For whatever the reason, Hunter Pence feels like a player that is often disrespected by fantasy owners.
Is it that he doesn’t always look “natural” on the diamond?
Was it that he spent the early part of his career in Houston?
I’m not really sure the answer, but the fact of the matter is that he brings consistency that few players do. If you look at his 2011 campaign it is almost a mirror of the previous three seasons:
606 At Bats
.314 Batting Average (190 Hits)
22 Home Runs
8 Stolen Bases
.370 On Base Percentage
.502 Slugging Percentage
Now in Philadelphia, will he be able to take a major step forward or should we simply expect more of the same? The first thing to take note of is that the stadium itself should not have a major impact on his performance. He is going from one favorable park to another, so don’t use that as any reason to push him up your rankings.
The power is a number that is always in question, but at this point he has proven it is for real. Despite a groundball rate of over 50% each of the past four seasons he has hit 25, 25, 25 and 22 HR. It’s obvious that he can maintain that mark and we should continue to expect that from him in 2012.
His average was buoyed by an unrealistic BABIP in 2011. We all know that and it is impossible to think that he is going to come close to replicating it. He had hit .282 on the dot the prior two seasons and that is a much more realistic expectation for him.
Could he be a little higher or a little lower? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t expect him to exceed .300 for a second consecutive season. Figure that he’ll be in the .280-.290 range.
The other three numbers (SB, RBI and R) are things we need to look at.
He has never been a major threat to steal bases, with no more than 18, but he had just one in 207 AB after arriving in Philadelphia. Could the improved lineup around him keep him from running quite as often?
That’s something that is a very realistic possibility.
Maybe he just needed to get comfortable with his new teammates and surroundings. With time under his belt it is very possible that he gets a little bit friskier on the base paths. It’s not like the Phillies are a station-to-station team, as we’ve seen Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley consistently given the green light to run.
I would go into the year expecting Pence to return to his prior levels (between 11 and 18 SB), though keep in mind that he could fall flat.
Where the move could have a major impact is Pence’s ability to both score and drive in runs. While we don’t know exactly how the Phillies will craft their lineup, there is going to be some mix of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard (once healthy), Shane Victorino and others joining Pence. No matter where he hits, the supporting cast is going to be significantly better than he’s had in recent years.
That should lead to more opportunities to both score and drive in runs. Only once has he surpassed 85 R scored (93 in ’10), but reaching that mark this year is extremely realistic. If he is hitting third in the lineup, seeing 90+ becomes even more likely.
Whether he hits third, fifth or somewhere else, there are going to be guys on base when he steps to the plate. Over the past two years he has had 91 and 97 RBIs respectively, and reaching the magical 100 RBI mark is extremely possible thanks to the improved supporting cast.
We put it all together and get the following projection for 2012:
.290 (174-600), 25 HR, 100 RBI, 90 R, 14 SB, .318 BABIP, .345 OBP, .488 SLG
Basically, despite a little bump in R and RBI, I am expecting Pence to be a very similar player to what he has been throughout his career. That makes him a very solid player and a lock to be among the Top-15 outfielders in the game.
He certainly should not be ignored, but he also should not be moved significantly up draft boards because he will be playing in Philadelphia.
That potential to be overvalued, as well as the regression in BABIP, could lead to a go opportunity to sell a little bit high on him. If you own him in a keeper league it is definitely worth exploring.
Make sure to check out our 2012 projections: