For the last seven seasons, essentially his entire career, Hunter Pence has been one of the most consistent producers in the majors. Check out his year-by-year numbers, dating back to 2008.
That consistency earned Pence a starring role in a planned column on consistency that also included Adam Jones. Mere hours after finishing the first draft of that column, an errant pitch broke Pence’s forearm, knocking him out for 6-8 weeks.
The one silver lining is the injury occurred early in the spring. The injury timeline would have Pence back sometime between mid-April and early May. That would mean he’d miss anywhere from 16 to 35 games, which is a decent chunk of the season. If he comes back near the front end of that timetable, he’d probably lose about 80 plate appearances. If the worst-case scenario came to fruition, he’d likely lose 175 plate appearances, and that would really hurt his counting stats.
Before the injury, Pence was the No. 44 player in our top 250. He’s now down to No. 75. That’s of course a bet he’ll return closer to six weeks than eight, but also a reflection of the goodwill Pence has built up with fantasy owners.
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While Pence has been as steady as they come for his entire career, there were some mixed signals in his power numbers from last season. The 20 homers he hit were his fewest since his rookie year of 2007 when he had 17. Additionally, his 11.3-percent HR/FB ratio was the worst of his career. On the other side of the coin, when he ran into one, he really got all of it. Pence’s average true home run distance last season was 412 feet, the fifth longest among hitters with at least 18 homers. Now, it should be noted that it’s easier for players with fewer data points to be high in the rankings. Three of the top five had 24 homers or fewer, including league-leader Matt Holliday. The other two were Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout, and they’re both pretty good at baseball in general, as well as hitting the ball really far. Still, that Pence was north of 410 feet for the second straight season suggests the pop is still there.
Pence’s problem doesn’t seem to be that he’s losing any power, but rather his home park. AT&T Park graded as the second-hardest stadium for a righty to circle the bases, depressing right-handed homers by 12 percent. Pence hit just five homers in San Francisco last year, but had 15 on the road. In 2013, he had 10 at home and 17 away from AT&T. It’s not suddenly going to be easier for a righty to hit a homer in San Francisco this season, and while he'll turn 32 in April, fantasy owners shouldn’t fear that Pence’s bat doesn’t carry the same weight.
You’re going to have to pick your spot with Pence in your draft or auction. Hopefully, by time draft season hits in late March, we’ll have an updated timetable for his return. Until then, consider him a mid-20s outfielder.