Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Houston Astros PWMBA: Hunter Pence

I meant to have most of these up before the season started but I got distracted battling a cyborg T-Rex using only a length of piano wire. Whether that is true or not I believe I am forgiven.

I mentioned Hunter Pence briefly in my Astros FA FA FA but I really see him as being the biggest question mark for a team that seems to be full of them. Hunter Pence has only two seasons in the majors and they are drastically different.

In his rookie year Hunter Pence posted a line of .322/.360/.539 and was third place in NL Rookie of the Year voting (behind Ryan "King of Awesome" Braun and Troy "Duke of Decent" Tulowitzki). His sophomore year saw his numbers drop across the board to a line of .269/.318/.466 and was third place in nothing.

What happened to cause such a dramatic drop in offensive stats? The biggest issue was that his BABIP in his rookie year was .378 (extraordinarily high) and in his sophomore year it predictably dropped (.303). He also played in more games and had significantly more ABs his second year (158 more) which when combined with such a large drop in BABIP will lead to a significant drop in rates.

So what to expect? It would be easy to say that his BABIP will probably come up a bit from the previous year (.303 is very low and well below league average), however it is almost universally accepted that batters control BABIP and do not regress to league average but instead will remain closer/regress to their individual BABIP. Since Pence only has two years of play it is hard to say what his individual BABIP should be expected to be.

I would expect it to remain very low for one important reason: Pence's GB/FB/LD percentages. In Pence's two years his GB/FB ratio was 1.55 and 1.50. It would be reasonable to expect him to have a similar ratio in 2009. Combine this with his LD percentages of 19.4% and 13.9% for his two years and it becomes all the more apparent that the BABIP of .378 was incredibly flukey but that the BABIP of .303 could have been significantly lower as well. "As a general formula, BABIP equals the percent of batted balls that are line drives (LD%) plus .120."

Is it possible for him to maintain this trend of constantly having a BABIP greater than expected from his LD%? Of course, and he wouldn't be the first person to do it year in and year out. Ichiro, for example, has shown an ability to outperform this expectation. It is important to note though that Ichiro's lowest LD% for a season was 18.4% and that he is maybe the best contact hitter in the league. In short: Hunter Pence is not Ichiro.

I would expect Hunter Pence to have a year on par with or worse than 2008. His BABIP will not continue to be so different from his already low LD%. I have no raw numbers to offer up as a prediction, but I will say that most projections see him doing better than last year. I am going against the grain on this one. He hits a high percentage of ground balls and teams will begin making adjustments making it harder for many of those to squeeze though to the outfield.

Sorry about the lack of graphs. I was making one but got interrupted by a ethereal velociraptor.


  1. One thing that's going to be very important for Pence is for him to see more pitches and take more walks. As you point out, his GB/LD/FB rates are not Ichiroan, so he can't afford his low BB numbers (he's averaged 40 free passes per 162 games in his young career); they make his OBP far too batting average dependent.

    The thing is, Pence is such an underrated outfielder (check out for an in-depth look at just how good Pence's arm really was in 2008) that he really doesn't need to be 2007 Pence in '09 to be a damned good player for the Astros. But he needs to raise that awful 2008 OBP (.318).

  2. Can't stand Pence as a player. His swing is awful. He runs awful. The "kinks" in his play sap so much ability from what could be a Ryan Braun type player.

    The bottom line is his swing issues will mean he's likely to hit .270-.275 and strikeout a ton. He also seems to have made no adjustment to take pitches and never really has at ANY level.

    So instead of being an excellent player Pence will continue to be an below average hitter with above average power and + defense. I am sure that's not what the Astros thought they had... then again this is the organization that traded 5 prospects for Tejada.