? Any thoughts.

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