Hunter Pence came up in 2007 in a blaze of glory. He hit .322/.360/.532 in 108 games and 484 plate appearances, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Since then, he's never really topped those levels, as Astros fans continue to hope for him to break out as a 30-35 homer guy with a higher batting average.
In hoping for a breakout season from Pence, we may be missing some solid consistency from the right fielder. I went to Baseball Reference the other day to browse Pence's stats. I've always considered Pence a good player, but one who's stat line is easily replaceable. What I hadn't anticipated is how often Pence's numbers end up right around the same place at the end of the season. Let's look at where he might end up at the end of 2010 and what that means for him in comparison to the rest of the league.
If he continues at the rate he's been hitting at in the second half, he'd end up with 178 hits, assuming he gets 100 more plate appearances. If he continues to get on base at the same rate this season, that means his batting average would finish at .296. He should end up with 38 walks and 107 strikeouts. Add five more doubles and four more home runs and Pence should end up with 30 doubles, 25 homers and close to 60 extra-base hits. If all that happens, he'll finish with a line of .296/.340/.485.
But, obviously, Pence may not stay hot through the end of the season. What happens if he falls off a bit? In July, Pence was hot, but not as much as he was in August. He had 29 hits in July with four doubles, four home runs, seven walks and 19 strikeouts. If that happens, Pence would end up with a line of .292/.337/.480.
The thing is, we have no idea how Pence will do this month. He's had two months where he hit under .240 and three months where he hit over .300. So, there's no telling what he'll do in September. Still, the remarkable thing about Pence is how consistent he's been. However he does down the stretch, Pence should finish with around 160 hits, around 30 doubles, around 25 home runs and around a line o .285/.340/.475. Give or take a few points, that's basically been his line for the past three seasons. His walk total is less than it was in 2009, but his strikeouts are also down.
Being consistent doesn't mean much until we have something to compare him by. Let's look at Pence compared to the other right fielders in the majors this season. While he may not ever hit 30 or 40 home runs, Pence is one of the best right fielders in the major leagues. This season, there are only four more guys with more home runs than Pence's 21. Of those, only three have more extra-base hits. Pence is also in the top 8 for triples with three, is one hit behind Nick Markakis for second in total hits (147) and is tied for third in runs scored with 83. He's also tied for the fourth-most steals with 17.
Pence is in the bottom third of the league in walks but makes up for it by being in the bottom seven in strikeouts. Still, only six right fielders have a lower OBP than Pence's .332. He also is in the bottom third in isolated power but has moved into the top 10 for wOBA at .351. Pence is one of 14 right fielders who have a negative run total in the fielding section of FanGraph's WAR calculation, though he's tied for tenth in WAR with J.D. Drew at 2.7.
His fielding numbers are uncharacteristically down this season, but Pence should comfortably top 3.0 WAR again this season, which means he's done that in every season of his pro career. There's nothing to suggest he won't be able to make some adjustments on defense and put up a WAR of 4.0 next season and possibly the season after that. How valuable does that make him? We'll see this winter in arbitration, but it's enough that Pence's consistency places him as one of the best right fielders in the game.