Giants overcommit to Hunter Pence

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Now that he’s out from under the Barry Zito (seven years, $126 million) and Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million) contracts, Giants GM Brian Sabean has the financial muscle to swing for the fences again. And the result: a five-year, $90 million contract for Hunter Pence.

For Pence, is a windfall that certainly exceeds any expectations he could have had coming into his final season before free agency. Fortunately, he’s turned in his best year at age 30, hitting .282/.339/.481 with 26 homers and 94 RBI. Always durable, he’s started every game for the Giants this season, and he’s played a fine right field and even stolen a career-high 22 bases to go along with his fine offensive numbers.

But this is probably the high point for Pence, and he’s still a borderline All-Star. Pence has never finished in the top 10 of his league in on-base percentage, slugging or OPS. His only top 10 in average came in 2011. His 26 homers this year are a career high. He’s reached 100 RBI once, accomplishing that last year. He’s never scored 100 runs.

Among active outfielders with 1,000 career plate appearances, Pence ranks 28th with an .814 OPS. Fellow free agents-to-be Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, Nelson Cruz and Corey Hart all have higher marks.

On the plus side, Pence certainly doesn’t figure to turn into a liability as a regular anytime soon. Durability is an underrated factor in evaluating ballplayers, and Pence has played in 154 games in six straight seasons. His only DL stint as a major leaguer came in his rookie season in 2007. The contract covers through age 35, and while I’m skeptical that Pence will be an above average regular in 2018, he’s unlikely to turn into another Rowand.

But, that said, I wouldn’t be particularly excited about paying Pence $18 million in 2014, much less 2018. If he’s your third or fourth best hitter, you probably have something. If you’re counting on him for more than that, then you’re in trouble, much like the Giants were this season.

Former U.S. Senator and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning dies at age 85

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Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame right-handed pitcher and former U.S. Senator, died on Friday at age 85. He suffered a stroke in October 2016 and was in hospice care when he died, according to former Senate chief of staff Jon Deuser.

Bunning rose to prominence in Major League Baseball during his first full season with the Tigers in 1957, recording 14 complete games and a league-leading 20 wins. The following year, Bunning pitched his first career no-hitter against the Red Sox, just the fourth no-hitter in franchise history. During his first season with the Phillies in 1964, Bunning followed up his no-hitter with a perfect game against the Mets, marking the first National League perfecto in the 20th century. By the time he retired in 1971, he boasted seven All-Star nominations, 2,855 strikeouts (maintaining his second-place ranking on the all-time strikeout list from 1967-1971) and a 224-184 record over 17 seasons.

Following a storied major league career, Bunning entered politics at age 46, serving 12 years in the House and eventually getting elected to the Senate at age 67, where he served two terms. The Republican senator was famously outspoken for his opposition to steroids in baseball, illegal immigration and an extension of unemployment benefits, among other issues, and drew criticism within his party for his ornery nature and controversial statements. He declined to run for a third term in 2010, citing a lack of financial support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and choosing instead to throw his weight behind fellow candidate Rand Paul.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement following news of Bunning’s death on Saturday:

Jim Bunning led an extraordinary life in the National Pastime and in public service.  He was a consistent winner and workhorse pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.  Jim threw no-hitters in both leagues, pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964 and, at his retirement, had more strikeouts than any pitcher in history except Walter Johnson.

“In his baseball career, Jim was proud of always taking the ball.  The work ethic that made him a Hall of Famer led him to the House of Representatives and the United Stated Senate.  He served the state of Kentucky for more than two decades and became the only Hall of Famer ever to serve in Congress.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Senator Bunning’s family, friends, constituents and the many fans who admired his career in our game.

Homer Simpson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Twenty-five years ago, “Homer at the Bat” became one of the most iconic Simpsons episodes of all time. Legendary talents like Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey, Jr. lent their talents to the episode while their cartoon doppelgängers were put through the ringer, leaving only Homer Simpson and Darryl Strawberry to clinch the city softball championship for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant squad. On Saturday, the show’s creators were recognized when Homer Simpson was awarded a long-overdue membership in the Hall of Fame.

The full text from Homer’s honorary plaque is below:

Inept safety inspector turned city-wide softball hero. Right fielder led Springfield nuclear plant to city championship game, then sacrificed his body to win it all. Nearly supplanted by lineup of all-world superstar ringers, came through in a pinch — and came to in time for the next episode. Girthy right-handed hitter powered many a mighty wallop during celebrated 1992 season with “Wonderbat” — his secret weapon. Lack of mobility in the field was no match for moves atop the dugout. Found fame as bush league mascot phenom, parlaying his “elephant walk” into a taste of the majors. Unacquainted with scientific concepts, only isotopes of which he was aware played at Duff Stadium, where uncanny knowledge of southwestern palate exposed team’s impending move to Albuquerque.

“Homer at the Bat” will be enshrined in Cooperstown with a special display, featuring the plaque alongside some of the more memorable moments of the episode.