Guest Post: Hunter Pence’s Value

What Was Hunter Pence Worth To The 2011 Phillies?

by John Ricco (@john_ricco) of Turn Two Baseball and Jared Gold (@jgold6393)

After being traded to the Phillies at the deadline in 2011, Hunter Pence took no time in becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He was quick to contribute on-field production and lovable enthusiasm to a team that seemed to struggle offensively in the first half. Both of these traits had the mainstream media often raving that he “balanced the lineup” or “protected Ryan Howard” among other narratives. Pence performed perhaps even better than initially expected. In 50 games as Phillie, he hit for a slash line of .324/.394/.560, good for a wOBA of .405. While these numbers are rather remarkable, they must be looked at in context of the 2011 season.

Around the trade deadline, the Phillies had little doubt whether or not the club would make the postseason. But typical for any strong club, they wanted that blockbuster deal that would really solidify their chances at staying afloat come October. They did just this when acquiring Hunter Pence; he was looked at as a player that could not only help them get there, but make a run at winning a World Series. But just how much did Pence improve the already-great Phillies?

In attempting to answer this question, we built our framework around postseason probability added. The main point of this concept is such: not all wins are created equally. For instance, a team that wins 80 games instead of 79 increases their chances of making the postseason only by a fraction of a percent (roughly 0.4%), yet a team that wins 90 instead of 89 games increases their chances by over 11%. Therefore, when evaluating how a given player has affected his team’s likelihood of making it to October, it is not enough to just look at how many wins he has provided. Rather, we must look at the importance of each additional win.

According to FanGraphs, Hunter Pence was worth 2.6 WAR with the Phillies. The team won 102 games, so theoretically without Pence the Phillies would have won 99.4 games (generously assuming, of course, that Pence’s likely opportunity cost, Domonic Brown, would have performed at replacement level for the remainder of the season). Winning 99.4 games results in a 98.87% chance of making the postseason, while the mark at 102 wins is 99.66%. The difference between these two values is 0.0078. In other words, Hunter Pence added 0.78% – a fraction of a percent – to this team’s probability of making the postseason. Graphically, we can view this as the area under the marginal probability curve. The tiny shaded area represents the additional probability provided by Pence.

(click to enlarge)

However, the argument will be made that the objective of bringing Pence to Philadelphia was to win a World Series. That being said, it is fairly common knowledge that the postseason is a crapshoot and the best team doesn’t always win. If we average his contributions over the last three years, we can assume his true talent level is roughly 4 wins per year. Pence averaged 156.3 games a season, putting his worth at .0256 wins per game, or .128 wins over a full 5 game series. This is equivalent to just a shade over 1 run during the course of a full NLDS series, making the substantial assumption that it goes to 5 games. Over the past 10 years, the average World Series winner played 15 games, with no team playing more than 17. Even in the highly unlikely scenario of a team that played every possible game in each series (a full 19 games), Pence would have added fewer than 5 runs to the team.

This analysis, of course, treats Pence as a half year rental and disregards his benefits beyond 2011. Right now a number of question marks surround next year’s club and Pence’s future contributions certainly have the potential to be significant in the hunt for the postseason next year. Additionally, we have ignored the intangible qualities for which Pence is so well-known. We love high socks, goofy swings, and funny catchphrases as much as the next fans. Regardless, if we believe Victor Wang’s prospect research to be even somewhat accurate, Jonathan Singleton’s expected value is around $25 million and Jarred Cosart is projected to be worth $15 million. In evaluating his ultimate value, we must ask ourselves: is one meaningful season out of Pence truly worth the cost of dealing $40+ million dollars of top prospects?

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30 comments

  1. guywebster

    October 12, 2011 07:07 AM

    One aspect that WAR doesn’t consider is the effect a player has on team attitude. Who’d you rather have on your team, Hanley Ramirez or Chutley? Pence may help a lot “in the clubhouse”.

  2. guywebster

    October 12, 2011 07:48 AM

    Interesting. Help me with “nth best season”

  3. Bill Baer

    October 12, 2011 07:53 AM

    “n” stands for “number”. So 1 is the player’s best season, 2 is the second-best, 3 is the third-best, etc.

  4. RedBurb

    October 12, 2011 08:06 AM

    I like the analysis but how does one come up with projected value of prospects? Aren’t prospects a crapshoot also?

  5. Lee

    October 12, 2011 08:10 AM

    “is one meaningful season out of Pence truly worth the cost of dealing $40+ million dollars of top prospects?”

    I must have missed a step in logic. Why are we presuming just one meaningful season out of Pence?

