Giants overcommit to Hunter Pence

41 Comments

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.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.