Phillies Acquire Hunter Pence

After painful days of speculation, the Phillies finally made the big splash at the trade deadline in acquiring Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros. In return, the Astros will get top prospects Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, as well as Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. Compared to previously-reported hauls involving uber-prospect Domonic Brown, Phillies fans are fine with giving up the two prospects and two filler players.

However, it does appear that the Phillies overpaid in acquiring Pence. For a similar price, the Phillies likely could have pried B.J. Upton from the Tampa Bay Rays, who is more than a year younger and has a higher ceiling. In the event the Phillies re-sign their outfield acquisition, Upton is better in the long-term.

Going back to the Ryan Howard signing, Ruben Amaro does not like to let the chips fall where they may, choosing instead to act quickly, even if it means not getting proper value on his acquisitions. In engaging in a public auction with the Atlanta Braves and other teams, the Phillies drove up Pence’s price. They kept Brown, which seemed to be the one and only goal of the Phillies’ front office, something they accomplished for the fourth time (see the acquisitions of Roy Hallday, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt).

Pence does upgrade the outfield. He has a career +5 UZR/150 in the outfield and has stolen more than ten bases in each of his previous four seasons, on pace do do the same in 2011. As for offense, Pence’s career average wOBA is .353, which compares well to the current MLB average .312. On the season, he is at .365, a career-high. Contrary to reports, he does not hit left-handed pitchers much better than right-handed pitchers, with a career average wOBA at .359 and .353, respectively. In 2011, he is actually hitting right-handers better, .369 to .341.

There is room for immediate concern with Pence as well. His ISO, a measure of raw power, is currently at .163, a career-low and the fourth consecutive year his ISO has dropped. Citizens Bank Park is a bit more homer-friendly to right-handed hitters than Minute Maid Park (HR park factors at 116 and 107, respectively; over 100 is above-average), so Pence might see the ISO rise, but the overall trend is discouraging.

Additionally, Pence has been riding an abnormally high BABIP. Hitters have significantly more control over BABIP than pitchers, but they are still prone to good and bad luck. Pence’s BABIP is currently at .370, more than 40 points above his career average. From 2008-10, it ranged from .301 to .308, an even larger gap from his current numbers. Specifically, Pence is getting luckiest on ground balls, turning them into hits at a .342 clip compared to his career .303 average. Fly balls have become hits at a .169 clip compared to his .145 average, while line drives have dropped a bit, at .710 compared to his .734 career average.

If Pence were making better contact, the change in BABIP may be somewhat explainable, but the evidence actually points to him making weaker contact. As mentioned above, his ISO has been in straight decline. He has also hit more infield fly balls: 13 percent, an increase of more than three percent from last year. Furthermore, there has been no significant changes in his batted ball splits.

As mentioned in my article for ESPN last night, Pence’s regression appears to have already started in the last two months.

[...] [Pence] has cooled off considerably in the past two months: In April and May, he posted an .830 and .914 OPS respectively; in June and July, his OPS dipped to .757 and .744, respectively. His first two months were BABIP fueled with a lot of power (.376 BABIP, .190 ISO) while his last two months have seen both numbers drop (.354 BABIP, .119 ISO).

Finally, Pence isn’t projected to be much of an upgrade overall. The ZiPS projection system, found at FanGraphs, predicts a .353 wOBA for Pence between now and the end of the regular season. For Brown, ZiPS sees a .343 wOBA and .337 for Raul Ibanez. If we assume 200 PA for each player, the difference between Pence and Brown is less than two runs (roughly one-fifth of a win), and the difference between Pence and Ibanez is less than three runs (about one-third of a win).

As for base running, through 105 games, Pence has been worth about two runs above average going by EQBRR (found at Baseball Prospectus), while Brown has been nearly three runs above average (net loss of one run) and Ibanez has been one run above average (net gain of one run). Defensive stats, especially through only 105 games, are very unreliable, so let’s just use our eyes on this one and say that Pence is an upgrade over both players, significantly more so for Ibanez.

