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The Case for the White Sox to Sign Hunter Pence

The White Sox should make this move for depth purposes because otherwise, right field will remain an enormous concern against right-handed pitchers.

Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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.

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Kurt Livingston
Kurt Livingston
2 years ago

I disagree. Adam Engel would likely be bumped off the roster and his late game defense is more valuable than the offense Pence would bring.

John Smith
John Smith
2 years ago

I think the author means enormous concern vs left, not right handed pitching. In any case, the numbers the past couple years do not support that. Mazara hit only .230 the past 2 years vs lefties, but, his power numbers are still pretty good. Last year in 300 AB’s vs righties, he had 13 homers and 46 rbi’s. 2018 and 2019 combined, he had 300 AB’s vs lefties and 13 homers, 49 rbis. Pretty much the same. Granted he gets on base a little less, but 300 AB’s vs lefties the past 2 years are a pretty good indication he’s going to hit homers and drive in runs. He’s not on this team to get on base a lot… they know he isn’t that kind of player. I doubt they pick up Pence, and if they don’t, Sox fans should not be concerned that he can’t hit lefties. So many people write that without looking at the overall numbers, because they haven’t looked closely or seen the guy play. Give the dude a chance! His 2019 highlights are impressive, massive power to all fields against lefties or righties. His teammates raved about how on point he is with his mental outlook… so he’s coachable, and only 24. So don’t assume he can’t get better. Even if he is the same player as with Texas, he’s a heck of an improvement over what they had – and doesn’t have to be a focal point on a team with as many better hitters around him. If this team falls short, it will be because of pitching, not Mazara.

John Smith
John Smith
Reply to  Kurt Livingston
2 years ago

Agree. Plus, Pence will be 37 at the start of the season. He has had injury issues, hasn’t hit 20 homers since 2014. While he had a great year last year, it is far from his norm over the past 5. In 2018 his avg vs lefties was under .200. He isn’t a great bet to be as good as he was last year unless you ignore the past 5 years, and his age. And the difference between him and Mazara in 150 AB’s vs lefties in say 40 or so games, if you take Pence to be a .300 hitter and Mazara .230, that’s about 10 hits, one every 4 games. That’s not a big difference … BA one of the most overrated stats. If Mazara hits for more power than Pence which is likely, a few extra homers more than negates the difference in hits in terms of runs produced (which is the ONLY thing that matters statistically, offensively)… making Mazara comparable vs lefties to Pence, and more valuable than anybody not looking more closely at the numbers will give him credit for. He’s better as a .230 hitter with power than a .300 hitter with little or none, easily… for those who want to plug another hitter in such as Engel, based on average alone. I like Engel as a defensive replacement but not as a starter… his .300 avg vs lefties last year was in less than 90 AB’s and not likely to repeat since he was a mediocre hitter his entire minor league career; he had only 2 homers vs lefties, regardless. He’s not better offensively vs lefties than Mazara, period. The plays a rightfielder makes on defense does not result in a difference in runs often enough to offset a big difference in offense…. so aside from games where they have a lead, I think Mazara is best for them in right, and will be more than adequate. With Engel a good backup/defensive replacement, that makes Hunter not a good fit on this team.

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