Hunter Pence

From BR Bullpen

Hunter Andrew Pence
(Captain Underpants; Wawindaji)

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Hunter Pence made his major league debut in 2007 after three years of being a top prospect for the Houston Astros.

Pence was chosen in the 40th round of the 2002 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers but did not sign. Moving from junior college to the University of Texas branch in his hometown of Arlington, TX, Pence batted .347/.406/.561 and was a Southland Conference All-Conference outfielder, the only sophomore on the All-Conference team that year. In 2004, he batted .395/.441/.616 and again was an All-Conference pick. He won the Player of the Year/Hitter of the Year award and led the Conference in batting average. Scouted by Rusty Pendergrass, the Houston Astros took him with their top pick, a 2nd-round choice, 64th overall, right ahead of Dustin Pedroia, and signed him for a $575,000 bonus.

Pence debuted professionally with the Tri-City Dust Devils, hitting .296/.369/.518. Baseball America rated him the 13th-best prospect in the New York-Penn League.

In 2005, Hunter was named the Astros Minor League Player of the Year. He tied Luke Scott for the lead among the club's minor leaguers with 31 homers and his 271 total bases were the most on the farm. He hit .338/.413/.652 with 25 HR in 80 games for the Lexington Legends and .305/.374/.490 in 41 games for the Salem Avalanche. Baseball America said that Pence was the best batting prospect and best power prospect in the South Atlantic League, the #18 prospect in the Carolina League and the #15 prospect in the SAL. Had he qualified, he would have ranked second in the SAL in average, behind Brian Horwitz, trailed Travis Denker by four points in BOP and led in slugging, 49 points ahead of Joe Koshansky. He did lead the league's outfielders with a .992 fielding percentage. He made the SAL All-Star outfield alongside Horwitz and Matt Miller and was named the Most Outstanding Prospect in the circuit.

Pence continued to hit in 2006, batting .283/.357/.533 for the Corpus Christi Hooks. He led Astros farmhands in runs (107), total bases (314), home runs (31), slugging and RBI (106) (including post-season stats) - and again was named the Minor League Player of the Year. He also stole 17 bases in 21 tries. His regular season totals were 97 runs, 28 HR and 95 RBI. He led the Texas League with six intentional walks and made the TL All-Star outfield alongside Billy Butler and Josh Anderson. He was rated the 8th-best prospect in the league by Baseball America, between John Danks and Juan Gutierrez, higher than RBI leader Koshansky. Baseball America also labeled him the Most Exciting Player in the Texas League that year. He was the starting right fielder for the USA in the 2006 Futures Game, going 1 for 3 with a run and RBI before being replaced by Nolan Reimold.

After leading the Astros in all three major hitting categories by hitting .571/.647/1.071 in Major League spring training, Pence began 2007 with the Round Rock Express and hit .341/.398/.588 in 22 games before getting called up to the 2007 Astros on April 27. He was 1 for 3 as the starting center fielder in his major league debut against the Milwaukee Brewers, as the Astros snapped a 7-game losing streak with a 10-1 win. Pence recorded his first major league home run, a grand slam, in a May 5th game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished the season hitting .322 with 30 doubles and 17 home runs for the Astros.

Shortly after making his second All-Star team for the Astros in 2011, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 29th in return for three prospects - Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and Josh Zeid - and a player to be named later, who turned out to be Domingo Santana. He was outstanding in his two months for the Phillies at the end of the season, hitting .324 in 54 games, with 12 doubles and 11 homers, both scoring and driving in 35 runs. As a result, he set personal bests for RBIs with 97, hits with 190 and doubles with 38, while topping 20 homers for the fourth straight season; his .314 batting average was also a career high. In the NLDS however, he was only 4 for 19 with no extra-base hits as the Phils were upset by the St. Louis Cardinals in 5 games.

Pence returned to the Phillies to start the 2012 season, but his production fell noticeably. At the end of July, he was hitting .271 with 17 homers and 59 RBI in 101 games - still good numbers - but the Phillies were well behind in the standings and decided to part ways with two of their star outfielders at the trading deadline - Shane Victorino and Hunter, who was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in return for Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph and Seth Rosin. He only hit .219 for the Giants, but still managed to reach 100 RBI for the first time of his career. He also played every game in the Giants' conquest of the World Series that year.

On September 28, 2013, he signed a five-year deal with the Giants, worth $90 million. he played all 162 games that year, hitting .283 with 27 homers and 99 RBIs and an OPS+ of 133 on a Giants team that had trouble scoring runs and missed the postseason. In 2014, however, the Giants made it three World Series titles in five years - and a second for Pence - as they defeated the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the Fall Classic. Pence was again one of the team's offensive mainstays, making the All-Star team for the third time while hitting .277 with 27 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers. he scored 106 runs, a personal best, drove in 74 and had an OPS+ of 121 while playing all 162 games for the second consecutive year. He started every game of the postseason in right field and was at his best in the World Series, when he hit .444(12 for 27) with 3 doubles and a homer.

