StrategyJune 18, 2011

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Buyer Beware: Hunter Pence

By Josh Shepardson

Before I’m put on blast by readers, I am aware that Hunter Pence missed Saturday’s game with a hyper-extended elbow, but because he’s listed as day-to-day he remains a player worth highlighting. Ranking 30th in the Yahoo! game on the season, Pence owners are in for a rude awakening if they expect him to keep up his current level of production. Though he should be universally owned, red flags are full-staff and waving high in the air.

The first and most obvious statistic of concern is his BABIP which stands at .382 for the season, and is fueling his .321 batting average on the season. His career BABIP is .326 and his marks the last three years are .304, .308, .301. His line drive rate is up to 16.2 percent this year, but that isn’t a far cry from his 14.6 percent line drive rate of each of the last two seasons, and is by no means an elite rate. In addition to his high BABIP making his batting average highly unlikely to be sustained over the course of the rest of the season, his steep increase in strikeout-per-plate appearance (16.0 percent in 2010, 20.0 percent in 2011), increased offering at pitches outside the strike zone (33.5 percent o-swing in 2010, 35.0 percent o-swing in 2011) and his lower contact rate (80.2 percent in 2010, 77.0 percent in 2011) also suggest significant regression. Alone, his batting average dropping closer to his career mark of .291 or his .282 average of the last two seasons wouldn’t make him a hard shop candidate, but wait there is more!

What should be the greatest concern to those employing Pence on their make believe teams is his reduced home run and stolen base contributions. Since bursting onto the scene in 2007 Pence has seen his isolated power (ISO) decrease each season, and this year is no exception. Coinciding with his ISO slide is a slide in his home run rate. Should he see 650 plate appearances this year, he’s on pace for approximately 19 home runs. Unfortunately, more disturbing than his modest power output is his even less helpful stolen base output this season. Never an efficient base stealer, he could at least be counted on for double digit totals in seasons past thanks to getting sent regularly. In fact last year he stole a career best 18 bases on a career high 27 attempts. This year the Astros have been more judicious in sending him, and the results are four stolen bases and zero caught stealing, putting him on pace for approximately eight stolen bases in a 650 plate appearance season.

Looking at his current pacing, and an expected regression in batting average, Pence appears to be a .280-.290 hitter with 10 home runs and four stolen bases the remainder of the season. What is that worth to you? My guess is that it’s worth significantly less than what he may be capable of fetching in a trade from an owner desperate to fill a hole in their outfield.

Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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