Yesterday, On Tap Sports Net contributor Schins wrote about the White Sox reportedly showing interest in Brian Dozier, Cameron Maybin, and Hunter Pence. Just three days before that, I ran a poll to see how Sox Twitter would handle signing 36-year-old Hunter Pence to platoon with Nomar Mazara in right field. Let’s just say the results were mixed with those in favor of signing Pence getting the slight edge.
However, as I discussed with people around SoxFest and at the SoxFest Afterparty (awesome time seeing everyone, by the way, first time, long time), I had plenty of people giving me grief for this opinion. Let’s break down the numbers, shall we?
Hunter Pence is a gangly-looking baseball player. Every scout probably shot him down until they saw him hit early on in his career. Last year, he had a slight resurgence in 83 games before injuries put a halt to that. In 2015, arguably his last glimpse of success, Pence slashed .275/.327/.478 with 124 WRC+ in 52 games. His Statcast peripherals showed his barrel percentage at 11.9% as well. Unfortunately, injuries hindered the next few seasons, and when the Rangers signed Pence to a $2-million deal in 2019, no one expected anything.
Then Pence proceeded to slash .297/.358/.552 with 128 WRC+ and even received an All-Star nod. Yes, everyone knows the baseball was probably juiced in 2019 because everyone hit a million home runs. On the other hand, 2019 was different for Pence. He typically had an average exit velocity around 87-90 MPH (Statcast only goes back to 2015), but in 2019 it was 91.4 MPH. Stunningly, his average launch angle increased from 5.7 degrees in 2018 to 10.1 degrees in 2019. He was trying to get the ball in the air, and it was noticeable. Even with the seemingly skewed statistics of 2019, you can tell his approach was drastically different than it was in the past.
This comes to the next point. Everyone I’ve talked to about this topic shoots Pence down because of his defense, to which I reply: “Who cares!” Nomar Mazara is an even worse defender than Hunter Pence, and everyone seems to be fine with that move now. When healthy, Pence will hit you around 20 home runs over the course of an entire season. Home runs matter. People will argue that Adam Engel or Leury Garcia can handle right field when a lefty pitches. Sure, those two can defend well, but they combined for just FIVE home runs against lefties. Pence hit eight home runs in 41.7% of their combined plate appearance against lefties. Pence also hit righties with a .278 average in 2019, while Engel batted .201 and Garcia hit .264. With that, Pence could even fill in a slot in the lineup against a righty on occasion, which Engel most certainly cannot (maybe Garcia).
When it comes down to it, Pence is worth the gamble. I’m speaking this move into existence. If the White Sox are done making bigger-named splashes, Pence can platoon with Mazara. His contract would be cheap, too. The White Sox should make this move for depth purposes because otherwise, right field will remain an enormous concern against right-handed pitchers.