Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Keep your eye on: Hunter Pence

His hitting mechanics are absolutely the wackiest I have ever seen but this 27 year old right fielder for the Houston Astros is a power-speed combo that has relatively flown under the radar for the past four seasons. Radar or not, this kid can rake.

Hunter Pence broke into the majors with a great rookie season: .322/.360/.539/.384 (wOBA) with a .217 ISO and 17 homers in 456 at bats. In Pence's second season in The Show, he posted a .269/.318/.466/.334 and a .197 ISO and 25 homers in 595 at bats experiencing a small step in production back but a solid season nonetheless.

Pence hit 25 long balls again in 2009 as he brought his average back up to a rock solid .282 and got his OBP to an above-average .346 while seeing his P/PA rise to 3.90 after 3.65 in his first two years. His walk rate also improved to an average 9%. He got rid of about 2% on his strike out rate as it went from 20.8% to a mark weighing in at just below the norm, 18.6%. Pence's UZR in 2008 was an astounding 12.3 and in 2009, it stayed about the same at 12.1. His overall WAR was a career best 4.1.

But in 2010, Pence once again took a step back. But this regression looked to be smaller than his previous one. For the third year in a row, he hit 25 dingers while cashing in his best strike out rate of his career at 17.1%. He even stole a career high 18 bases. The "step back" starts with his second lowest OBP and wOBA, .318 and .331, respectively. His ISO dropped to a still respectable .179.

But for three straight years after his awesome rookie year, Pence's line drive, ground ball, fly ball and HR/FB ratio have stayed very similar from year to year:


Talk about consistent, right?

There always tends to be speculation that players should have a breakout year following three or more of these kinds of seasons in which these kind of numbers are put up. Being 27 years old, what is not to love about Pence's current situation? He is in the middle of an arbitration process in which he will be getting a raise so that always helps. Again, he's 27 and has posted such consistent numbers and has already established him self as a great player who is also fantastic in the outfield.

He only had a negative Pitch Type Value against one pitch in 2010, the slider at -5.2. That being said, this is a good sign for a break out season at a break-out-prone-age, like 27. By being able to hit the majority of the pitches thrown at him, you have to think that pitchers just will not be able to avoid his bat.

Pence does not only hit well, but he is also a great fielder according to his 12.3 UZR and 12.1 in both 2008 and 2009. And although his UZR dropped to 3.0 in 2010, I believe that it was just a fluke and that it should be back to normal in the up and coming season.
This picture is definitely in contest with the Carl Pavano photo. What a crazy face. 

Then again, I could be wrong, says his below average 30.2% O-Swing and his rather slim 49 point OBP/AVG differential. Maybe he will turn into the next Lyle Overbay and just never have that big, bulky, career year. But honestly, I do not think that will happen. He is just in too good of a position and has too much talent for that to happen to him, in my opinion.

There is not much more to say. Just look out for him this year.

.300/.360/.500/.368 with 29 homers or more. I say about 32 dingers and maybe even 20 or more stolen bases. He might even have a 30-30 season but I think that is a little bit of stretch. It is definitely possible though and if not 30-30, he would still most likely put up big numbers. Hunter Pence is my guy to watch out for in the 2011 season.

By Mike Moritz

(Statistics in courtesy of: espn.com and fangraphs.com)

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