  6. Scott G

    October 12, 2011 08:16 AM

    I don’t think pence should be judged on his terrible post season performance, but why does he get a pass? Why does ibanez continue to get a pass from the fans. His obp was sickening this year. I think it’s absolutely disgusting that pence and ibanez and players like them get passes from the fans while players like Burrell and werth were all but crucified in this city

  7. Moo

    October 12, 2011 08:27 AM

    Because FHOFRI.

  8. Phillie697

    October 12, 2011 08:34 AM

    @Lee,

    Because after one year, Pence is a free agent, at which point we could just sign him to a contract in 2012 without giving up any prospects, and we would have to do that anyway in 2012 even after this trade. So essentially, we traded those prospects for 1 1/2 years of Pence.

  9. guywebster

    October 12, 2011 08:49 AM

    Pence would’ve been worth it if we went to the WS, no? From today’s vantage point it could look extravagant.

  10. KH

    October 12, 2011 09:36 AM

    Impossible to tell now if it was worth it. We won’t know until we see how Cosart and Singleton’s career plays out. I personally think that prospect value system is ludicrous. Sabermetrics seem to be much bettter at analysing what happened already then predicting what will happen imo.

  11. guywebster

    October 12, 2011 09:53 AM

    I wonder, how does the prospect predictor view Dom Brown?

    I agree that the prospect value analysis has to be deeply flawed, too many assumptions based on a developing player’s performance.

  12. Bill Baer

    October 12, 2011 09:58 AM

    Instead of discrediting it based on the “smell test”, do the research and contradict it. That would be good science and beneficial to us all.

    I can’t imagine the time and effort Wang put into his research, only to have it slapped down by an Internet blog commenter who took two seconds to think about it.

  13. guywebster

    October 12, 2011 10:18 AM

    Calm down. Predictions of future performance, whether in horse racing or the stock market or baseball have to be flawed because you can’t see the future based on the past. You just can’t. If you could I’d be rich.

    In baseball, stats are certainly better predictors than “the good face” but they can’t be expected to pan out exactly.

    When I have time for a serious look I’ll see what Wang did and comment.

  14. Matt in NYC

    October 12, 2011 12:31 PM

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure the Phillies have Pence’s rights through 2013. He came up in late April 2007, making him a Super-2 player with 4 years of arbitration eligibility (2010-2013).

    Re: prospect valuations, Victor Wang’s work is terrific and useful, but his numbers are just average, or expected, values. Singleton could turn out to be Ryan Howard (or better) or Casey Kotchman (or worse). The difficulty for outsiders in placing an accurate and fair value on him is that we do not have as much information about him as the Phillies (or, likely, the Astros) do. Obviously the Phillies did their own math and determined that 2 1/2 years of Pence (including 2 at expensive arbitration prices) was worth the future value of Singleton and Cosart. Wang’s research gives us a baseline to help our own predictions, but of course if it was that simple then trades would never happen (unless calculators became a market inefficiency).

  15. Gio

    October 12, 2011 12:40 PM

    We get two more FULL YEARS of this guy. Sure, he’ll crush it in arbitration, but Pence is a terrific addition both for his production and attitude, the latter of which was sorely needed on a team that seemed at times to have that ho-hum approach (while on it’s way to winning 102 games – yes, they’re that talented). To me, him being in pinstripes the next two years will even go towards him making up for Rollins imminent departure and Howard’s late start. For a team that’s built to win now, do this deal 10 out of 10 times, even if we don’t actually win it all.

  16. Nik

    October 12, 2011 01:10 PM

    I’m sorry, this post is full of fail. Everyone knew that the Phils didn’t make the trade to make the playoffs this season. The 2011 regular is a strawman and the BIG fancy chart doesn’t change that.
    The trade was for 2.x years of Pence’s services at a discounted rate along with improving the 2011 post-season chances. Would we be seeing this article if Pence had a big hit in game 5? I think not.

  17. Phillie697

    October 12, 2011 01:15 PM

    I don’t completely buy the attitude argument, because you can have as good of an attitude as you want, but if it doesn’t show up on the field, who gives a rat’s ass? It’s a fallacy that great attitude or great chemistry automatically translates into better performance. It certainly CAN, but it’s not a given. All that great attitude certainly didn’t help us score even ONE lousy run in Game 5 of the NLDS, did it, and isn’t that what this guy is suppose to do? Because quite frankly with that pitching staff, we can make it to the postseason in 2012 and 2013 playing both Dom and Mayberry.

    That said, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have done the trade. I still think it’s a 50/50 proposition. But again, as it was hotly discussed during the time of the trade itself, it’s not as slam dunk as Pence supporters make it out to be.

