Fantasy Baseball: Is Hunter Pence a Prime Sell-High Trade Candidate?

Eric StashinSenior Writer IJune 14, 2011

HOUSTON - MAY 24:  Hunter Pence #9 of the Houston Astros doubles to right field in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers  at Minute Maid Park on May 24, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

On Friday night Hunter Pence gave fantasy owners a small scare, leaving the game with tightness in his back—subsequently sitting on Sunday. 

Owners had a right to be nervous, as Pence has been one of the top fantasy outfielders in the game, producing consistent numbers all year long.  However, with a 23-game hit streak in tow, Pence may be as hot now as he’s been all season.

Just look at his numbers:

271 At Bats
.325 Batting Average (88 Hits)
9 Home Runs
50 RBI
33 Runs
3 Stolen Bases
.368 On Base Percentage
.509 Slugging Percentage
.389 Batting Average on Balls in Play

The funny thing is, for the most part his numbers are consistent with what he’s always done.  He’s hit 25 home runs for three years running, and he’s not far off from that mark at this point in 2011.  His fly ball rate is right on track with what he’s always done (31.6 percent in 2011 vs. 32.6 percent for his career).  His HR/FB rate is down a slightly (13.4 percent in ’11 vs. 15.2 percent for his career), but is anyone really going to complain about that? 

All it takes is a hot week, hitting three home runs. His numbers will fall right in line and he will once again be on pace to reach his career averages .

Where he’s really excelled in 2011 is in his BABIP, which we all know is not the most realistic number.  It has helped him to his impressive average but, when you compare it to what he’s done over the past three years, you have to expect him to fall back down sooner rather than later:

  • 2008 – .301 BABIP
  • 2009 – .308 BABIP
  • 2010 – .304 BABIP

With that type of consistency it is hard to imagine him suddenly morphing into a hitter who can maintain a higher than normal mark.  Part of the regression may be offset by an improvement in his strikeout rate (he’s struck out 22.1 percent of the time in 2011 after marks of 18.6 percent and 17.1 percent the past two seasons), but it’s really not enough.  He’s never shown the ability to hit .300 before and it wouldn’t be surprising, when all is said and done, if he falls down to the .280-.290 range again.

Where he has really thrived is with runners in scoring position (RISP), which helps to explain his jump in RBI.  He’s currently hitting .405 with a home run and 36 RBI in just 79 AB (in 2010 he hit .290 with six home runs and 65 RBI in 155 AB with RISP).  Buoying that number is a BABIP of .508 (second-best in the league).  Keep in mind that if he stops producing in these situations (and I would anticipate that he at least slows down slightly), the RBI production is going to fall as well.

Hitting in a weak lineup, did anyone really expect him to be a huge source of runs scored?

Fantasy owners have really enjoyed his production thus far, but there are certainly plenty of reasons to think he is going to start struggling.  Just how long can he maintain such an impressive BABIP?  Can he really continue to produce at such a high level with RISP?

He’s not showing a power increase, so his improved value is solely based on the inflated BABIP.  That’s not something you should be willing to sit on, because chances are it is not likely to be maintained.  Shop him around your league and see if you can cash in on what he’s done so far this season.  He appears to be a prime sell-high candidate.

What are your thoughts on Pence?  Do you think he can maintain his current production?  Is he a player you would sell high on?

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