Hunter Pence's failure at failing

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Only in baseball can a failed outcome - an out - still be considered productive. For Hunter Pence, the task of advancing a runner with an out proved to be a difficult one in 2013.

Baseball is a game of failure. So much so, that failure can be celebrated when done in the proper context. A routine ground ball to the right side of the infield resulting in an out doesn't appear to be a preferred outcome to an at-bat. However, if there is a runner on second with nobody out, and that slow ground ball advances him to third, then it can be quite productive. A runner is now at third, with less than two outs, giving the next batter a chance to drive him home with another failed outcome, a lazy fly ball, but a sacrifice, a run generating event, so not really a failure at all.

Productive outs are the baseball fan's telling-stat. Before advanced statistical databases captured such events, it was the fans, who actually watched the games, who could tell a different story than the box score showing an 0-4 night, by highlighting that two of those outs advanced baserunners in key situations.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference (and ESPN), productive outs are now routinely captured and readily available. And one player's lack of productive outs sticks out: Hunter Pence.

Hitting behind Buster Posey's 10.1% walk rate - putting him in situations to be advanced from first base - Pence had plenty of opportunity to provide productive outs in 2013. A productive out consists of any opportunity when a hitter advances a runner with none out or drives in a runner with the second out of the inning. Pence found himself in 78 such productive out situations in 2013, only succeeding in 12 of them, or 15% of the time. That means that while failing to get a hit with the runner on base, he also failed to advance the runner with an out 85% of the time.

Looking at the hitters from 2013 who found themselves in the most productive out opportunities, Hunter Pence success rate definitely lags behind the rest of the group.

Rk Player Tm Productive Opp Productive Success % Success
1 Manny Machado BAL 94 25 27%
2 Daniel Murphy NYM 83 25 30%
3 Zack Cozart CIN 82 33 40%
4 Torii Hunter DET 81 31 38%
5 Brandon Phillips CIN 81 27 33%
6 Hunter Pence SFG 78 12 15%
7 Martin Prado ARI 73 26 36%
8 Elvis Andrus TEX 72 29 40%
9 Josh Hamilton LAA 72 20 28%
10 Nick Markakis BAL 71 32 45%

Of course, a productive out is only preferred when the batter doesn't reach the same result, or better, by getting a hit. There's a reason the Giants gave Pence a five-year $90 million contract extension. He can hit. Last season, his OPS with runners in scoring position was .849, which is 33% higher than the league average. So it is important when looking at the productive out opportunities that Pence faced last season, to consider the number of times he was successful in advancing a runner, not just from an out, but by a hit, too.

2013 Less 2 outs runner on 3B Scr % 0 outs runner on 2B Adv %
Hunter Pence 41 20 49% 35 15 43%
MLB Average 51% 56%

In key situations to advance a runner, with either an out or a hit, Pence still performed below league average in 2013. In fact, with none out and a runner on second base, he converted only 43% of those opportunities into advancement of the baserunner, compared to the league average of 56%.

Hunter Pence could be called a bad situational hitter. That is a nice way of saying he fails at failing. In the National League, where the pitcher hits, and strategy is still designed around moving baserunners from base to base, getting productive outs is crucial. Especially for a team like the Giants, who ranked 29th in home runs last season. Hunter Pence is a very good hitter, but he could be better when recording an out.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Jeffrey Bellone is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score and can also be found writing about the Mets at Amazin' Avenue. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @OverWhitestone.

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