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Best Giants of the Decade: Hunter Pence

He’s Buster Posey’s good friend, you know.

World Series - Kansas City Royals v San Francisco Giants - Game Five Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, and Seth Rosin. That was the price the Giants paid to bring Hunter Pence to San Francisco in 2012. Combined, the three of them would be worth 0.3 fWAR from that point on. Hunter Pence, meanwhile, became a beloved Giant who made an All-Star team and won two World Series.

It is safe to say that the Giants won the Hunter Pence trade.

When you think of Hunter Pence, you think energy. Commitment. Full throated, wild eyed enthusiasm for everything he does, from playing baseball to reviewing coffee. He is in it, 100%, no questions asked, except maybe he’ll get curious what the it is that he’s in. Then before you answer, he’ll tell you it doesn’t matter, he trusts you, and he’s on board as long as you are.

We all remember the speeches in the 2012 playoffs, of course. Well, we don’t remember the speeches exactly — fans did not have the privilege of seeing them — but we remember hearing about them. Pence believed in every guy in that clubhouse, and he wasn’t giving up, and he wanted to see what Ryan Theriot was going to wear tomorrow. Despite our ears technically never hearing Hunter Pence address the team before Game 3 of the Division Series, it became his first iconic moment as a Giant.

It wasn’t his last, of course. It wasn’t even his last in that October. Because while Pence’s personality is defined by that intensity, on the field there’s only one thing you can think: he’s weird. Nothing he does should work. If you’re teaching children how to play the game, cover their eyes when Hunter Pence comes up to bat, or has the ball hit to him, or runs the bases. Don’t let them see him. Don’t let them think that this is a way to play baseball, because it isn’t.

Grant, of course, covered this better than anyone when he unearthed a definitely real scouting report on a young Hunter Pence:

Runs like a rotary telephone thrown into a running clothes dryer. Throws like an effete Frenchman throwing a bookcase uphill. Swings a bat like his elbows are stapled to his knees and his underwear is pulled over his head.

Pence’s absolutely bizarre style of baseball hit its apotheosis in Game 7 of the NLCS that year. The Giants were already up 2-0, and Pence stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out. He was looking to make contact, and he did. Three times:

Doubling on a ball that hit his bat three times is just the absolutely most Hunter Pence thing possible. This isn’t the right way to play baseball. This isn’t how any normal human being can be successful at baseball. But Pence is not a normal human being; whatever he is, flabbergasting fans is the only way he can succeed.

Pence would stay with the Giants for another six full seasons after 2012, playing 162 games in both 2013 and 2014. After the last regular season game in 2014, he took to the field to address the fans, and made a speech that they could actually watch:

Pence led the stadium in a chant of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and then said that the season wasn’t over, that the Giants would be back. He was right, of course; the team beat the Pirates in the wild card game in Pittsburgh, and went on to win the World Series. In the 2014 World Series, Pence got a hit in every game, and had an overall line of .444/.500/.667 in those seven games.

As the decade wore on, Pence faded, just like the Giants did. At first, it was just injuries: he was still an effective player in 2015 and 2016 when he was on the field, but he had a combined 665 plate appearances in those two years, less than he’d had in any single year since 2010. Then his play suffered, with an 84 OPS+ in 2017 giving way to a 64 OPS+ in 2018. It seemed to be an ignominious end to a fine career.

In a way, it was. Pence’s Giants career ended, but he had a comeback with the Rangers this year, slashing .297/.358/.552 in 316 plate appearances. For any Giants fan, it was a delight to see Pence on the field, playing like an All-Star again. While injuries limited Pence in 2019, he still gave baseball fans the gift of seeing Hunter Pence on the field, doing great things that seem to defy the laws of physics.

For six and a half years, Giants fans got to see that show day in, day out. Hunter Pence was an absolute delight, and there won’t be another one like him.