Where the Hunter Pence Chases


Hunter Pence is having a 2013 that is bound to get him paid. Projected for 25 HR and 27 SB by ESPN‘s player page with 46 doubles isn’t something every team has, and despite being so gangly and interesting to watch on the field, he reminds us there are several ways to succeed in professional baseball.

June 15, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) hits an RBI single in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

As with every human being, Hunter Pence will have his spots where he is weaker. Some may say it’s his omblergarod or his zunker bot bot where he is most vulnerable, but listening to a broadcast recently, I was under the impression that the high fastball was giving Pence fits. A day like today where no Giants baseball is being played is as good as any to take a look. I wish I had access to the kinds of heat maps ESPN’s Mark Simon creates, but I’ll gladly settle for these, from baseballheatmaps.com. The option I had from this site was to take a look at where he was taking, and whiffing on strikes. The perspective is from the catcher/umpire, and the higher up on the color spectrum, the more often a strike happens:

Indeed, a LHP can get Hunter Pence to take or miss on strikes above the zone, that part is very true. There’s some action at the very bottom of the heat map, for the most part looks like we can go home happy.

To me, this is a little surprising that the top part of the zone isn’t as bad as with the graph vs. the LHP. Lots of chasing low and inside, likely on breaking balls. For the most part, though, Pence is getting attacked high in the strike zone, but is also seeing a lot in the top two-thirds of the strike zone, per these heat maps. Let’s check out another reference, these ones from Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus. This first map takes a look at where he’s being pitched by everybody this season.  Contrary to what we may begin to believe with those heat maps, Pence is being pitched a lot more in the lower two-thirds of the strike zone, with relatively fewer pitches above the zone.

I expected a lot more pitches to be thrown in that top third and above the zone, but I’ll attribute that to Pence not being pushed into that situation as often. Still, there are a lot of pitches he’ll reach for, and below the zone, which really aren’t the worst places to pitch anybody since they might be the toughest pitches to make contact with. The next chart I wanted to show was the whiff rate he has against everybody this year. The higher the percentage, the more he’s missed.

So high and above the zone he actually hasn’t missed all that often. That red square at the top is a little deceiving, but there are nine whiffs total in the top two rows of the chart, four in the middle row, eleven in the fourth row, and fourteen in the bottom row. The last chart I feel is also important, because while the whiff chart will show you when he’s been relatively unsuccessful, this also gives pitchers a heads up for what locations they can elicit a swing out of Pence:

So in terms of the rows and how many times he swings we have: first row — eight, second row — thirty-one (ten outside of the zone), third row — sixty-three (thirteen outside of the zone), fourth row — fifty-six (fifteen outside of the zone), and the fifth row — twenty-three. This all means that the broadcast wasn’t necessarily inaccurate when they said Hunter would chase at a pitch above the zone, but you will see him go after stuff in other spots out of the strike zone a little more often, just not up, up, and away.

The Giants will begin a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies on Thursday. Colorado is making up an April 17th postponed game against the New York Mets at Coors Field today.