Pence's streak of consecutive games played came to a crashing end in one of his first appearances in the Cactus League in 2015. On March 5th, he suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left forearm after being struck by a pitch form Corey Black of the Chicago Cubs. The prognosis was that he would miss six to eight weeks, which would take him well after opening day even if everything went well in his recovery. He came back to action on May 16th, going 2 for 3 with a walk and 3 runs scored in an 11-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds. He then belted his first homer of the year the next day. However, his entire season was plagued by injuries, and he was limited to a mere 52 games, during which he batted .275 with 9 homers and 40 RBIS. He was back healthy at the start of 2016, and by the end of May, had already played 50 games, almost matching his previous year's total. However, the injury bug struck again, and on June 2nd, he had to be placed on the disabled list after badly straining his hamstring while running to first base. He was having a good start, as he was tied for the team lead in homers with 7 and his 36 RBIs were 5th in the NL at that point. He ended up playing 106 games, during which he hit .289 with 13 homers and 57. The Giants had a very poor second half, but still stumbled into the postseason as the second wild card team. He went 0 for 4 as the Giants defeated the New York Mets in the Wild Card Game, then 4 for 18 as the Giants lost to the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.

Pence played 134 games for the Giants in 2017, hitting .260 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs. His OPS+ fell to 86, well below his usual standards (he had never had an OPS+ below 100 in a full season up to that point). His performance reflected that of the team, which sank to the bottom of the standings in the NL West. The Giants could have decided to clean house at that point, but instead tried to coax an additional championship out of its core players by acquiring some veterans like Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen in trades prior to the 2018 season. One of the offshoots of these moves was that Hunter was moved from his familiar position in right field into left, as McCutchen was slated to play right, with a platoon of players around Gregor Blanco and Austin Jackson penciled in to play center. He played 97 games that season, but made only 47 starts in the outfield, hitting .226 in 235 at-bats, with 4 homers and 24 RBIs. His OPS+ sank even further, to 62 and his long and successful association with the Giants came to an end after 7 seasons when he was granted free agency at the end of October.

In 2019, he signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, hoping to play his final season in his hometown. He had an excellent spring training and made the team's opening day roster as the fourth outfielder. He exceeded all reasonable expectations about his production as he hit .304 with 3 homers and 13 RBIs in 17 games March/April, and then .299 with 8 homers and 26 RBIs in 24 games in May, by which point he was a regular. On June 11th, he was gifted an inside-the-park homer by the Boston Red Sox as Brock Holt chased a fly ball to the right field corner at Fenway Park and got tangled up in the crowd as he tried vainly to jump into the first row of the stands to catch the ball. The ball landed fair, then bounced towards right center, and CF Mookie Betts took his time before giving chase, allowing Pence to round the bases easily, with Nomar Mazara scoring ahead of him. His strong first-half performance resulted in his being named to play in the 2019 All-Star Game, his first since 2014 and 4th overall, although he was replaced on the American League roster due to an injury. He only played 12 games in July, hitting .302, then 16 in August before being shut down for the remainder of the season, having played just 28 games in the second half. He finished the year at .297 in 83 games, with 18 homers and 59 RBIs, good for an OPS+ of 126.

On February 7th, he signed a one-year contract with the Giants for 2020, worth $3 million, returning for possibly a final year with the team with which he had been most closely associated over the years. On August 8th, in a rare start in left field - he was being mostly used as the Giants' designated hitter - he allowed a routine fly ball by Kiké Hernandez of the Los Angeles Dodgers to fall unmolested for a triple. How routine was it? Statcast estimated that the hit had a catch probability of 99%, but Pence lost it in the twilight. He felt particularly bad about it because P Johnny Cueto had held the Dodgers hitless through the first five innings, and it opened the door for a four-run inning, but the Giants held on for a 5-4 win. He just couldn't recapture his past glory, as he hit just .096 in 17 games and was handed his unconditional release on August 24th. He announced his retirement on the penultimate day of the season.

Sources: 2003-2007 Baseball Almanacs,, The Baseball Cube, Houston Chronicle

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Michael Clair: "Baseball's coffee drinking, board game playing oddball is coming home for one more year", "Cut 4",, February 12, 2019. [1]
  • Edith Noriega: "Four-time All-Star, San Francisco Giants cult hero Hunter Pence announces retirement", USA Today, September 26, 2020. [2]

Related Sites[edit]