What Was Hunter Pence Worth To The 2011 Phillies?
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.
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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?