“Totally screwed up at the plate…swung through very hittable fastballs against a lefty…lunging badly….hitting the top of the ball and beating it into the ground…not driving the ball at all…lots of strikeouts and weak grounders….totally off-balance….swinging one-handed…fouling off, swinging through, or taking good pitches to hit….reaching for off-speed…can’t stay back.”
Those are notes that I wrote about a Giants hitter last season.
Based on recent memory, you would probably think those notes are about Hunter Pence, and I probably have something similar written about him somewhere in my elaborate, beautiful mind, Giants scouting notebooks.
However, that particular passage is from a series of games in early May when Buster Posey went 1-for-13 with four strikeouts over a three-day period against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
May and October were the worst months of Posey’s season. He hit .253/.311/.368 in 106 May plate appearances, and .200/.294/.350 during 68 postseason plate appearances.
If you only watched those 174 trips to the plate by Posey this season, you would think the Giants would be better off with Eli Whiteside behind the plate. Alas, Posey had 610 total regular season plate appearances in which he hit .336/.408/.549, good enough to earn him the batting title, and probably the National League MVP Award.
The point is that even one of the best hitters on the entire planet can look really bad for a long stretch of time. This whole hitting a baseball thing is really, really hard.
When I recently wrote an article that the Giants should have no qualms about bringing Angel Pagan back on a one-year, $13.3 million deal, I received a lot of negative feedback. Like Posey, Pagan had some stretches last season where he looked incredibly awful. He was horrible during spring training and most of April, June, July and the postseason.
Pagan’s problem is that he opens his hips too early and thus pulls off the ball, dragging the bat through the zone without much force. If he gets something on the inner half, he can crush it, but he struggles to hit anything away with authority. Yet despite his mechanical problems and prolonged slumps, he hit .288/.338/.440 with a league-leading 15 triples on the season. He was one of the most valuable center fielders in all of baseball last year.
Brandon Belt put together some of the worst at-bats I’ve ever seen in my life last season. He’s a patient hitter that gets himself into good hitter’s counts, but he hits from too deep of a crouch and has a hard time transferring his weight. He often looks like he’s hitting with ice skates on because he struggles to maintain his foundation. He fouls off, or pops up a lot of the good pitches that he gets to hit, particularly fastballs up and out over the plate. He also has a hard time covering the pitch on his hands, probably due to his height (6’4″). Like Pagan, he can crush the ball down-and-in because that’s the one part of the zone that his bat path allows him to consistently cover.
He was awful in May, July and the postseason, yet he managed to hit .275/.360/.421 for the season.
The point here is that all hitters, great ones like Posey, good ones like Pagan, developing ones like Belt, can look really bad at various points, but that doesn’t mean they’re useless. As a fan, my temptation is to want the Giants to go 162-0, so when a player slumps, I want them benched or traded immediately. WHY CAN’T PABLO SWING AT STRIKES?! WHY CAN’T BELT STOP STRIKING OUT LOOKING?! WHY IS MANNY BURRISS ON THE TEAM?! No, seriously, how the hell did the Giants just win the World Series with a Burriss & Theriot platoon at second base for half the season? Those guys really are useless.
Anyway, Hunter Pence was really bad for the Giants. He hit just .219/.287/.384 during the regular season after the trade, and just .210/.231/.290 in the postseason. His at-bats were hard to watch for the most part.
Yet I do think the Giants are smart to tender him a contract for next season, even though he’s going to make about $14 million through arbitration. He was a darn good player through July of 2012. There’s a chance he’ll never be a good player again, that what we witnessed down the stretch was the beginning of the end.
Giants fans watched the once useful Aaron Rowand completely collapse to the point where he spent the last year and a half of his contract on the couch after being designated for assignment. The assignment apparently was to go home and collect fat paychecks while thinking about why he subjected us to that awful batting stance and horrible pitch selection for so long.
Pagan and Pence have issues with their hitting mechanics, just like Rowand did. They both might be good next year. They both might collapse entirely next year. Pagan will be 32, Pence will be 30. Baseball players tend to peak around 27, though that’s just the average, not necessarily when every single player begins their descent.
So why should the Giants pay a lot of money to keep both players for next season? Because there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract. If the Giants wanted to give the Rowand 5-year, $60 million deal to either player, that would be too risky in my view given the likelihood that both players are going to get significantly worse, not better.
In the end, it’s all about balancing risk and reward. The potential reward for keeping Pence and Pagan is having two above average players that can help you to win another championship. The potential risk is that they both collapse and you’ve just wasted a lot of money. However, that risk is limited to one season, and that’s a much better gamble than giving five years to Rowand, or seven to Josh Hamilton.
After all, Rowand hit .266/.329/.414 over the first two years of the contract. It was the third, fourth and fifth years of the deal where the Giants got burned.
Even if the money to keep Pence seems like a lot, the risk-reward calculation makes it a sound move. A short-term deal for Pagan would be even smarter.
The short-term contracts can’t cripple you, but the long-term ones certainly can.
Baseball players can look really bad for a long time. Even Buster. Even you, Roger Dorn. However, baseball isn’t about perfection. It’s about adjusting to failure more than anything else.