The fact that Marco Scutaro will begin the regular season on the disabled list has created a void in the No. 2 spot of the lineup for the San Francisco Giants. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, free-swinging right fielder Hunter Pence will assume that role. Pence isn’t a true table setter, but he possesses a ton of power. The 30-year-old slugger bashed a career-high 27 home runs in 2013 but also struck out 115 times.
Scutaro has served as a prototypical No. 2 hitter since being acquired by the Giants in the summer of 2012. He’s excelled as a down-the-line and up-the-middle type of hitter, simply finding a way to get on base. Scutaro is one of the best contacts hitters in the game which also makes him one of the most difficult players to strikeout. He went down on strikes just 34 times in 547 plate appearances last season.
Perhaps slotting Pence near the top of the lineup will propel better run production. The Giants averaged less than 3.9 runs per game in 2013, ranking as one of the least efficient offensive teams in baseball. They must improve overall run production if they’re going to earn a playoff berth this season. As a free-swinger who seldom sees a pitch he doesn’t like, Pence isn’t an ideal top of the order hitter, but he does have the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark, potentially making the Giants’ lineup more dangerous.
Despite his high strikeout tally, Pence’s on-base percentage was just 18 points lower than Scutaro’s .357 mark. The primary reason for that is Pence’s .308 batting average on balls in play. While Scutaro posted a slightly higher BAbip at .314, Pence sustained consistent productivity over 140 more at-bats than Scutaro and also accumulated more walks. Pence certainly won’t be able to match Scutaro’s impenetrable ability to avoid the strikeout, but he will present a legitimate power threat against opposing pitchers at the top of the order.
Pence has decent experience hitting in the No. 2 spot. He owns a respectable .756 OPS with seven home runs and 25 RBI in 301 career plate appearances over 65 games hitting in that slot of the lineup. Those numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet, but it at least serves to demonstrate Pence’s competent ability to sustain some level of success at the top of the order.
Over seven big league seasons, Pence has accumulated at least 100 plate appearances in seven different spots in the lineup. He’s a versatile hitter who doesn’t need to be slotted in a certain spot in order to succeed. The Giants have made an impact decision by allowing Pence to hit second. It’s a move that could greatly improve the team’s ability to score runs, especially in the early innings.