Midnight Player of the Week, 9/9 – 9/15: Hunter Pence, Giants OF

Last week: 13 for 29, 2 BB, 8 R, 6 HR, 19 RBI, .448/.469/1.103

This award is biased toward hitters, yes. Pitchers won’t start more than twice, relievers won’t pitch in more than five games. Drew Smyly of Detroit seems to be the best present version of the 1980s long-relief fireman. To my mind that role is more valuable than the modern closer. Another discussion for another time. Right now we are talking about how a pitcher might with Midnight Player of the Week. Two complete-game shutouts would win it, and five saves might, especially in September, for a team in the hunt.

But the Wests are thin on huntin’. The Dodgers and A’s look like your division champions in the way that Ian McKellen looks like Gandalf. Meanwhile, the Rangers have slid backwards, into the thick of the wild-card race. So, yeah, they’re huntin’, but no one on their team has been playing well enough for last week’s award. I love me some Joe Nathan, though. He blew a save against the Rays last night, but if he gives me a sparkling week starting next Monday, he would find some new hardware on his mantle the Monday after that. And I mean literally. The fewer questions you ask, the better.

So, we have six teams looking toward next year, and the Astros, who look to 2016. Hunter Pence is a soon-to-be free agent who would help all of them. Yesterday I made a table looking at Pence’s performance over the past three calendar years. More to the point, I showed how those performances ranked among all soon-to-be free-agent outfielders.

pencefaofs

You may notice, he’s been performing better, especially on the bases. I am pleasantly surprised that Bochy has turned him loose on the basepaths. Bochy has a knack for subverting the image of the cranky old baseball man, certainly moreso than Pence’s previous manager, Charile Got Damn Manuel.

If I had waited another day to make that table, I would have been able to use their new all-inclusive offense and defense metrics. Long story short, the new Offense metric adds runs created from batting to runs created from running the bases. Over the last calendar year, Pence ranks second in that metric, after Shin-Soo Choo. Over the last two years, he ranks third, after Choo and Ben Zobrist. Over the last three years, he ranks fourth, after Choo, Zobrist and Carlos Beltran.

Pence will receive a qualifying offer from the Giants, a one-year deal for about $14 million. Since he is 30 years old, coming off his best season, he will decline that for a long-term deal. This is his first and last chance to really cash in on his baseball talent. Someone will give him five years, at around $15 million per year. Nick Swisher is a good comp. Last offseason he was 31 and looking for a job. He had had eight consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs. The Indians gave him four years for $56 million. Pence is slightly younger, more athletic (the table that never was would have showed you his stolen bases), and freakishly strong.

Dude chokes up like two inches on a giant bat.

He has had six consecutive seasons of at least 20 home runs. Only in his rookie year did he fail to knock 20, and even then it was 17 homers in 484 PAs. That’s 28.4 plate appearances per home run. For his career, it’s been 27.2. Hunter Pence has been pretty much the same, supremely weird ballplayer since he came up in 2007. His weirdness can’t be separated from his talent; it’s possible that if you somehow forbade him from taking his signature ugly on-deck swings, he would cease to be an effective hitter. That swing took him to the majors and helped him succeed. Without it, he may never have been the Astros’ last great trade chip, or a coverboy, or a meme, or a world champion. I’m hoping what’s next for Pence comes in a Giants uniform.

(Unless the price is too high, like six years, $90 million. Then, of course, they can find his production from a platoon of Cheap Veteran A and Minor Leaguer B.)

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