STAT LINE .226 / .258 / .332 (248 PA), 4 HR, 24 RBI, 62 OPS+
We all knew a season like this was coming. A 35-year old outfielder with unorthodox mechanics and unique success wasn’t going to be able to play baseball the same way forever. But this is Hunter Pence we’re talking about! He’s not unorthodox, he’s alien. He’s not unique, he’s intergalactic. What we saw in 2018 was that time comes for us all, no matter what galaxy we’re from.
In 2017, he played 134 largely unremarkable games en route to the worst season of his career (84 OPS+). We saw enough of a trend in that season-long sampling to understand what the team was in store for in 2018. The best case scenario was a repeat of 2017, which would’ve made him the 7th-best hitter on the team by OPS+. The worst case scenario, baseball-wise, was pretty much what we got.
Role on the 2018 team
He was always penciled in as the Hustle Hero and clubhouse inspiration, but he had so few opportunities of his own to fire up the team. It was hard to watch the energy guy break down (22 strikeouts against 2 walks to start the season), and when the Giants saw an opportunity to remove him from the roster without causing a ruckus, they phantom DL’d him with a thumb injury.
Pence took the time away to work on his swing, pairing up with hitting guru Doug Latta, who’d remade Justin Turner and Mac Williamson.
He wound up debuting it upon his return from the disabled list, but abandoned it not long after his struggles continued. It’s tough to change an entire approach mid-season and that’s exactly where the entire franchise found itself in 2018 — everything that had worked before had failed to work altogether. Now what?
Pence didn’t hit his first home run until July 24th, but managed to hit three more after that. He never quite looked like himself except on those home runs, which couldn’t help but make you think that there was still some of that life left in his bat.
He wound up having game winning moments, giving great speeches, and giving back to the community. He was a good person on a team going nowhere. And he tried his darndest to get Brandon Belt into the All-Star Game:
Role on the 2019 team
He reached free agency at season’s end and it’s hard to see where a 36-year old outfielder coming off the worst season of his major league career and the 19th-worst (by wRC+) in the majors this past season (min. 200 plate appearances) winds up, but he’s pressing on with his new swing and he’s going to be playing down in the Winter League to get in some reps. There’s every chance he’ll receive a Spring Training invite from a team.
Final Grade: D
We all saw this season coming and while a lot of baseball players might’ve become some lesser version of who they are as a person because of those struggles, Pence didn’t do that. In fact, he seemed to double down on his best qualities to get through the rough times. It’s impossible to give the inspirational leader of the Bad News Bears a failing grade. The game of baseball and time itself conspired against his spirit, but he didn’t break. That counts for something.