Everyone loves Hunter Pence.
Since being traded to San Francisco in July 2012 for Nate Schierholtz and two prospects, the right fielder has become a fan favorite. His quirky demeanor, humble attitude, and mode of transportation endeared him to Giants fans almost immediately. The fact that he can be seen riding his scooter along the Embarcadero on any given day is pretty surprising for a professional athlete nowadays. And when his scooter was stolen in May of this year, the entire city rallied around him to get it returned.
But his personality isn’t the only thing that Giants fans appreciate. He plays the game with more intensity than almost any other player in Major League Baseball. In his eight years in the big leagues, he’s won the MLB Players Alumni Association Heart and Hustle Award four times (’08 and ’09 with the Houston Astros, ’13 and ’14 with San Francisco). And perhaps most impressively to the local community, in his first full season in a Giants uniform, Pence was voted the winner of the Willie Mac Award. It’s an honor given to the most inspirational player as voted on by teammates, coaches, training staff, and fans. He’s also in line to win it this year.
It’s no secret that Giants fans and AT&T Park love fun nicknames and personalities and embrace their favorite players like few other fanbases do. Management took all of these factors into consideration when resigning him to a five year/$90 million deal before the end of the 2013 season. Pence wanted to stay in San Francisco, and the Giants wanted to keep him. But despite the mutual admiration between the two parties, was resigning Pence the right move for the Giants?
Um, is AT&T Park beautiful?
It was obviously a great fit for San Francisco and the best option for the future of right field. What I’m not sure anyone anticipated, however, was that the Giants may have the 2014 National League MVP roaming the field in right.
Two-thirds of the way through this season, Pence leads his team in average (.295, minimum 250 plate appearances), hits (127), runs (73), OBP (.350), and OPS (.816). He’s second in home runs (13) and doubles (23). He’s fifth in RBIs with 42, despite hitting lead-off for much of the year.
His hits are good enough for most in the National League, and his runs are second. He also leads the league in multi-hit games (38). His spastic style of play also leads to some spectacular catches in the outfield, and his seven assists are first on the Giants and second in the National League.
Pence’s desire to hustle out every ground ball, track down every fly ball, beat any throw to home plate, is a rare thing in pro sports today. Even though the Giants are stuck in yet another skid, having dropped five in a row, the awkward right fielder can also be counted on to show some fight, as seen in his two-out ninth inning triple on Monday night.
If San Francisco makes the 2014 playoffs, whether they limp their way in or they end up turning their entire season around, Pence should get some serious consideration for MVP of the National League. They don’t win the division without his hustle. And if Hunter Pence is a leader on a team, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a stronger leadership presence anywhere.