All told, if the Phillies cut Ibanez’s playing time in favor of Pence, they will see more of an improvement. If, however, the Phillies limit Brown’s playing time, they will be eating into their own gains. Charlie Manuel will truly decide just how much value Pence brings to the Phillies. With Pence and Brown, the Phillies’ outfield is set through 2012, and depending on what the future holds for Shane Victorino, potentially longer.

Now, for an alternate take, here’s Jeff Barnes (@Utley4God):

There’s no debate, the Phillies overpaid for Hunter Pence. By trading two elite prospects for the good, but not great outfielder, they gave up more value then they should. In virtually every situation this would drive me nuts, but this may be an exception.

Here are the facts:
The Phillies are a better team in 2011. If they reduce Raul’s at-bats for Pence, they are much better. If they reduce Dom’s, they are slightly better. But either way, the team added Pence and subtracted Francisco (guessing, may have to change if announced).

They have their outfield set for 2012. With a weak free agent class, this is an important factor.

Their lineup is more balanced, which could be a good asset heading into October.

If you are going to overpay for a win-now move, the time to do it is when you are truly (or the move makes you) World Series contenders. If they properly allocate at bats (Read: take from Raul) the rest of the season, this could be a big improvement for a team that didn’t need much. But Charlie Manuel runs this team and he loves his veterans. So for now, we’ll grade this trade: Incomplete

Leave a Reply

*

44 comments

  1. Cosx

    July 29, 2011 10:08 PM

    I totally agree, the Philles overpaid for Hunter Pence. BUT: the phillies overpaid in assets they have (A-level, high upside talent) in exchange for assets that are rare, and that they really need (ML level, established track record, cost controlled talent). I still don’t like the trade, but I trust Rueben at this point. Especially if anything from the first Cliff Lee trade makes an impact in the next year or two.

  2. Jeff P

    July 29, 2011 10:11 PM

    Good stuff. But I was JUST starting to come to terms with this deal and be excited that it’ll help us, then I read all about Pence’s decline, stuff I knew already but was blacking out. Lets hope the trade works.

    Question, where do you find those stats – that Pence is hitting x on groundballs compared to his average of y and with linedrives and flyballs… Was looking on fangraphs earlier but didn’t seem to see it.

  3. andy

    July 29, 2011 10:12 PM

    why is upton a better prospect?

  4. Giving_Chase

    July 29, 2011 10:13 PM

    Apparently, Domonic is the one going down. Matt Gelb is saying he will probably come back as a left fielder.

  5. Mike B.

    July 29, 2011 10:45 PM

    You know, the more I think about what I’ve read about Hunter Pence the ballplayer and Hunter Pence the person/competitor, the better I feel about all this. He seems to be a guy who plays 110% all the time, which means he will be a perfect fit. And at least the outfield is set for the next few years. Upton was really intriguing b/c I think neon here would have done him a lot of good, but I’m ok with HP. I just hope the fourth player isn’t Biddle.

  6. Phillie697

    July 29, 2011 10:47 PM

    If they sent down Dom it’s a big mistake. He has nothing left to prove in AAA.

    Doesn’t Charlie realize that even if Pence hits as terrible as Ibanez, he’s probably worth 10 runs more than Ibanez based on defense alone??? Why screw up your future in Dom by playing a guy who won’t be on the team in 3 months? Sit Ibanez!!!

  7. Dukes

    July 29, 2011 10:49 PM

    One thing that caught my attention during one of Pat Gillick’s interviews last week during the hall of fame stuff was something he said about how most GM’s forget that baseball is entertainment but he does not. I’m wondering if some of this rubbed off on Amaro. From what I know (and that’s not much because I don’t know them personally), Pence is a “Chase Utley lite” from a work ethic and character perspective, while Upton can be a bit of a wild card. I know the character stuff mattered to Gillick and I suspect it is a big deal to Amaro as well.

