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Hunter Pence as your 2012 NL MVP?

Dec 15, 2011, 6:35 PM EDT

He can't believe it either. AP’s Casey Feeney makes the case.

I’ll admit that I wrote it off in about a nano-second after reading the headline, but the more I thought about it, it’s not so far-fetched. Ryan Howard‘s RBI totals have made him an annual MVP candidate despite the fact that he’s only really had one season in which he was arguably the NL’s best player. With Howard out, Pence figures to take over as the Phillies’ cleanup hitter and he could well lead the NL in RBI opportunities. It’s not unrealistic to think that he could knock in 120-130 runs next season.

Also, with Albert Pujols gone, Prince Fielder perhaps following and defending MVP Ryan Braun maybe suspended for a third of the season (and unlikely to get the benefit of doubt from voters even if his appeal is successful), there aren’t a whole lot of sure things ahead of Pence. Joey Votto is the one rock-solid pick, and his team isn’t looking all that great. Troy Tulowitzki would be right there with him, but he’s more of an injury risk. Then there are Matt Kemp, who had to be playing at least a bit over his head last year, Justin Upton and Matt Holliday. Plus, no one should dismiss the Marlins trio of Mike Stanton, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes.

If I were a betting man, I’d probably put a few bucks on Upton and Stanton first. A rehabbing Buster Posey is another sleeper. But Pence, even though he ranks 30th in OPS among the 84 players to have at least 1,200 plate appearances in the NL the last three years, should be somewhere in the 6-10 range as far as likely MVP candidates.

  1. bleedgreen - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    He can’t be. He’s COMPLETELY over-rated. Just ask any non-Phillies fan.

    I keeed, I keeeed. Between Mr. Lucky and Mr. Overrated…

    • evanwins - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:37 AM

      Overrated? Just out of curiosity, can you name 3 OF’s going into their 4th, 5th or 6th year who have been better all-around players than Pence?

      How about we look at 2 viable MVP candidates from last year, Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Kemp who are both entering their 6th season, just like Pence:

      Pence: .292 avg, 157 2Bs, 114 HRs, .343 OBP, 58 Assists, .989 Field%
      Ellsbury: .301 avg, 106 2Bs, 52 HRs, .352 OBP, 14 Assists, .998 Field%
      Kemp: .294 avg, 140 2Bs, 128 HRs, .350 OBP, 48 Assist, .985 Field%
      Braun: .312 avg, 187 2Bs, 161 HRs, .371 OBP, 31 Assists, .995 Field% (Entering 5th season)

      Pretty comparable, don’t you think? And don’t forget, those other guys had the benefit of being on very good teams and they all had some type of protection hitting behind them, something Pence was never afforded. I look at those other 3 guys and how much praise and accolades they get and it looks more an more like Pence is actually VERY UNDERRATED.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 16, 2011 at 2:41 AM

        Around the time of Pence’s trade last year, it was a running joke around these parts that he was overrated. Phightins Phans kept it going in a farcical way after he proved the opposite. It’s just like Howard only gets all those RBI because he’s lucky enough to get those baserunners on in front of him.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 16, 2011 at 2:50 AM

        Which was largely my doing.

        I thought Pence was rated just fine as a member of the Astros.

        “It’s just like Howard only gets all those RBI because he’s lucky enough to get those baserunners on in front of him.”

        It’s just like the people who think the whole world is against them just because someone looks at things a bit differently than they do.

      • Utley's Hair - Dec 16, 2011 at 3:21 AM

        What part of what I said told you I thought the world is against me? I just think it’s a pretty dumb cyclical argument. Without baserunners, there would be no RBI. If he didn’t drive them in, he would be blasted for not driving them in. If he does, he gets them only because they’re there.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 16, 2011 at 3:35 AM

        I just figured one bad analogy deserved another. It was far more of a general complaint than one directed at you. Sorry.

        But really… who ever says it’s “only because they’re there”? You’re taking a viewpoint to an extreme that no one ever argues in favor of.

