During the last week of July, I lost my mind at the prospect that the Phillies would trade one or more of Jarred Cosart, Domonic Brown, and Jonathan Singleton to Houston for right fielder Hunter Pence. But then it happened, and you know what? It all turned out better than anyone could have imagined.
Let’s leave aside for a moment all the accoutrements that come with Hunter Pence. Let’s leave aside, for instance, the topless photos. Let’s leave aside the ragging on John Mayberry for the Stanford Mermaid Experiment. Hunter Pence: Creator of Catchphrases and Destroyer of Postgame Buffets.
These antics are great, but what do they say about Hunter Pence, the ballplayer? Pence could be a latter-day Roger McDowell, a pitcher remembered today less for his 159 career saves but for the 12 years he spent in major league bullpens setting other people’s shoelaces on fire. (Or for this more recent nastiness, which someone would mention if I didn’t.)
But back to Hunter Pence the ballplayer. From 2007 to 2010, he was pretty decent. But in 2011, particularly in the second half of 2011, he was freakin’ incredible.
Before coming to Philadelphia, Hunter Pence was a nice player, a 3-win-and-change outfielder with enough power and speed to get by and less plate discipline than you’d like. Occasionally, he’d post something like a .370 BABIP and post a 4-WAR year. In Houston, Pence was a solid player, an all-star, even, on a team that didn’t really have much else to offer in terms of players who were worth a crap.
Then he came to Philadelphia and, for 236 plate appearances, was, well, not Jose Bautista with wheels, but close. With Houston, Pence posted a .290/.339/.479 slash line–decent numbers. After his trade to the Phillies, he posted a .324/.394/.560 slash line, a partial season head and shoulders above anything he’d ever done before, and head and shoulders above anything any other member of the Phillies did in 2011. Pence’s .954 OPS with the Phillies, over a full season, would have been the best OPS posted by any Phillies player since Ryan Howard and Chase Utley posted dueling .976 marks in 2007.
Sure, that’s a small sample, and Pence did still have that ridiculous BABIP supporting his season, but this is one case where analyzing it too much kind of ruins the fun. And, really, that’s what Hunter Pence was all about.
Grade: 8.9/10 — A right-handed power bat, good defense, and an engaging, fan-friendly personality that’s even more adorably hyperactive than Shane Victorino’s. I originally had misgivings about rating Pence higher than Ian Riccaboni rated Victorino, but even though Victorino was the team’s most valuable position player by far, Pence was better than Victorino in his short time in Philadelphia.
Note: Thanks to @SpoontownUSA for coming up with the subtitle when I couldn’t think of anything good.