The Guaranteed Starters
Barring a trade to end all trades, which would send a Mike Trout or a Bryce Harper to the City by the Bay, Denard Span and Hunter Pence will once again retain their rank as San Francisco’s Opening Day center fielder and right fielder, respectively.
Pence, 33, and Span, 32, debuted within one season of each other — the former of the duo making his major league debut in 2007 and the latter in 2008. Clubhouse leaders who produce at a level similar to these two outfielders are a sought after commodity, and the San Francisco Giants can take pride in having two of the best veteran outfielders in the business.
Formerly a durable, well-oiled machine who played in at least 154 games from 2008 to 2014, Pence’s body has been unkind to him in the past two seasons. Since 2015 Pence has missed time due to a fractured left forearm, left wrist tendinitis, a left oblique strain, and a torn hamstring tendon in his right knee, all of which has sidelined him for more than half of San Francisco’s regular-season games. Currently, the heart and soul of the San Francisco Giants is battling a minor injury to his right side but fully expects to suit up for Opening Day.
Injuries aside, Pence remains a premium right fielder. In 2016 over 106 games, the 11-year veteran hit .289/.357/.451 with 13 home runs, a wOBA of .349, and a WAR of 2.1. The right fielder’s wRC+ of 121 ranked eighth among outfielders with a minimum of 400 plate appearances.
Before a torn hamstring sidelined him from June 2 to July 29, Pence hit .298/.375/.486 over 208 plate appearances. Following his return, the right fielder couldn’t match his pre-injury production but batted a solid .280/.342/.421 nonetheless. When the San Francisco Giants needed his production most, Pence caught fire in September and October, slashing .307/.373/.500 over 126 plate appearances with five of his six post-injury home runs in September and October.
ZiPS Projections expect Pence to regress in 2017, forecasting that he will bat .276/.335/.456 with 16 home runs, a wOBA of .342, and a zWAR of 2.3 over 457 plate appearances.
Pence’s outfield neighbor Span, who will turn 33 in less than two weeks, has fought the injury bug in own his right. Before inking a three-year, $31 million contract with the orange and black last offseason to leave has native Washington D.C.; the Nationals sent Span to the disabled list three times — the last of which ended his season in late-August. Span played arguably the best baseball of his career, in a contract year no less, hitting .301/.365/.431 with a career-high wRC+ of 120 and wOBA of .348, the second-highest mark of his career.
Other than a few minor dings, Span was on the field for the bulk of the season, playing in 143 games during his inaugural season with the Giants. Span couldn’t recreate the same success as 2015 at the plate as his offensive numbers across the board deviated from his career averages. Over 637 plate appearances Span slashed .266/.331/.381 with a wRC+ of 96, although he did slug a career-high 11 home runs, including one on Opening Day as part of a string of back-to-back-to-back long balls with Joe Panik and Buster Posey.
Similar to Pence, ZiPS Projections believe that Span will have a noticeable dropoff in production, estimating that he will bat .270/.328/.372 with a wOBA of .313 and a zWAR of 1.6 in 535 plate appearances.
The bulk of the San Francisco Giants’ offensive production will derive from the infield — ZiPS projects all five members of the infield to have the highest zWARs of any offensive player — meaning Pence and Span aren’t responsible for the heavy lifting with the bat, but should rather supplement the team’s core.