When the San Francisco Giants acquired Hunter Pence just before this year's trade deadline, they took the first step toward repeating a horrible mistake. The second step of that process is already looking likely, as there's talk of signing Pence to a long-term deal.
The mistake referred to is sitting on his couch somewhere, still collecting the balance of a $60 million contract he signed with the Giants in December of 2007. That's right, I'm talking about Aaron Rowand.
The similarities between Rowand and Pence are striking, and the Giants don't seem to recognize them. If they can't see that they've got Rowand 2.0 in right field, they're doomed to repeat the same egregious error they made by giving Rowand $12 million a year.
It's not just because both Pence and Rowand are former Phillies, and it's not just because Pence and Rowand each joined the Giants a year removed from their best seasons.
The problem is pretty simple: The Giants don't seem to see that Pence and Rowand are virtually the same player.
Looking at Pence's four most recent seasons (including this one) before becoming a Giant, his average OPS is .810. That's a pretty good figure, but keep in mind that it could be artificially inflated by playing in Houston and Philadelphia, both hitter-friendly parks.
Now look at Rowand's last four full seasons before becoming a Giant. In those years (two with the White Sox and two with the Phillies), Rowand's average OPS was .818—slightly better than Pence's. Rowand's OPS also benefited from playing in hitter-friendly environments in Chicago and Philadelphia.
In terms of walk and strikeout rates for the four-year periods we're comparing, Pence and Rowand are again extremely similar. Rowand struck out about 17 percent of the time, which is also true for Pence. Pence walked about two percent more often than Rowand in that span.
Need more evidence? How about WAR? In the four seasons from 2004 to 2007, Rowand was worth 17.5 wins above replacement. Since 2009, including his projected WAR of just 1.7 this year, Pence will have been worth just 13.6.
And that's where things get ugly. The comparison between Pence and Rowand is no longer one that shows they're similar. Now, we can look at the simplest data and know that Pence's four most recent pre-Giants years have actually been worse than Rowand's.
So, why are the Giants enamored with Pence and have designs on rewarding him with what could be a deal worth $13-to-14 million annually? They realize that's even more than the awful deal they gave Rowand in December of 2007, right?
To be fair to Pence, he's a little younger than Rowand was when the Giants dropped $60 million on him. And Pence is a midseason acquisition who is absolutely an improvement over what the Giants had in the outfield before the deadline.
There's no question Pence makes the Giants better this season—but locking him up like the Giants did with Rowand would be a catastrophe.
Pence, like Rowand was, is a gritty, talented, hard-nosed free-swinger who hustles and endears himself to fans. And as was the case with Rowand, the Giants have a grossly mistaken perception of how valuable those qualities are.
GM Brian Sabean, who signed Rowand to that awful deal, should know by now that guys like Rowand and Pence don't age well. He should also be smart enough to recognize that when the Giants acquired Rowand, he was actually a better player than Pence is now.
Finally, Sabean should know not to sign Pence to a deal like the one that blew up in his face with Rowand, because based on the comparison between Rowand and Pence, this one could turn out even worse.
The terrifying truth about Hunter Pence is that the Giants can't seem to see who he truly is.
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