        Howard does quite well as far as runs batted in per opportunity. But if that was the stat that people actually looked at, instead of just raw RBI totals, I don’t think he’d be in the MVP conversation quite so frequently.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2011 at 7:05 AM

        Wow Matt…from this…

        to this…

        “I’ll admit that I wrote it off in about a nano-second after reading the headline, but the more I thought about it, it’s not so far-fetched.”

        Like another poster asked…is it April 1st already?

      • paperlions - Dec 16, 2011 at 9:04 AM

        Here is the math:

        Each team plays the other 18 times for a total of 54 games. If every team plays .500 ball in those games (which is optimal for all 4 teams to win 90 games). Every team has to go AT LEAST 63-45 in the rest of their schedule. Even if the optimal outcome occurs and the 4 teams go .500 against each other, it is highly unlikely that all 4 teams will also play at least .583 ball against the rest of the league.

        Last year 5 teams in all of baseball played that well. It is highly unlikely that 4 teams in one division will play that well, and it is even more unlikely that they will get the necessary outcomes in their games against each other to make that unlikely outcome sufficient for all to reach 90 games.

        Three teams winning 90 games is much easier than 4….there just aren’t that many wins go to around.

      • paperlions - Dec 16, 2011 at 9:05 AM

        Crap posted in wrong thread…please ignore 😦

      • manute - Dec 16, 2011 at 10:52 AM

        Wow. If it weren’t for Branch Rickey and, oh, 50 years of progress after him, this would be outstanding statistical analysis.

        Props for working fielding percentage into a baseball discussion in 2011 tho.

  2. qcubed3 - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:05 PM

    After breaking all of the laws of physics by being able to escape the black hole that is the Astros, Pence may shine brighter anybody expected.

  3. hittfamily - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    “Joey Votto is the one rock-solid pick, and his team isn’t looking all that great”

    I can’t disagree with this more. Phillips is in the last year of a contract, so he will play like it is a contract year. Chapman should adjust a little more next year. Mesoroco is an upgrade behind the plate. They might have the best offensive outfield in either league. Add either Alonso’s bat, or the #3 starter that he fetches in return, or #1 starter if Grandal is included in the trade. They most likely know this is their last chance with Phillips leaving and Votto getting real expensive in his last year.

    On top of all this, the Cards lose a HOF manager, a premier CF traded away at the deadline, a #1 who is 37 years old, a #2 coming back from TJ surgery. Berkman might not/probably won’t be the MVP candidate he was through 100 games again. Oh, and the best hitter of the last 10 years left as well.

    The Brewers lose Prince and Braun for 50 games.

    The Pirates are the Pirates.

    All in all, I like the Reds to win the division.

    • cintiphil - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:30 PM

      Oh please, you are embarrassing all us in Cinti. You really think that a rookie catcher as good as he is, is going to be an upgrade to Hernandez? And do think that Stubbs as much talent and “potential” as he has is a good hitter? Alonso is trade bait for the AL. He can’t field, and will be a DH. Who said Phillips is leaving? Why is this Votto’s last year? the only chance for the future is to sign both of them to new contracts, and perhaps that is what is holding up the money for trades etc.

      Did you even read Matthew’s comments. Votto’s team doesn’t look that great. That is trying to be kind, and says (THEY DON’T HAVE A CHANCE). Votto may win MVP, but the Reds are going nowhere without some help, and I don’t see Walt making any changes.

    • evanwins - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:02 AM

      Way to think positive. While your at it why don’t you just make them the favorites to win the ’12 Series?

      I guess you missed the GM’s comments the other day about how frustrated even he was with the way the team is looking for ’12.

      Hey, if you REALLY want to help your team, why don’t you go buy a jersey. Look at the stands during a Phillies game – everyone there has 2 (TWO!!!) pieces of Phillies gear on, EVERYONE. When I watch those Reds games (even when they were in the playoffs in ’10) I barely saw ANY Reds gear in the crowd. It’s that money that helps build a better team.

      • JBerardi - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:17 AM

        “Hey, if you REALLY want to help your team, why don’t you go buy a jersey. Look at the stands during a Phillies game – everyone there has 2 (TWO!!!) pieces of Phillies gear on, EVERYONE. When I watch those Reds games (even when they were in the playoffs in ’10) I barely saw ANY Reds gear in the crowd. It’s that money that helps build a better team.”

