Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
What can we expect from a posthype Hunter Pence?
A phrase I often use when discussing players who haven't quite reached their full potential is "Consistency can be taught; talent can't." Hunter Pence certainly has talent, but his consistency was lacking last season.
For example, take a look at some of his monthly splits:
Despite all the wild month-to-month swings, the Astros outfielder still wound up with a .269 average, 25 homers, 83 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Although many viewed his season as disappointing, that's not bad at all, and he clearly still has some upside if he can become a more consistent producer.
Last season, his average on balls in play was just .303, a low number considering his abilities. Although it shouldn't be close to the .378 number that drove the .322 batting average of his rookie campaign, he should post a mark somewhere in the .330 range based on normal luck, which would help improve his average. Additionally, he hit just .250 against left-handed pitching last season, a number that is also very low for someone who has shown he can hit lefties and should be able to again, given his approach.
That approach was part of the issue. Although Pence's contact rate remained stable, it wasn't always quality contact. Too often, he chased after pitches, especially breaking balls out of the strike zone, on which he could merely put his bat on the ball. Instead, he could've waited for offerings he could drive. The scouting reports made their rounds, and as a result, he saw sliders at a higher rate than any other hitter in the big leagues, according to data from Baseball Info Solutions. He could still catch up with the sliders, but he didn't always make hard contact. Combine that with a first-pitch swing percentage (37.9 percent) that was the fifth-highest in the National League, and you can see why Pence struggled a bit, even as he still put up some solid fantasy stats.
Pence's ground-ball rate jumped sharply as the season progressed, yet he hit more homers in the second half (13 to 12 in the first) with 119 fewer at-bats while putting more balls on the ground. That's a good sign for his power numbers if he can make some adjustments to lift a few more in the air instead of rolling over sliders on the outer half of the plate.
Scouts often talk about a player's ability and aptitude to make the necessary adjustments to succeed consistently in the big leagues. How well can he adjust from at-bat to at-bat and from game to game? Pence drew more walks as the season progressed, and his slugging percentage was more than 100 points higher after the All-Star break than before it. Second-half numbers have far less predictive value than most think, but there is some merit to them for players who have little big league experience, as they can show how a player is adapting. Pence could improve even more if he becomes just a bit more selectively aggressive.
The only category to be worried about is stolen bases. His career success rate is less than 60 percent, and he was only 11-for-21 last season. He does have enough raw speed to steal more than 10 bases this season, and I expect him to continue to make enough attempts to maintain his fantasy value in that department.
The bottom line is that with his current production and upside, Pence probably can squeak into the top 25 among outfielders this season, and in some drafts he may go later than that, creating an opportunity for a small bargain for fantasy owners.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.