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Phillies pay heavy price for overvalued Hunter Pence

Jul 29, 2011, 11:18 PM EDT

Hunter Pence AP

The Phillies got their middle-of-the-order hitter Friday, picking up two-time All-Star Hunter Pence from the Astros for first baseman Jonathan Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Josh Zeid and a still undisclosed fourth player.

It’s the right-handed bat the Phillies felt they needed to slot in behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the order.  Pence, though, hasn’t been all that much better than Domonic Brown of late.  He’s batting .200 with just two RBI in 45 at-bats since the All-Star break.  Since June 1, he’s hitting .297/.344/.424 with three homers and 19 RBI in 172 at-bats.

Maybe now that he’s finished with the trade rumors, he’ll improve.  The Phillies are certainly banking on it after surrendering their top two prospects.  Singleton, who is just 19, was hitting .284/.387/.413 for Single-A Clearwater this season.  Because of Howard’s presence, the Phillies tried him in left field earlier this year.  But that didn’t take.  Singleton should be a 30-homer guy down the line, and he could be an upgrade over Brett Wallace by the end of 2013.

Cosart, 21, was also at Clearwater and was 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 79/43 K/BB ratio in 108 innings.  He lacks polish for someone regarded as a top pitching prospect, but he throws in the mid-90s and shows a plus curveball.  He’s a definite candidate to flame out, but he has top-of-the-rotation potential.

Zeid isn’t so talented.  The 24-year-old had a 5.65 ERA and a 56/27 K/BB ratio in 63 2/3 innings while splitting time between the rotation and the pen for Double-A Reading.  If he makes it in the majors, it’ll be as a middle reliever.

Pence is the Phillies’ answer to Carlos Beltran, and the fact that he’s under control through 2013 necessated the big offer.  He will give the Phillies offense a lift, and he may well make a difference as a No. 5 hitter come playoff time.  Still, it’s debatable whether he was really enough of an upgrade to justify the investment.  He has a 119 OPS+ since 2009, which puts him a bit below fellow corner outfielders Nick Swisher and Josh Willingham and barely above Corey Hart and Bobby Abreu.  He is an above average defender and an asset on the basepaths, but he’s not truly a star and he’s about to get paid like one.

  1. paperlions - Jul 30, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    Referring to a discussion lost in the middle of the comments….how is Howard still a star? His defense and baserunning have always been below average to horrible, but he used to make up for it with great power and on-base skills….now? Not so much. Among 1B with at least 300 PA this year Howard ranks:

    21st (out of 31) in WAR
    18th in OBP
    15th in SLG
    21st in fielding
    30th on the bases

    The only thing that makes Howard look good is RBI, because he excels at coming up with men on and in scoring position (5th and 4th in all MLB), he has performed extremely average in those situations, ranking 36th out of 70 (players with 100+ PA with men on) in production with men on base….he just gets a lot of chances, which says much more about the guys hitting in front of him than it does about him.

  2. Austin Swafford - Jul 30, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    I seriously question how much the people who are writing about this have actually watched Hunter Pence play, because he’s not an above average defensive outfielder. He makes flashy plays sometimes but botches a lot of routine ones. According to Baseball Reference, he has a negative dWAR and, over his career, has been worth -15 runs defensively in right field. He’s NOT an above average defensive center fielder. He also has a history of making bad baserunning mistakes. I would say he’s cut down on that a lot this year, but it’s helped by the fact that the Astros don’t do a heck of a lot of baserunning with that offense. In five years, he’s stolen 61 bases and been caught 39 times for a 162 game total of 15 and 9. That’s not very good. He’s stolen only 7 this year and goes LONG stretches in between stolen bases. He had just 1 in April and 1 in June.

    Pence is fine, but he’s not what a lot of people are portraying him as. As a person who’s watched him every day for 5 years, I can say he’s a middle of the road player who’ll make you slap your forehead at times with absurd gaffes. I think the Astros got a heck of a deal on this trade. That, of course, depends upon how the guys pan out. It was definitely a gamble. But considering the upside and considering what Pence should have been worth in prospects, it was a steal.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Jul 30, 2011 at 6:03 PM

      Honestly, I’m giving up on defensive metrics. Here is why…you say Pence has a -15 runs saved this season, I read a +4….so which is it? That is a pretty wide gap.

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