        We are doomed as a nation.

      • hittfamily - Dec 16, 2011 at 4:25 AM

        Wow. Great coment. The Phils are the premier organazition in all of baseball, if not all sports, right?

        How dare I comment on here without at least 4 Phillies jerseys.

        Wow. You are insufferable dude. I’m not a Reds fan. The blogger made a comment that the Reds won’t be very good next year, and I disagreed. I accurately pointed out that every other potential contending NL central team will be weaker next year, and showed the reason why. Somehow, without a reasonable arguement from you, my proof sucks, and the Reds can’t win because I don’t wear 2 of their jerseys at once. Brilliant.

        I’m a Rays fan. I own 10 of their jerseys. Well not so much own, but I have them. I stole them, costing my team $1000, but they win anyway.

        If I went to a Phils game, I’d wear 2 at once also. When someone enevitably throws up on me, the first comes off, and we are back in business.

      • evanwins - Dec 16, 2011 at 6:07 AM

        The Phillies payroll grew as a direct result of higher attendance and merchandising sales. (I live in Center City Philadelphia and you cannot walk a block without seeing a hat, a shirt, etc…) The organization chose to put that money directly back into the team, fielding the best team they possibly could. People here LOVE the team and the organization. They willingly buy tickets and merchandise. They are proud of it.

        If you think there is anything at all wrong with that and that “we are doomed as a nation” because of that, well that’s your problem I feel sorry for you because you obviously have no idea of how things work. What’s worse is that you condemn it, as if there is something wrong with supporting “something” you are truly fond of and that that “something” reaps benefits because of their success.


        From MLB regarding 2010 attendance:
        Three teams in baseball played to beyond-capacity crowds at home this season. The Philadelphia Phillies played to a 103.5% capacity this season at Citizens Bank Park, the highest figure in baseball. The Phillies also played to 75.4% capacity on the road, making the Phillies, baseball’s most popular attraction.

        So, yeah, The Phils are kind of the premier ORGANIZATION in baseball.

      • badmamainphilliesjamas - Dec 16, 2011 at 6:51 AM

        @evan – I’m a lifelong Phils fan, and I love to see folks around town wearing Phillies gear, but that’s a fairly recent phenomenon. I’d say it’s a bit circular . . . the team started winning, CBP opened, attendance went up, ownership opened their wallets, the team won some more, more people became fans, ownership spent more money, etc. It’s been a happy time to be a Phillies fan.

      • cintiphil - Dec 16, 2011 at 9:44 AM

        Evan, don’t be a bigger dolt than you are. I am a Reds fan, and I do go to some games during the year, and I do watch all the time. there is a sea of red in the stands for almost every game I watch in person or on T-V. There is no other team with more support than the Reds, however in this day, Cinti does not have the big money to compete with the larger cities for the best players, and we have to use money as wisely as possible just to stay competitive. Go back to the 90 series and see how many fans had Reds stuff on, when the Reds went wire to wire in first place, then swept everyone in the playoffs and series. THE GEAR HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. Before absolutely outrageous money came into the game, we could compete. NOT NOW!

    • jeffhink - Dec 16, 2011 at 10:05 AM

      You do know there’s a difference between being a great team and winning a division, right? The Padres won their division a few years back with a winning percentage right around .500. It may have even been under .500, but I don’t remember and I’m not taking the time to look it up.

  4. andyreidisfat - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    I think pence is very underrated after watching him play last season.

    I didn’t want the guy myself but I have to say I was dead. Wrong. Pence is a plus outfielder he runs well and will bat 300. Also I think with a full season in tiny park he could get to 35 homers.

    Pence as MVP isn’t out of the question. The only problem I see for him is a healthy utley. I think chase is going to have a major bounce back season if he can get healthy this offseason

    • bleedgreen - Dec 15, 2011 at 8:23 PM

      Citizens bank park isn’t a ‘tiny park’. Not sure why everyone seems to think it is.

