Pence’s Plummeting Production

The Phillies’ start to the season offensively as a whole has been disappointing, but no one individual has so far failed to live up to expectations quite like Hunter Pence. Pence had a career year in 2011, posting a career-high .378 wOBA, including .405 in 236 plate appearances with the Phillies after coming over from the Houston Astros. Although unorthodox in every way, Pence’s quirkiness always seemed to get the job done in the end.

This year, however, is another story. Pence has a .306 wOBA, the sixth-highest mark on a team of underachievers. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard absent for at least the first two months and potentially the entire first half, the Phillies were relying on Pence to be their rock in the clean-up spot, but that simply hasn’t been the case through April. He is striking out more than five times for every one walk — the second-lowest BB/K ratio on the team behind John Mayberry, Jr. and overall striking out in one out of every four plate appearances.

Even with the small sample, there isn’t a noticeable change in batted ball splits and he has an overall .310 BABIP, which is only a shade below his career average .327, a difference of one hit. He is even putting balls in play to the same locations (pull/opposite field) at the same rate. So, his biggest problem thus far has simply been plate discipline. His .293 on-base percentage is a far cry from his .370 OBP last year and his .342 career average.

The Phillies were never expected to be an offensive powerhouse without Utley and Howard. Shane Victorino was the only other regular position player PECOTA projected to post a true average above .270 (league average is .260). PECOTA pegged Pence at .287. Through April, only four teams have seen a lower OPS out of the #4 spot in the lineup than the Phillies have (.695). Since Pence hasn’t been producing, the Phillies have averaged 3.3 runs per game, the third-worst rate in the National League. This puts them on pace to score 535 runs, which would be the fewest scored by a Phillies team in a non-strike-shortened season since 1940-42.

(Please heed the usual small sample size warnings when drawing any conclusions from the above heat maps.)

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27 comments

  1. nik

    May 01, 2012 09:26 AM

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that’s he’s the cleanup hitter and gets pitched accordingly. Watch his numbers go up when Utley and Howard are back.

  2. nik

    May 01, 2012 09:37 AM

    While protection has been poo-pooed there is no denying he’s been pressing and thus chasing bad balls based on his role in this lineup.

  3. Ryne Duren

    May 01, 2012 09:43 AM

    agreed nik he’s def. feeling the heat and when one of the other guys come back i think he’ll improve. i think they’re all pressing. even if they don’t perform at their career ave cause of the so-called age factor but come close to it they win a ton of games with these starters.

  4. JC

    May 01, 2012 09:56 AM

    @nik

    How would you ever prove something like that? It could be the same story no matter where he hits in the lineup.

  5. LTG

    May 01, 2012 09:58 AM

    Is it possible to find data on whether pence is seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone? He is seeing more or less the same mix of pitches but swinging and missing more as well as making weaker contact. He’s always been a bit of a free swinger. Are pitchers now using that against him? (why weren’t they able to before is the obvious next question)

  6. LTG

    May 01, 2012 10:00 AM

    JC,

    There is no need to prove what there is no denying. It’s just like “I think therefore I am.”

  7. Michael

    May 01, 2012 10:09 AM

    Sweet post title alliteration, Bill.

  8. euphronius

    May 01, 2012 10:15 AM

    Lots of intangibles in these comments.

  9. euphronius

    May 01, 2012 10:15 AM

    Maybe he isn’t doing as well because god disfavors him.

  10. Michael

    May 01, 2012 10:19 AM

    He probably didn’t correctly sacrifice a lamb before the season started. Either that or he’s swinging outside the zone 5.4% above his career average and making contact outside the zone 9.6% less than his career average. Not a recipe for success.

  11. KF

    May 01, 2012 10:21 AM

    Pence knows how to produce and hitting out of a different slot will affect a player especially when you don’t have any protection behind him. Wigginton, Nix, and Mayberry have all been inconsistent so I agree that when he is used to protect the cleanup slot he should be more productive… Also as the shoulder continues to heal and rest up one would hope that would help too…

    Personally I think the bigger story, while early in the season, is the continued success of Vance Worley. Not saying he’s going to win the Cy Young or that he’s outperforming Roy or Cole, but he’s certainly looked better than Blanton (this year) or Kendrick (ever)… I’m on the Vanimal bandwagon… just sayin…

  12. euphronius

    May 01, 2012 10:35 AM

    The “protection” for Pence – or lack of it – is coming from the other direction. No one is getting on when he bats.
    Pence is .341 .386 .463 with men on. This is a line up problem in the sense of having low OBA players like Rollins Polanco and Pierre at the top of your order is stupid.