  18. hk

    October 12, 2011 04:36 PM

    “However, the argument will be made that the objective of bringing Pence to Philadelphia was to win a World Series. That being said, it is fairly common knowledge that the postseason is a crapshoot…This is equivalent to just a shade over 1 run during the course of a full NLDS series, making the substantial assumption that it goes to 5 games.”

    While the postseason is a crapshoot and the best team doesn’t always win, I don’t see how that is an argument against improving your team in an effort to at least improve your odds in crapshoot. And, that 1 run sure would have helped in Game 5.

  19. Scott G

    October 12, 2011 10:29 PM

    “but Pence is a terrific addition both for his production and attitude, the latter of which was sorely needed on a team that seemed at times to have that ho-hum approach (while on it’s way to winning 102 games – yes, they’re that talented).”

    How can you support this claim? It’s so subjective and cliche that it makes me sick. Just because the rest of the team can hold their heads still while running doesn’t mean they’re ho-hum. Due to the fact that Pence is probably one of the strangest/least coordinated players in the league, people love him. Oh yea, he was hungry after a game, too. Let’s make a t-shirt about it!

  20. gcil

    October 13, 2011 10:19 AM

    This whole concept is ridiculous. Using the same math, Albert Pujols is worth .232 wins over the course of the NLDS, and under 9 runs over the course of a 19 game playoff. That is almost double what Pence is “worth”, but its still less than 4 runs more.

    You’re using these numbers to make it seem like Pence is not worth anything, when in reality the best player in the game also appears to have a minuscule value.

    Furthermore, the idea of projected prospect value is fun, but ultimately not very helpful. There are too may things that can happen to a prospect on the way to the majors. Its hard enough to predict what prospects will have a legit major league career, let alone put a monetary value on them.

  21. guywebster

    October 13, 2011 12:01 PM

    I’ve finally read Wang’s prospect value paper. Interesting stuff, but probably best applied by a team for budget planning purposes and not to calculate specific player worth or predict value. As many preceding have said, there are too many variables that cannot be considered regarding individuals.

    Re: making subjective judgements about players. Sometimes that’s all we have and it isn’t invalid . What metric is there for attitude or the ability to inspire?

  22. Phillie697

    October 13, 2011 12:12 PM

    @guywebster,

    And you would want to bank your decision-making on such things that you admit you can’t even put a finger on, why? You know who subscribes to that school of thought? Jim Hendry. Ask a Cubs fan how much they loved him.

  23. guywebster

    October 13, 2011 12:37 PM

    Who said I was banking on anything? I just said that some important things are not quantifiable yet must be considered. You want Nyger Morgan on the team even if he hits .300?

  24. Phillie697

    October 13, 2011 01:03 PM

    Funny you brought up Morgan, because guess what, he’s still playing in the postseason (and put up a 4.0 WAR season), while you and I are doing typical armchair GMing of our favorite team because we ain’t got nothing else to do, and the team who let him go because of his “attitude” didn’t even sniff the playoffs, let alone playing in it. How’s that for your “intangibles?”

  25. Scott G

    October 13, 2011 07:31 PM

    Nyjer Morgan has now become my exhibit A when people use the cliche about a player tearing up a clubhouse. I want the Brewers to make the World Series even more now.

  26. Phil From Feasterville

    October 16, 2011 08:29 PM

    What’s fascinating is the other prospects traded aren’t valued at all. Zied could be a perfectly serviceable middle reliever and Santana could be absolutely superb. If either or both of them pans out this trade morphs from merely “Disastrous” to “Worst Trade in Phillies History”.

  27. David

    October 18, 2011 02:50 PM

    Yet if Hunter Pence somehow saved the NLDS and then went on to be MVP of the NLCS and/or WS, then it would have been hailed as the best trade of the year. Statistically, we know that’s overdoing it, but the whole point of acquiring Pence was never statistical. Yes, long term and statistically it’s probably a (very) bad trade, but the point of the trade was for short term benefit – which the Phillies got. The 2.5 WAR over 54 games is a Pujols/MVP level of production if extended to the course of an entire season.

  28. Phillie697

    October 19, 2011 12:56 PM

    @David,

    I think what we wanted was a WS title. By your logic his 2.5 WAR in the regular season as a Phillie don’t matter, since we were going to make it to the playoffs with or without him. His .496 OPS in the playoffs, however, doesn’t paint such a rosy picture.

    Funny how you said “but the whole point of acquiring Pence was never statistical” then proceeded to quote his 2.5 WAR over 54 games. I forgot, WAR isn’t a statistic anymore. It’s now a religion!!!

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