  8. Phillie697

    July 29, 2011 10:52 PM

    @Jeff B,

    One saving grace is that Singleton is a 1B prospect, which is the easiest prospect to find on the face of the planet. That’s the only reason why I’m starting to feel okay about this deal.

  9. Scott G

    July 29, 2011 11:13 PM

    I think it’s laughable how my immediate reaction is that he should replace Raul and not Brown. You guys hold the same belief, but not one person (Ruben Amaro, Ricky Bo, Charlie, or MSM) even suggested it. It’s just implied that Brown will sit, go to the minors, or be traded. Ridiculous.

  10. Dan

    July 29, 2011 11:29 PM

    @Phillie967

    We had him playing at LF. And while it’s true that he was moved back to 1B, it wasn’t until after he injured his ankle. Maybe they believed the experiment failed, but it’s also possible they were just trying to keep his ankle from getting hurt again. Also, he’s not a typical 1B hitter in that he has above-average speed. He’s very similar to Dom in a lot of ways.

    I’m really going to miss Cosart and Singleton, but I can live with the trade. But if any one of May, Colvin, Pettibone, or Biddle is the last player to be named, I will go berserk. Losing Cosart, in a way, also further cements our need to lock Cole up.

  11. Ring the Bell

    July 29, 2011 11:29 PM

    Bill,
    Again nice write up. Pence is better than Ibanez and I think Brown is better than both next year. Larry Greene is Howard’s replacement not Singleton. Pence is a nice player, not great but he does not have to be just like Werth fit the team but has not proven to be able to carry the team. May looks like he will be better than Cosart and is certainly having a better year. Biddle will make everyone forget Cosart. Good trade.

  12. Dave

    July 29, 2011 11:39 PM

    Not sure why you’re so certain that BJ Upton is a better prospect. So, he’s one year younger… that doesn’t seem to be a huge difference. You quote his WAR from 3 and 4 years ago, and I’m not sure why those two years in the past hold more weight than the three years (2.7?) since then.
    Since the beginning of 2009 Pence has an fWAR of 10.0, compared to Upton’s 7.9. In the past 5 years (which includes Upton’s two years you have a boner over) Pence has an fWAR of 17.4 equal to Upton, also at 17.4. Am I missing something? Why is past performance more valuable than more recent performance?

    But overall I do agree the Phillies overpaid for Pence, but not by much. Pence fills a need — especially for the next 2 years — and they give up a 1b prospect who is blocked by the $25M man and a pitching prospect with injury history. Sure it might backfire, but there’s always risk in any trade. I think this is a safe bet on Rube’s part, and it works for both sides. Some trades are good for both parties; this is one of them.

  13. Dave

    July 29, 2011 11:45 PM

    Also, the Phils have a surplus of pitching prospects. I’m OK with letting one guy go.
    There is one problem, and it has nothing to do with the actual trade… the wrong corner outfielder is going to see the bench. Ibanez should ride the pine to make room for Pence, not Brown.

    All I know is that it takes some serious balls to be a GM. It can’t be easy to let go of top prospects, but at the same time you can’t hold on to all of your prospects knowing that most of them don’t reach their ceiling. You just have to hope that you choose the right ones to hold on to. It’s easy to be armchair GM and criticize Rube, but I’m not sure I’d want his job. Even if i tell myself otherwise.

  14. Jim Z.

    July 30, 2011 12:56 AM

    Can someone give me a run-down of the potential shown by both Singleton and Cosart? Are these truly elite prospects that project as to players in the MLB?

    I mean, they mean little to the Phillies right now, but in a few years, it probably will sting to see Singleton hitting 30+ HRs for the Astros or Cosart with a sub-2 ERA. That is, if they develop as projected.

  15. windbag

    July 30, 2011 02:28 AM

    Allow me to examine this roster move in psychological terms since I know nothing about stats. I think demoting Brown had more to do with chemistry than talent. I think Brown could use one last taste of AAA life to cement his desire to never be the odd man out again. Pence meanwhile will be helped along by the veterans instead of being the new guy who pushed Ibanez to the bench.

