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.)