It’s been years since we added to this “miniseries” of fact exploration around players and staff in The House That Steroids Built. But everyone is complicit in the fraud, including the local media who have blown certain players completely out of proportion to their actual value for the San Francisco Giants. Today, as the team celebrates Hunter Pence, we make it clear he really deserves no such honor(s).
Pence was acquired mid-2012, likely as a replacement for Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for PED use—ironic, since it was probably Buster Posey using that season. But MLB couldn’t financially risk suspending the Golden Boy by the Bay, so Cabrera took the fall. The Pence trade happened on July 31, and Cabrera’s suspension was announced soon thereafter. The Giants knew it was going down.
Anyway, Pence’s contributions down the stretch for San Francisco were minimal: He hit just .219 in 59 games for the Giants in the regular season, with a .671 OPS. Then, in the 2012 postseason when the team was getting laughably improbable performances from other washed-up players, Pence was pretty invisible—just 1 home run and 4 RBI in 16 postseason games, with an OPS of just .532 for good measure.
He literally contributed nothing on the field, but the local media played up some speech he allegedly gave when the team was down as a turning point in the postseason. Yet, the effect of whatever he said was short-lived, as the Giants immediately fell behind in their next series. So, playing that speech up as being “important” is a stretch at best, but hey, that’s why this entry is about mythology.
Pence had a good full season (.822 OPS) in 2013 as San Francisco slipped under .500, kept lying about sellout crowds, and missed the postseason. So, that’s not worth much, and in 2014, when the team once again rallied to an improbably dishonest World Series title, Pence’s contributions were as follows: a .777 regular-season OPS, and a postseason where his OPS prior to the World Series was .641 in 10 games.
He was not the reason the Giants reached the World Series, although if Madison Bumgarner hadn’t been up to something, maybe Pence could have been the WS MVP with his 1.167 OPS in the 7-game series against the Kansas City Royals if the team had still won. We give him that. But one good stretch of games does not make up for the invisibility he had shown prior to this moment and after it for the Giants.
Pence was injured for most of 2015 as the Giants once again missed the postseason, and he didn’t play a full season in 2016 when the team again returned to the playoffs. His OPS (.808) in 106 games did help San Francisco secure a wild-card berth, for sure, but in October 2016, Pence once again disappeared, going just 4-for-22 without an extra-base hit, an RBI, or a walk as the Giants were eliminated early.
For his career as a whole, Pence posted a .794 OPS in 14 seasons with 4 teams. His SFG OPS (.750) was by far the worst of his career, as he posted at least an .818 OPS with the other 3 teams he spent time with (Houston, Philadelphia, and Texas). Thus, Pence was at his worst in San Francisco, and other than one fluky 7-game stretch in the 2014 World Series, he contributed nothing to two World Series title runs.
(His overall postseason OPS? A mere .639 with basically all of it coming with the Giants. He actually played one postseason series with the Phillies in 2011, posting a .496 OPS in 5 games there. Again, worthless—that 2014 World Series stands out like a sore thumb in his postseason batting career. Hmmm, maybe he was on the same diet as Bumgarner, no?)
But hey, sure, that’s good enough for the Giants, the local media, and their fans to adore his “quirky” personality—and make him a local god. Makes you wonder about the S.F. mythology, even more, doesn’t it? Who else has had their legends tremendously inflated by the myth-making machine by the Bay? What he couldn’t do with his bat, the media made up for with its coverage of his persona, and that be that.
It’s amazing what good luck and timing can do to inflate a player’s legacy, especially in The House That Steroids Built. If the Giants aren’t cheating their way to the World Series, then Pence would have been just another overpaid fraud (he made $85.3M from the Giants for that mediocre .750 OPS!) in San Francisco.
Oh, to be born with such luck on your side! Must be nice to ride fraud and mythology to such heights …