    Plus they’re not paying Ibanez all that money to ride the bench and he’s hit pretty well the past 6 weeks.

    This team looks very strong with Francisco in for Ibanez against tough lefties while Mayberry can fill in for Howard or Victorino.

    Dr. Windbag, Professor of BS

  16. Phillie697

    July 30, 2011 05:29 AM

    Professor of BS indeed…

  17. Jack

    July 30, 2011 06:04 AM

    that is totally ridiculous – Upton is not a better prospect,nor will he be a better player, he’s a lazy bum, some desperate team is going to overpay for

  18. SaganRand

    July 30, 2011 07:45 AM

    A quote from RAJ on why they made this deal:
    “We tried to address a need that we felt was a missing piece,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “This gives us a little more balance.”

    Which is interesting because I got bashed on this very board during the off-season for saying the Phillies lack of ‘balance’ in their linup would prove to be a problem.
    Got absolutely blasted by the geniuses that run this place about how there’s no such thing as ‘balance’ in a MLB lineup and it’s un-important. Blah, blah, blah. Try to learn a bit about baseball before you set up a site and position yourselves as being ‘experts’. EVERYBODY that knows anything about baseball KNEW this would be necessary eventually and that you can’t have lineup void of anyone that can drive in runs from the right side. The Phils #5 hole is hitting .238 this year. Please try to imagine what it means to updgrade that slot to a guy hitting .308 and who has 162 game averages of 25 hr and 90+ rbi….step away from your spreadsheets and go to an actual baseball field and learn a bit about the game before pontificating.

  19. Dana-X

    July 30, 2011 08:23 AM

    As an Astros fan, you’re gonna love Hunter’s contagious enthusiasm and intensity. He’s a very good line drive hitter who does well in the clutch. He’s .300, 20-25 homer, 90 RBI guy who plays very good defense. As for his “decline”; he’s a streaky hitter, as are many others. But when he’s hot he can hit anyone, anytime.

    I see Cosart is actually a local kid from the Houston burbs. Hopefully he’s actually pan out as this organization has little in the way of pitching talent.

  20. Dykstra's collarbone

    July 30, 2011 08:43 AM

    I’m still shocked that Houston, according to ESPN, is still paying part of his salary. I hope they never fire Ed Wade!

  21. jauer

    July 30, 2011 08:51 AM

    Why is it a fucking no-brainer that Ibanez continues to star innstead of Brown? Do these people really not understand what a sunk cost is? This is absurd. Bring back David Bell and Placido Polanco to start in the infield instead of Chase Utley, while you’re at it.

  22. Phillie697

    July 30, 2011 11:02 AM

    @jauer,

    I’m fine if Charlie wants to be the “good cop” and wants to toss some at-bats at Ibanez during the regular season. Come playoff time, Ibanez needs to have his ass glued to the bench, and only unglued when someone gets hurt. I haven’t heard ANYONE from the Phillies say that Brown is definitely getting sent down; everything is what ESPN are reporting as “could.” I sure hope they don’t… It’d be a waste of time (AAA pitching is like child’s play for Dom), not to mention it’s a bad way to handle a young player.

  23. JB Allen

    July 30, 2011 11:23 AM

    C’mon, everybody, don’t you want to see Ibanez’s slow-motion swing during the playoffs? He’s an inspiration to those of us who also can’t hit big league fastballs or draw walks. Besides, he may be the Replacement Player the statistically inclined have been looking for.

  24. Richard

    July 30, 2011 11:25 AM

    SaganRand: what are Victorino’s stats in the #5 hole?

  25. Chris

    July 30, 2011 11:51 AM

    I completely forgot that everything RAJ says is true. He says we needed balance, therefore we absolutely had to have it! Who cares if Pence hits RHP better than LHP? It’s all about making the lineup card look nice and even. I mean really, who cares how the Phillies offense has been since Utley came back? Not important because we lost 2 of 3 to the Giants, right?

