• Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Hunter Pence's turnaround from minor league deal to All-Star is one of baseball's best stories

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Hunter Pence has long been one of baseball’s best stories. He doesn’t have picturesque mechanics. He’s not built like a stereotypical slugger. But for nearly a decade, he was a staple of playoff contenders’ lineups.

At the end of last season, it looked like Pence might be done. He gave a touching farewell speech to San Francisco Giants fans and couldn’t find a single major league deal in free agency.

But once again, Pence has found a way. After earning his way onto the Texas Rangers’ roster in spring training, the 36-year-old has slugged his way to his fourth All-Star game this summer as the AL’s starting designated hitter.

Pence’s turnaround is stunning

Pence last made an All-Star game in 2014, and it’s been a steady decline since.

In 2015, Pence held an impressive 124 wRC+, but various injuries held him to just 52 games. His power started to disappear the next year with just 13 home runs — his fewest in a full season — and by 2017 he was slashing just .260/.316/.385.

Last season, Pence was below replacement level with a career-worst 23.8 percent strikeout rate and 4.4 percent walk rate. Among 318 players with at least 240 plate appearances last season, Pence’s .258 wOBA ranked 310th.

It would not at all have been a surprise if Pence was forced into retirement. With so many teams tanking — err, rebuilding — there’s not a lot of space for aging players in the corner. But after finding a home with the Rangers, he’s shown that he still belongs.

Though it's only been 55 games, Pence looks reinvigorated. His plate disciplined is improved, and his power has returned with a .608 slugging percentage that ranks 11th in baseball. It’s not an illusion of the Rangers’ hitter-friendly home stadium either — his 46.3 percent hard-hit rate is a career-best.

Texas Rangers' Hunter Pence runs to the dugout before the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Arlington, Texas. Texas won 10-5. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Hunter Pence will play in his first All-Star game since 2014 this July. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

How did Pence turn around his season?

Much of Pence’s improvement can be attributed to his overhauled swing. While any hitting coach looking at Pence’s swing might’ve suggested that for years, it’s only become necessary since he stopped hitting well.

Don’t worry, Pence still looks slightly awkward with his herky-jerky swing — he’s one of the great joys of the game to watch. But Pence adjusted where he holds his hands, and it’s paying quick dividends.

Holding his hands higher and keeping his bat parallel to the ground — as FanGraphs’ Devan Fink eloquently shows — has allowed Pence to have a cleaner load and be more upright when he makes contact. With more authority behind his swing, Pence’s power has returned.

“I think that’s what great athletes can do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, via The Mercury News. “They find a way to find their game again and at his age, to find that so called fountain of youth again and play the way he did a few years ago, that’s really impressive.”

Plenty of hitters over the years have reinvigorated their careers with a swing change. Whether it’s Justin Turner with an uppercut swing or Pence rebalancing himself, players are never too old to reinvent themselves.

More from Yahoo Sports: