Reader Week: Hacking Hunter Pence

This week is going to feature players deemed “the biggest question mark” specifically identified by FB365 readers. If you have a player for specific evaluation, email contactfb365@gmail.com
 
The past two seasons, Hunter Pence has hit 25 home runs, scored over 75 runs, driven in over 70 runs ans stolen over 10 bases. While his AVG has fluctuated a bit, it has remained high enough to keep him as a mixed league fixture and one that many owners targeted on draft day 2010.
 
Through 112 at-bats so far this season, Pence is hitting a woeful .241/.261/.384 with only 10 RBI.
 

Last season, Pence took big strides with regard to his AVG. Never one to strikeout too much, Pence lowered his strikeout rate while raising his walk rate. The strikeout rate has continued to shrink this season, currently sitting at a low 11.6 percent, far from his 19.5 percent career average. The strikeouts are not the problem, it’s the contact he is making.

 
Pence is a free swinger, but his approach so far this season is miles away from where it has been the past two seasons.
Chasing pitches outside the strike zone at a 35.5 percent clip is never a good thing. However, some hitters can not only make contact on these pitches, but make good contact on these pitches (see: Guerrero, Vladimir). Pence has not been that type of hitter so far in his career.
 
Below is a chart of the percentage of Pence’s swings at pitches outside the strike zone (O-Sw%), contact on pitches outside the strike zone (O-CT%) and overall contact (CT%),

Season

O-Sw%

O-CT%

CT%

2007

29.8%

52.1%

76.5%

2008

31.1%

55.3%

76.8%

2009

26.6%

60.1%

76.7%

2010

35.5%

77.1%

84.9%

 
It would appear that Pence is pressing big time. He’s swinging at a ton of bad pitches and though he’s making contact on those pitches, he’s not exactly hitting them hard. As a matter of fact, most of his contact is resulting in ground ball outs (64.6 percent ground ball rate).
 
If Pence can just relax and bring the same approach to the plate he had the previous few seasons, mabe he can find his way out of this slump.
 
The problem is that, due to his free swinging ways, Pence’s AVG is very volatile to project. He’s never been a big line drive hitter (15.3 percent career line drive rate) and historically hasn’t made very good contact overall.
 
More than likely, Pence will hit 20-plus home runs and steal ten-plus bases this season, but there is no way of endorsing a huge improvement in AVG at this point. Put that alongside the fact that he is hitting in a miserable lineup and the situation looks even more bleak.
 
Unless Pence owners can find a trading partner willing to pay close to full price on a possible Pence comeback, there may not be much to do with this situation. 
There is still enough upside for an improvement to .265/.320/.450 with the 20 home run power and 10-plus steals by season’s end.