      Check that out. Its tied for 10th in ‘hitters park’ ranks based on size.

    • thefalcon123 - Dec 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM

      Pence is…good. But his numbers last year were inflated due to our good friend BABIP:

      2008: .301
      2009: .308
      2010: .304
      2011: .361

      He’ll be fine, but I highly doubt he’s a 5 win player again next. His power/K’s/BB were all pretty much the same…just a lot more balls fell in for hits than they did in year’s past. It happens, and it’s important not to get too excited by a players future due to this. I think the notion that a corner outfielder with a career .817 OPS prior to last year has a shot at the MVP is pretty far off.

  5. cup0pizza - Dec 15, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Too early for April Fool’s Day schenanigans. Hunter Pence?

  6. cintiphil - Dec 15, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    Personally, I like Pence very much. He does hit well in the Reds park and others, but he plays well in the field too. This is one guy who can carry the Phillies without Howard for most of next year, but they have other holes to fill if Rollins leaves and they have a need at third. Pence and pitching may save the Phills next season.

  7. Jonny 5 - Dec 15, 2011 at 10:09 PM

    Pence played much better for Philly in 54 games than he ever played in Houston. This is a big reason I think much of Philly and it’s writers have high hopes for this guy. His OPS was only .032 behind Kemp if you only look at his Philly numbers. All I can do is hope his elevated game playing there stays that way. I don’t think he’s MVP material unless Kemp falls off his game some and Pence has to continue playing the way he did in his last 54 regular season games or better.

    • JBerardi - Dec 16, 2011 at 1:15 AM

      What makes you so sure he never had as good a 54 game streak with Houston? Would you have noticed? Would anyone have noticed?

      Pence is a career 292/.343/.485 hitter. The smart money would be on him hitting something in the rough area of 292/.343/.485 this year.

    • paperlions - Dec 16, 2011 at 7:42 AM

      Let’s see….if I am going to try to predict how well Pence will play next year, what should I use?

      a) a 54 game sample in which he had a .394 OBP and .560 SLG, or

      b) a 734 game sample in which he had a .343 OBP and a .485 SLG?

      Pence is a fine player, but let’s not get carried away.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:13 AM

        Basically that was my point JBerardi and PL. I expect him to be “Hunter Pence” still. But I hope he continues to play like he did in his last 54 games. I don’t believe this will happen, I hope it does.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:18 AM

        I guess it just depends on whether you think the guys are robots or are human beings. If they are robots, then sure, he will continue to play exactly as he played with the dreadful Astros, in that shitty lineup, with no chance of succeeding. If they are human beings, then maybe he plays a little better with a better lineup around him, happier to be in a pennant race playing meaningful games every night, and excited to have a fresh start on his career.

        Nah, there are no columns on the spreadsheets for “excitement”, “pennant race” and “lineup”.


      • paperlions - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:37 AM

        Chris, it doesn’t depend on whether you think players are robots, it depends on whether or not you understand the most basic fundamentals of probability and sample size as estimators of parameters.

        Larger sample sizes simply better reflect a players talent/production level than small sample sizes. If they were robots, then they would produce at the exact same level constantly…of course that doesn’t happen. Every player has hot and cold streaks along with time that they produce at or close to their norms. Over larger samples, that variation evens out and you see “who a player is”. Pence has been around a long time, there is enough data to see exactly who he is as a player…..and that is better than Philly fans thought he was when they traded for him….but not nearly as good as he played over that 2 month stretch.

        If Hunter Pence keeps being Hunter Pence, Philly fans should be happy because that is a damned fine player….but he won’t be anything like the MVP of his own team unless 3 of their starters get hurt…he is unlikely to put up a .390+ OBP, and he is unlikely to put up a .550 SLG over the course of an entire season….not because he’s a robot programmed not to…but because 5 seasons of data strongly suggest that he simply isn’t good enough to do so.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 16, 2011 at 8:54 AM

        PL,Chris, I tend to think you both are correct in your own way. We’ve seen players get better, and stay better just from a change of scenery which brings a new coach, a coaching change, or just the fact that they figured something out. While I tend to believe that Pence will be what he was stat wise, I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him elevate his game either. Only because we have seen it happen before. #strangerthingshavehappened

