Longtime big league outfielder Hunter Pence announced he’s retiring from baseball (Twitter link). This brings to an end a fourteen-year career spent with four teams, although he’ll surely be remembered most for his time with the Giants.
Pence originally broke into pro ball in 2004, selected by the Astros in the second round out of the University of Texas-Arlington. Notably “awkward and unorthodox” as a prospect, in the words of Baseball America, Pence nevertheless played himself into top prospect status by 2007. He broke into the big leagues with a bang, hitting .322/.360/.539 en route to a third place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting that season. Pence continually produced over his time in Houston, earning his first two All-Star nods there, before the struggling Astros shipped him off to the Phillies at the 2011 trade deadline for four prospects.
He continued to perform well in Philadelphia, hitting .289/.357/.486 over parts of two seasons, but the Phillies lost in the Division Series in 2011 and were en route to a playoff miss in 2012. Pence again headlined a deadline deal, this one sending him to San Francisco. His midseason acquirer fared much better the second time around, as the Giants erased a pair of big playoff deficits against the Reds and Cardinals before sweeping the Tigers in the 2012 World Series.
Set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, Pence instead re-upped with the Giants that September. Already a highly productive and popular player, that extension set the stage for Pence to become permanently identified with the San Francisco organization. He combined for a .280/.335/.464 line between 2013-14, garnering down ballot MVP support each year. He was perhaps even more instrumental in the Giants’ 2014 World Series run than he’d been in 2012, going 12-27 with a home run in San Francisco’s seven-game triumph over the Royals.
Of course, it wasn’t simply Pence’s productivity that made him so revered, both among diehard Giants’ loyalists and many baseball fans generally. He played with an endearing energy and exuberance. Coupled with his oft-awkward hitting mechanics and general lack of gracefulness on the diamond, Pence brought something of an everyman feel to the sport that resonated with outside observers, teammates and coaches.
Unfortunately, that high-energy style of play caught up to him in his 30’s. After 2014, Pence only once again managed to exceed 110 games in a season. He continued to produce when healthy up through 2016, but he seemingly hit a wall thereafter. Pence struggled through a pair of poor years with the 2017-18 Giants, seemingly ending his time with the organization (and putting his career in jeopardy).
Forced to settle for a minor-league deal with his hometown Rangers entering 2019, Pence remade his swing at age 36. He rebounded to post a .297/.358/.552 line over 316 plate appearances in Texas last year, picking up his fourth and final All-Star trip in the process. That also inspired the Giants to offer a major league deal last winter, setting the stage for a tremendous return story.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Pence got off to an abysmal start and was released after just 56 plate appearances. That’ll mark his last work in the big leagues, although it’s fitting that his final games came in the orange and black.
All told, Pence will hang up the spikes with a .279/.334/.461 line over 7006 plate appearances, good for a 115 wRC+. He hit 244 home runs, 324 doubles and 55 triples, while stealing 120 bases. Pence was worth around 31 wins above replacement, in the estimation of both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. He’s obviously most notable for being an integral part of two World Series winners in San Francisco and for the infectious joy he spread to teammates and fans alike. MLBTR congratulates Pence on a stellar career and wishes him the best in retirement.