COMMENTARY | Hunter Pence came to the San Francisco Giants late last July along with a multitude of expectations. He was going to be the "big bat" the Giants supposedly lacked and would help to stabilize the middle of the lineup. After Melky Cabrera was suspended, Pence was going to be counted on to replace a good portion of the offense Cabrera took with him. And when the Giants made the playoffs, Pence's bat would help push the team to another World Series.
Unfortunately, none of those things actually happened. Pence looked lost from the minute he put on a Giants uniform and never found his stroke at the plate. He didn't come close to replacing Cabrera's production in the lineup. His biggest contributions to the team's World Series run were his wild-eyed, fiery pregame speeches while his bat remained virtually silent.
Frankly, Pence was a bust with the Giants. He didn't provide any more offense than the rotating wave of right fielders the team had employed before he arrived, and his defense was average at best. It wouldn't have been much of a surprise had the Giants non-tendered him at the arbitration deadline; Pence was that bad.
But the Giants did tender Pence a contract, one worth $13.8 million for 2013. And once again, the Giants will be counting on him to be a major contributor to their lineup. Can Pence bounce back and give the Giants the kind of production they expected from him when they traded for him?
The answer isn't exactly clear. Pence's numbers with the Giants were atrocious: .219/.287/.384 with limited power (7 home runs). His mechanics at the plate looked out of whack and he never managed to right himself. It's tempting to write up his time with the Giants as an anomaly, since Pence has proven to be a capable hitter in his big league career. But what if it's something else? What if Pence is experiencing a rapid descent into mediocrity?
The Giants simply can't afford that to be true, both financially and otherwise. They're already sacrificing offense in left field with a Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres platoon, and they have plenty of other question marks in their lineup. The Giants are counting on Pence to protect their best hitters in the middle of the order, and to be the run producer they had envisioned he'd be when they traded for him. Another season of hitting sub-.220 with minimal pop won't cut it.
Pence does have the ability to be a productive hitter, if his past is any indication. Though he's played in hitter-friendly ballparks in Houston and Philadelphia throughout his career, his home/road splits have been remarkably consistent. He's averaged 25 home runs per season and has been a better hitter than his stint with the Giants would suggest. It's possible that his slump with the Giants was just that, and not an indicator of something more dire. Whether it's fixing a mechanical flaw, getting into better shape, or something else entirely, there's hope that Pence can make the necessary adjustments and get back to being the hitter the Giants thought they were getting.
And the Giants need that, desperately. They don't have the depth on their roster to cover for Pence if he continues to struggle in 2013, and there are no minor league hitters in the pipeline ready to step in. The Giants have maxed out their payroll, too, so a trade for a bat doesn't seem very likely. They're stuck with Pence, paying him a fairly large sum of money, and need him to produce. And Pence needs to produce to prove that he's worth the long-term contract he'll undoubtedly be seeking once the season ends.
Speeches are great, but the Giants can go out and hire a motivational speaker for a lot less than $13.8 million if that's what they're after. They need more from Hunter Pence in 2013, and it's time for him to deliver.
Dave Tobener has been writing about the Giants for the better part of a decade. You can find him on Twitter here: @gggiants
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