  13. euphronius

    May 01, 2012 10:36 AM

    I guess Pierre is getting on ok, but Polanco and Rollins are under .300.

  14. nik

    May 01, 2012 10:40 AM

    Polanco and Rollins have been way bigger problems than Pence so far. Lets hope the 8th inning last night is a good sign of things to come.

  15. euphronius

    May 01, 2012 10:44 AM

    I agree if Utley and Howard, both decent OBA guys, were hitting in front of Pence he would be having a better year. Though his patience this year even with men on is bad.

  16. Tom

    May 01, 2012 10:50 AM

    In 2010 Pence had a .579 OPS at the end of April. He bounced back nicely the next month and, although it was a down year for him, put up decent numbers overall.

    To me, Rollins is BY FAR the biggest problem with the offense. $30m for Freddy Galvis numbers? He better get it in gear. Maybe getting rid of this bunt-first small ball mentality would help everyone.

    Anyone want to bet on when the Phils number of total HRs will exceed their number of GDP? Right now GDP is ahead by 2, 16 to 14.

  17. Me

    May 01, 2012 10:55 AM

    Declining production…check

    Age appropriate to enter career decline phase…check

    About to hit the open market, primed for an excessive contract…check

    meets all of amaro’s prerequisites. Shouldn’t be long before he gets a 4-5 year deal.

    I hate amaro for what he’s done to this roster

  18. JimL

    May 01, 2012 10:55 AM

    Alliteration for what some have been posting about hitters surrounding Pence (Hopeful Headline):

    Hot Hitters Help Hunter vs.
    Hapless Hitters Hurt Hunter

  19. bharring

    May 01, 2012 11:29 AM

    …and it’s April (statistically). If I recall, this time last year Polanco was hitting about .900

  20. LTG

    May 01, 2012 12:06 PM

    For those pegging Rollins as the by far worse player so far, he and Pence have the same problem at the plate: swinging at balls and making weak contact. If you think Pence will improve you should think Jimmy will improve too.

    Jimmy’s age is not relevant to his struggles so far (although it is relevant to his offensive production ceiling). He and Pence are just as likely to regain their meager plate discipline skills.

    They are both about equally below their production from last year. The only difference is that Jimmy has not shown any power this year and this puts him a bit further below his projections than Pence is below his. So, Jimmy can’t be that much worse for our offense relative to expectations than Pence is.

    And, since Jimmy is a good defender and base-runner while Pence is not, Jimmy is contributing more to the team’s chances of winning games than Pence.

  21. LTG

    May 01, 2012 12:16 PM

    Also, I found an answer to my own question. Pence is seeing only 38.7% of pitches in the strike zone this year. He has averaged 47.3% in his career and last year saw 41.9%.

    At that rate of pitches in the zone, he should walk almost every time up.

  22. Tom

    May 01, 2012 01:21 PM

    I don’t see why Pence and Rollins should sink or swim together. Though the idea prompted me to look at their numbers and I was surprised Pence has a lower career walk rate than Rollins, 7.1% vs 7.5%. Both far below the MLB average which hovers around 8.5%.

    After Amaro’s little rant at the end of last year I thought the Phils would be more patient this year, not more eager to bunt.

  23. LTG

    May 01, 2012 01:44 PM

    The claim is not that they *must* sink or swim together but rather that there is no evidence that allows us to distinguish between the two such that we could say, “Pence will swim out of his decline in plate discipline but Rollins will remain sunk in it.” So, given the balance in evidence, whatever you believe about the one you should believe about the other. Of course, what one ought to believe in light of the evidence is not the same as what will happen.

  24. Phillie697

    May 01, 2012 04:23 PM

    Reading today’s comments I almost thought I was listening to a WIP broadcast… Then I realized it’s hard to “listen” to an internet blog.

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