The San Francisco Giants need an MVP-caliber effort from Hunter Pence in order to upend the Los Angeles Dodgers and win the NL West this season. Pence had an outstanding season for the Giants in 2013, posting an .827 OPS with a career-high 27 home runs and 99 RBI while starting all 162 games. His superb season-long effort resulted in general manager Brian Sabean handing down a five-year, $90 million contract in the offseason.
Pence is a catalyst for the Giants. He’s a vocal leader in the clubhouse and on the field. The Giants need Pence to continuously perform at a high level in order to contend in 2014. The two-time All-Star has fully embodied the San Francisco lifestyle and can frequently be seen riding his famed scooter down The Embarcadero en route to the ballpark. He’s a fan favorite and an irreplaceable asset.
The most glaring void in Pence’s style of gameplay is his free-swinging approach at the plate. Pence prides himself in being an aggressive hitter, but he struck out 115 times in 629 official at-bats last season. That number is significant because Pence’s batting average was 25 points higher on balls in play in 2013. It’s not a secret that the Giants typically struggle to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard. If Pence can cut down on his strikeout tally in 2014, the Giants stand a better chance to increase overall run production which would give their pitching staff much needed breathing room.
At this point of spring training, players are simply getting back into the groove of a routine. But Pence needs to concentrate on decreasing the number of bad balls he swings at when the Giants’ slate of Cactus League games begin at the end of the month. According to his 2013 totals, Pence is more productive when taking the first pitch of an at-bat. He smashed 23 of his 27 home runs after taking the first pitch in 2013. His OPS was also a whopping 154 points higher in such situations.
Pence is the most valuable hitter in the Giants’ everyday lineup because of his ability to hit in the clutch. His numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position were extremely impressive last season. He posted a .321 batting average with 13 extra-base hits and 39 RBI in 84 official at-bats in clutch situations in 2013. His 1.013 OPS was off the charts.
The Giants were somewhat criticized for signing Pence to a lofty contract earlier this offseason, but the deal could prove to be a bargain. At 30-years-old, Pence is in the prime of his career. As an avid advocate of the Paleo diet, Pence is quite possibly in better shape than every other player on his team. He’s a dominant force at the plate, and he’s difficult for opposing pitchers to handle as long as he doesn’t get himself out.