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2011 at 9:59 AM

        paperbag, the only time sample size has any meaning whatsoever is if the basic template remains the same. For instance, if a guy hits .300 over his first 10 seasons with the Mets, then he moves to the Rockies and hits .350 over his first 50 games, you can’t simply push everything off to sample size, because maybe he is more comfortable in Colorado…maybe the hitting coach there gave him a tip he never heard and is doing something different…maybe there’s a girl he started banging when he got traded there and he’s playing better because his life is better…or maybe, it’s sample size. But it seems to me that you ALWAYS put WAY too much emphasis on sample size when it doesn’t ALWAYS apply.

      • thefalcon123 - Dec 16, 2011 at 10:43 AM

        “paperbag, the only time sample size has any meaning whatsoever is if the basic template remains the same.”

        Holy shit Chris, you just made ever Statistics professor in America throw up in their mouth.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 16, 2011 at 11:24 AM

        Why? Because I am stating the obvious? You can not keep trotting out sample size when the basic facts changed. When the player changes teams, and does better, you can’t simple chalk it up to sample size. It could end up being sample size…but it also could be a variety of things. Basically, what the paper man is doing is comparing apples to oranges…Pence with the Astros is Apples and Pence with the Phillies is Oranges.

      • stex52 - Dec 16, 2011 at 11:55 AM

        I’m going to go away from the statistics and make an observation as someone who watched him at Houston. He plays all-out, that is his only speed. It is impossible not to like him. As you would expect of such an all-out player, he lacks plate discipline. He struggled with that his whole time in Houston. When he is on, he is awesome. When he is a little off, pitchers eat him up with the outside slider.

        I would have him back on my team in a heartbeat. But to me the likelihood of MVP numbers for a whole year is a littlle low. I hope he proves me wrong.

  8. purnellmeagrejr - Dec 16, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    I don’t care if he is the MVP I just want him to be named Captain.

  9. thefalcon123 - Dec 16, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    “Why? Because I am stating the obvious? You can not keep trotting out sample size when the basic facts changed. When the player changes teams, and does better, you can’t simple chalk it up to sample size.”

    Holy crap dude, the basic facts ARE the same. This comment is so comically absurd I having a hard time not just slamming my head against the desk. The basic facts are that Pence is hitting a baseball thrown from aprox 60 feet away on a diamond. Park factors certainly have an effect, but saying those last 236 plate appearances are a better indicator than the previous 3,000 just because he changed ballparks is ridiculous.

    Just from briefly combing through baseballreference’s game logs Pence has had the following stretches:
    161 PAs with a .946 OPS in 2010
    196 PAs with a 1.031 OPS in 2009
    103 PAs with a .653 OPS in 2008
    160 PAs with a .960 OPS in 2008
    201 PAs with a .601 OPS in 2008

    So…did you think over any of those stretches that Pence was on of elite hitters in baseball…or among the worst? No, it’s a sample size issue. They occured during the middle of the season, so the effects were less noticeable. The culmination of all his 2008 numbers provides the best indicator for his future performance, not any of those single stretches. Just like the culmination of his career numbers are a better indicator of his future performance than 250 PAs with the Phillies.

  10. rc5000 - Dec 20, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Whoa, Pence put up MVP numbers because he’ll be the cleanup hitter? Let’s just hope he can do well in the role and we don’t screw him up. This is probably going to be Cholly’s big challenge if Rhino is out for an extended period which seems likely.

    Batting 4th according to baseball reference , he has a whopping

    1 hr in 129 PA’s. Only 6 BBs and 30 k’s. Career OPS+ OF 51. Granted his numbers may improve some IF he nails the spot down but you’re making the case he might put up MVP numbers and that appears to be a stretch.

    If Rhino is out an extended length of time , they may have a revolving door there. In a small sample size , Mayberry’s numbers are also very bad but he’s more of a power hitter only.

    Article should be about can Pence fill the role and who can be the cleanup hitter. Not implying Pence is an MVP candidate when he clearly has to learn the role at best.

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