For all of my fellow Ranger fans out there, we can all agree that Hunter Pence has been an absolute treat to watch on and off the field.
At 36 years young, and coming off a semi-disappointing 2018 season with the Giants, (.226/.258/.332 in 97 games) I don’t think anyone could have predicted the season he has put up thus far.
Yesterday, in just his 31st game of the season, Pence smoked home run No. 9 and knocked in RBI’s number 29 and 30 to put him tied for 24th and 15th in the AL, in those categories respectively.
Let’s go back a few moments and reflect exactly how we got to this point…
The Beginning of The Hunter Pence Reunion
During the off season, rather than enjoying time off from the sport and the $100 million he made in six seasons with the Giants, Pence headed to the Dominican Winter League to work on his swing. His “infectious” charm, leadership, and personality reverberated through the Toros del Este baseball club and he quickly found himself a clubhouse, and fan favorite in the DR. No matter where Pence was, he was and is all about having fun every time he hits the field.
The Texas Rangers ended up signing the native Texan, Pence, to a minor league contract in early February, knowing that they already had a solid outfield going into the season just 7 weeks away. (Choo, Gallo, Mazara, Deshields.) Pence was signed primarily for the need of having another leader in the clubhouse to guide this fairly young group of outfielders. But Choo, who is also 36, was most likely going to spend a hefty amount of time at DH because of his age and ailing speed out in right field. It was Hunter’s job to lose to become the club’s 4th outfielder for the season.
Fast forward a bit to spring training, and Pence immediately took young outfielder Willie Calhoun under his wing, became a favorite in the clubhouse, and hit the ball extremely well in the process. Hunter Pence ended up winning the job with the Rangers shortly before the regular season started. This all eventually got us to the point where opening day was just hours away for the Rangers, and manager Chris Woodward made the executive decision to start Pence over the tenured veteran, Choo.
Now for anyone who isn’t a Rangers fan, this might’ve just seemed like it was a strategic decision to plug another righty into the lineup against Cubs lefty, Jon Lester. But to others, this was a telling sign of how Woody viewed Hunter Pence’s eventual role on this team.
Forty-Five Games Later…
A lot has changed since opening day, but if one thing has remained consistent, it’s that Pence has been an offensive powerhouse for this ball club.
With a few minor injuries to his teammates, Deshields getting sent down to AAA, and providing value nearly every time he’s been in the lineup, Pence has become a vital part to this team.
Just take a moment to look at Pence’s stance. He legitimately looks like he is going to murder the baseball as well as the pitcher, and he probably could if he wanted to, (homeboy is a beefy 6-foot-4, 230 lbs.) Hunter genuinely is hungry for hitting the ball to the freakin’ moon, and I am ALL FOR IT.
Over a quarter of the season is out of the way and Pence is currently boasting a 1.006 OPS, 154 WRC+, and a WAR of 1.0. Pence is also in the top 2% in exit velocity (93.8 mph), as well as expected batting average (.339) in all of major league baseball.
Those aren’t just all-star numbers, those are MVP caliber numbers.
A Gem On and Off The Field
Now I know that 31 games is not the biggest sample size in the world. But in a sport where we have a player of the week over 25 times a season, small samples sizes are important in baseball. In my opinion, I don’t think that Pence hitting a piss-missile every other game is going to happen for the remainder of the year. As much as I would love to see him hit 30 bombs in his inaugural season with the Rangers, it is an extremely tall task to regularly provide as much value to an organization as he is providing right now—especially at his age.
However, I firmly believe that Texas has struck pay-dirt with Pence. The Rangers were in desperate need of another leader with the retirement of Hall-Of-Famer, Adrian Beltre last season. The answer to that dilemma has come in the form of a compassionate, coffee loving momma’s boy who so happens to be an absolutely phenomenal baseball player.
Even if you aren’t a Rangers fan, you should be rooting for Hunter to continue his otherworldly 2019 campaign. With his current stats rivaling some of the biggest names in baseball, Pence becoming an everyday player for Texas is everything this team could’ve asked for, and then some.
Pence’s deal with the Rangers is currently for just 1 year at $2 million dollars, which is roughly 10% of the amount the Rangers owe Choo for 2019. I foresee another one or two year deal for Pence in Arlington, especially if he keeps up his current rate of production. Heck, I’d pay him north of $10 million for 2020 if he keeps things up.
All of this being said, Pence has brought some desperately needed life to the Rangers this year. And if he can help this organization win a championship a couple of years down the road, I think he might even finish his days as a ball player down in the Lone Star State.
Welcome back to Texas, Hunter.
Hunter Pence Image attributed to cbssports.com