SF Giants GM Brian Sabean Gets It Right with Decision to Keep Hunter Pence

Mark ReynoldsCorrespondent IINovember 8, 2012

Pence needs to fix his hitting mechanics this winter.
Pence needs to fix his hitting mechanics this winter.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

According to San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean (via Jerry Crasnick of ESPN), Hunter Pence will be offered a contract before the November 30 deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

Sabean told Crasnick,

Pence is going to be coming back. We think there are some things he can do to fix what went wrong this year. We like the player. We made a big trade to get him, and he's going to be a Giant next year. We never would have traded for a guy that we remotely thought we would be non-tendering. So any speculation about that doesn't make any sense. By that point in the season, you pretty much know where a guy is going in terms of the arbitration clock and the money.

According to MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration estimates, Pence will make approximately $13.8 million via arbitration in his final year before free agency. That's a lot of money for a player who struggled significantly after the Giants acquired him at the trading deadline from the Philadelphia Phillies last season in a deal that sent top prospect Tommy Joseph and outfielder Nate Schierholtz to the Phillies.

Pence entered last season as a lifetime .292/.343/.485 hitter, but he slipped to .271/.336/.447 with the Phillies before the trade.

With the Giants, he hit just .219/.287/.384 in 59 regular-season games, and .210/.231/.290 in 16 postseason games.

Pence did drive in 104 runs, but he only hit .251 with runners in scoring position. His high RBI total was the result of a league-leading 203 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

He also rated as below average according to all of the major defensive metrics, which include Ultimate Zone Rating (-4.7), Defensive Runs Saved (-9) and Fielding Runs Above Average (-8.7).

Even though Pence showed major statistical regression both offensively and defensively last season, bringing him back on a one-year deal is still a good bet for the Giants, even though the financial cost is high.

Pence still showed above-average speed and power last season. He hit 24 home runs and was a net asset with his legs on the bases. He also showed average patience by walking 56 times, which is somewhat surprising given his aggressive nature.

Pence is a career .285 hitter who slipped down to .253 last season. Part of that was due to a three percent increase in his strikeout rate, which is the most troubling sign for him going forward. However, his batting average on balls in play was .290, well below his .321 career average when he makes contact.

Thus, bad luck was part of Pence's problem last year, and that should balance out next season.

Another reason for Pence's struggles with strikeouts and weaker contact last season was his propensity to fly his front side open and pull off the ball. He has a lot of moving parts in his swing, and that often leads to him getting off balance. He particularly struggled with breaking balls away—swinging completely over the top of the ball, or hitting the top of the ball and rolling over weakly to the left side of the infield.

While some of his at-bats were reminiscent of former Giant Aaron Rowand, the fact is that Pence is still more patient, powerful and athletic than Rowand ever was during his forgettable tenure with the Giants.

Even if Pence doesn't revert back to the form he showed through 2011, he comes off the books after next season and the Giants can simply move on.

If they were giving the 29-year-old Pence a five-year contract as they did with Rowand, I'd have serious reservations. However, despite his struggles last season and his steep price tag, there are signs that a bounce-back is coming.

Sabean believes the Giants can help rectify his mechanical problems. If they can get Pence back to where he was in 2011 when he hit .314/.370/.502, the $13.8 million cost will be a bargain.

If he hits like he did during the second half of last season, at least the Giants will have a good team leader and motivational speaker on board.