  26. Jim

    July 30, 2011 12:03 PM

    @jauer,

    Its not a no-brainer that he should be starting, its a no-brainer that Cholly will start him, and continue to play him no matter how bad he plays.

  27. Mike B.

    July 30, 2011 12:24 PM

    @SaganRand: not sure what the no. 5 hitter stats have to do with your supposed “balance” vindication. There is no objective reason to have x number of left-handed hitters and y number of right-handed hitters. The important thing is that the lineup’s performance is balanced against both LHPs and RHPs. That’s likely the point those big mean experts were trying to make when they picked on you earlier.

  28. bob dee

    July 30, 2011 12:42 PM

    you called jack a racist for saying bj upton is a lazy bum. i guess in your pc world the truth is racist. as far as i can tell bj upton has no up side and i don’t want him on my team. i also would sit raul unless the phils think dom needs seasoning as a left fielder. the philly faithful have been know to be tough on poor fielding left fielders (i.e. ennis & burrell & less so the bull).

  29. Phil

    July 30, 2011 12:51 PM

    You have absolutely no idea that BJ Upton will ever be as good as anyone says he is. His career .752 OPS in 7 seasons suggests you overrate him greatly. What you do know, however, is that Pence has been one of the most consistent hitters in the NL over the past 4 seasons, and that the Phillies have the best record while hitting a measly .249. This improves the Phillies demonstrably.

    Oh, and Pence doesn’t quit and whine like Upton, has rock solid conditioning, is 5 tool, and has actually proven himself.

    Cosart has as much as a chance to completely flame out or get injured as he does to be successful. He’s a single A prospect with tons of injuries already. You also overrate him greatly.

    Jonathan Singleton…does anyone want to bet that he’ll never have a major league season as good as Pence’s average season? Heh, thought so.

    Additionally, the Phillies are built for the short term. We need to win now because of the age of the pieces in place. Cosart and Singleton, if they ever get to the MLB, will never be on a team this good, as 90% of MLB players haven’t ever been.

  30. Phil

    July 30, 2011 01:01 PM

    Upton also quits on plays and then becomes extremely angry at his superstar teammates when they take issue with it, and seems to have character issues in general. Racism, or truth? Ask Evan Longoria.

  31. Bill Baer

    July 30, 2011 01:26 PM

    Via DRays Bay:

    www.draysbay.com/2010/8/3/1590220/its-complicated-bj-upton-and-race

    These days, racism is subconscious. Scholars and activists in the area refer to it as “privilege” – or in other words, white people are given certain subconscious privileges that black people and other minorities are not. I like to describe it as, “the benefit of the doubt.” When a white person messes up, we don’t have to worry about our actions being taken to stand for our race; it’s taken as an individual failure. That white person didn’t run hard out of the box? Well, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt – that wasn’t great, but it was probably a mental lapse. It’s an individual issue, and does not bring to mind any negative stereotypes.

    However, when a black person messes up, stereotypes and racial assumptions are quick to jump to the forefront. Failures are also attributed to character problems as opposed to situational factors. Their failures aren’t viewed as individual failures, but instead reinforce the stereotypes that black people are lazy, unintelligent, and more likely to be malcontents. That black person didn’t run out of the box? Geez, they don’t hustle or play hard – so lazy. It’s a character issue.

    [...]

    That’s why I have a problem with people calling BJ Upton lazy. If you don’t want to like him, fine, be frustrated with him; there are plenty of reasons to be disappointed with how his career has turned out. However, we don’t know if BJ Upton is lazy or not. Do any of us see when he arrives at the stadium each day? Do any of us watch what work he puts in behind the scenes? Were any of us at the private workouts he had with Derek Shelton all off-season? Do any of us know him personally, and know how much he cares about the game? No, we don’t. Labeling a person “lazy” is a huge assumption to make, especially when you only know them through a television.

