Hunter Pence is a joy to watch. He's the wackiest man in baseball, and he just so happens to be a pretty damn good player as well. Pence has proven time and time again that even though he runs like there's an earthquake, throws like he doesn't have an elbow, and stands at the plate like a hungry man chasing a taco, it works for him. He's posted five seasons in which he accumulated an fWAR above three, he's been a part of two World Series championship teams, and he's never failed to produce an above average wRC+. He's the epitome of "if it ain't broke don't fix it."
However if there's one thing that he's never been great at, it's taking a walk. Before the 2016 season his best walk percentage came in 2009, when he posted a rate of 9.0 percent. That was one of three seasons, along with 2011 and 2012, where Pence finished with an above average BB percentage. Considering that he's always been a good hitter, there was nothing inherently wrong with his inability to take a free pass, but in 2016 he's suddenly become adept in this department.
|2007||484||5.4 %||19.6 %||.385||132||3.5|
|2008||642||6.2 %||19.3 %||.338||104||2.9|
|2009||647||9.0 %||16.8 %||.356||117||3.3|
|2010||658||6.2 %||16.0 %||.342||111||2.7|
|2011||668||8.4 %||18.6 %||.377||140||4.3|
|2012||688||8.1 %||21.1 %||.323||103||1.6|
|2013||687||7.6 %||16.7 %||.356||135||5.5|
|2014||708||7.3 %||18.4 %||.341||124||4.7|
|2015||223||7.2 %||21.5 %||.347||127||1.6|
|2016||130||13.8 %||18.5 %||.384||143||0.4|
Thus far, Pence is walking 13.8 percent of the time, which represents an 84 percent increase over his career rate of 7.5 percent. While there's clearly going to be some fluctuation in this statistic throughout the season, there's no reason to think that he can't keep this up. According to FanGraphs, a player's BB% stabilizes around 120 PA, which Pence has already eclipsed. There is signal in the noise, but there is still noise. Of course, if there was nothing to explain his abrupt increase in walks, there might be cause to expect significant regression; but based on his plate discipline statistics, Pence has made a clear change in his approach.
|2007||30.1 %||69.2 %||49.9 %||68.0 %||80.3 %||76.7 %|
|2008||33.6 %||69.7 %||51.0 %||59.7 %||86.2 %||77.2 %|
|2009||30.2 %||67.1 %||47.8 %||65.7 %||82.1 %||76.7 %|
|2010||31.9 %||66.7 %||48.4 %||65.2 %||87.7 %||79.9 %|
|2011||33.3 %||65.7 %||47.9 %||64.9 %||87.2 %||78.7 %|
|2012||31.4 %||66.0 %||47.1 %||56.7 %||81.3 %||72.3 %|
|2013||29.6 %||64.9 %||45.7 %||61.0 %||85.2 %||76.7 %|
|2014||34.2 %||63.8 %||46.9 %||67.8 %||82.2 %||76.2 %|
|2015||32.6 %||63.1 %||45.5 %||54.7 %||84.6 %||72.3 %|
|2016||22.3 %||60.9 %||39.9 %||51.4 %||82.4 %||73.0 %|
Before this season, Pence's career O-Swing% was 31.7 percent, but in 2016, he's cut it down to 22.3 percent; a decrease of about 30 percent. Overall, his contact rate is similar to what he's produced over the last ten seasons; it's just now more of it is coming within the strike zone. Pence has also made another adjustment at the plate, although you wouldn't be able to tell based on the data above.
While it's not immediately apparent, Pence has made a change in his stance at the plate. The first video is taken from a game in 2015, whereas the latter is from this season.
Thankfully, for the entertainment of everyone, Pence hasn't cut down on any of his movements at the plate, and he still looks like a hungry man chasing a taco. However he has gotten lower in the box and seems to be turning his back slightly more toward the pitcher. It's not by much, but if you focus on the number on his jersey, more of it is visible than in years past.
With his tweaked stance at the plate, and his new approach, Pence is putting together what could be his best season in years. He ranks 33rd in both wRC+ and wOBA and currently has his best ISO since his rookie season. Pence might have just turned 33, but he's showing no signs of slowing down just yet.