The veteran outfielder’s last two years with the San Francisco Giants were painful to watch, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if his time in the big-league had come to an end following the conclusion of 2018. Instead of accepting defeat and hanging up his spikes sooner than he wanted, the 36-year-old played winter ball and revamped his swing. That led to a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers in February, and it’s paid huge dividends in what’s become a career resurgence.
Just look at how his current performance (77 plate appearances) compares to what he did last year in a much larger sample size (248 plate appearances):
If we’re looking at pure counting stats like home runs and RBI, he’s basically already outperformed last year’s dreadful campaign. This has happened because of what he’s accomplished as a visiting player in recent games. In his last five road games, Pence has collected four doubles, four homers, and 17 (!) RBI, which, as you likely figured by this point, has him being mentioned alongside The Iron Horse himself.
That’s a good barometer of knowing whether or not you’ve saved your career for the time being.
Pence is still hitting a lot of ground balls (50.0% rate heading into Friday’s games), but he’s making the most of balls in the air. While his 30.4% fly-ball rate isn’t much different than 2018 (29.4%), he’s paired that with just a 5.9% infield-fly rate (19.2% in ’18). It also helps that his soft-hit rate is down to 10.7% (24.7% in ’18), along with a 51.8% hard-hit rate (30.3% in ’18).
This story is just another great lesson for ballplayers — it doesn’t matter how much success you’ve had or how much experience you’ve accrued. If things aren’t working anymore, adjustments must be made if you’d like to keep playing. Pence has gone from being on the brink of a forced retirement to one of baseball’s 10 best hitters by wRC+ among those with at least 70 plate appearances heading into Friday’s games.
On a team that likely won’t be heading to the playoffs — the Rangers have a 1.2% chance of reaching October according to FanGraphs as of this writing — he could easily find himself on a contender before the trade deadline passes. Now that’s what you call a turnaround of epic proportions.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. Check those out and more helpful tips on sports blogging at his website.