  32. Justin

    July 30, 2011 02:09 PM

    Is it really so terrible to send Brown down to AAA to get some work in at LF and give Raul one more month to possibly go on one of his hot streaks? If(when) Raul is still waving at the high fastballs come September, bring Brown back up for the pennant race with a month’s worth of low-pressure ABs and work in LF.

  33. jauer

    July 30, 2011 03:52 PM

    ibanez has been so bad in left field that brown can get his left field (which is easier than right) work in at the MLB level and not hurt the team

  34. Jeff P

    July 30, 2011 08:01 PM

    I swear, some of that subconcsious racist stuff has been attributed to Brown. “dumb on the basepaths”, “can’t run down a fly ball”, “doesn’t hustle to first.”

    I don’t want to start a political correctness battle, just feel like there’s extra bile toward Brown when they criticize those things. Not from those on this blog, or commentors here, but in general.

  35. Smokin Joe

    July 31, 2011 04:59 AM

    Anyone who says that BJ Upton is better than Hunter Pence should apply for gm of the Mets. They, too, have ignored character and acumen for years and look where it has gotten them. BJ Upton is referred to as “a loafer”, “an under-achiever” and a “bad teammate” not because of racism but because he loafs, underachieves and butts head with teammates!
    For those of you not familiar with Pence, think Chase Utley hyped up on caffeine. He hustles, OVER-achieves and is well-liked by teammates.
    Did anyone that Pence switched from uniform #3 in Houston to #9 in Philly? “Brown, who has been optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, wears No. 9, and Pence had no desire to take Brown’s jersey number as well as his position.” (credit Jerry Crasnick ESPN) Pence is a 2-Time All-Star and Brown is a rookie; Pence didn’t have to do that.
    Acquiring Pence was another great move by the Phils. Let’s hope it leads to another World Title. Go Phils.

  36. Phillie697

    July 31, 2011 11:46 AM

    @Smokin Joe,

    Chase didn’t become a superstar because of his “attitude” or “character.” He became a superstar because he has once-in-a-generation glove at 2B and hits like a 1B. His attitude and character may be why you, and the fans, like him, but that doesn’t make him any better or worse on the field.

    Similarly, we didn’t trade Hunter Pence for his attitude or character either. Feel free to like him for those reasons too, but please don’t think for a second that’s why RAJ traded for him.

    I don’t think B.J. Upton is better than Hunter Pence either, but I don’t have to resort to using attitude or character to make that point. B.J. Upton might have some upside sure, but you know what, we need him to perform THIS year, and THIS year, he hasn’t done jack squat, and based on the trend the past few years, I don’t think he’s ever going to do jack squat. I could care less if he’s lazy or aloof. Barry Bonds was the most aloof of them all, and if he is 27 today and available, I’d trade all of the farm for him in a second, attitude or character be damned.

  37. Phil

    July 31, 2011 06:00 PM

    Yeah, please don’t think that RAJ traded for Pence because of all his intangible qualities in addition to performance, even if that’s basically what RAJ has repeated numerous times over the past few days in talking about the trade.

  38. Phillie697

    August 01, 2011 11:14 AM

    Yeah, I’m sure if Pence was hitting with a .650 OPS as opposed to .850 OPS, RAJ would still have traded for him because, you know, he has all those intangibles. Obviously if he keeps repeating what you want to hear, it must be true. Perhaps I can interest you in some sub-prime mortgages as well?

  39. KH

    August 01, 2011 03:45 PM

    Its pretty ridiculous to say it seems like only black players are called lazy or they don’t hustle etc. You much have never played team sports to say such nonsense and must have total recall of everything ever written about professional sports to bit. Totally ludicrous.

  40. jauer

    August 01, 2011 09:32 PM

    Its ludicrous that you don’t understand the word “seems”

  41. classified

    January 11, 2012 08:36 PM

    No matter what the Phils paid him, they got Pence.

Next ArticleReader Question: Phillies Run Scoring Distribution