Hunter Pence was a catalyst for the San Francisco Giants throughout the 2013 campaign, recording career-highs in home runs and stolen bases. Pence played in all 162 games last season, motivating the Giants’ front office brass to ink him to a five-year, $90 million deal before free agency began.
The grind-it-out, full-throttle outfielder was entirely deserving of a big contract but will now be expected to perform at a high level for the duration of the deal. San Francisco is mostly decrepit of power in their lineup, despite adding slugger Michael Morse, and will assuredly rely upon Pence to hit the long ball.
Pence posted a .822 OPS while driving-in 99 runs in 2013. He registered 67 extra-base hits and also scored 91 runs. He was the biggest proponent of the Giants’ mediocre offense last season, and 2014 figures to be no different.
The greatest hurdle facing Pence in the new year is his unfortunate tendency to swing at bad balls in the dirt. The 30-year-old veteran often looked foolish at the plate last season, striking out 115 times in 629 official at-bats. His aggressive approach at the plate is a product of his mindset. Pence doesn’t figure to suddenly become more patient at the dish, especially considering his success in clutch situations.
Pence owns a career .287 batting average with 20 home runs and 194 runs-driven-in with two outs and runners-in-scoring-position. He’s also struck out 103 times over 501 at-bats in such situations, but he’s the man Giants’ fans want at the plate with the game on the line, nonetheless.
In April of 2013, Pence hit a game-tying solo home run off Chicago Cubs‘ reliever Shawn Camp with two strikes and two outs in the ninth to propel the Giants to a 10-7 win in extra innings. That’s the brand of clutch Pence breathes for.
For the Giants to be successful in 2014, Pence needs to have another big season. San Francisco averaged less than 3.9 runs per game last season, igniting a downward spiral fueled by crucial injuries to key players like Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. The Giants’ bench depth was ultimately exposed, disabling their World Series defense in spite of Pence having a spectacular season.
Pence is highly valued within the Giants’ organization and not simply because of his ability to fuel run production. Pence is a fan favorite and a rock in the clubhouse. He’s the epitome of a team player exemplified by his pregame speech in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS as the Giants faced elimination against the Cincinnati Reds.
Pence’s contributions run deeper than his ability to crush baseballs, but the Giants need him to post big numbers in order to contend in 2014.