Let's hear it for Hunter Pence. The best all-around player on the moribund Astros is finally getting some love as he was selected by the players and managers to be a member of the NL All Star roster.
I'm surprised that Pence got a roster spot, though. His stats are good, but not great -- definitely not what they were his rookie year, but definitely better than last year. I don't think he ranks near the top in any of the offensive categories -- I think this has a lot more to do with Cecil Cooper's stupidity as a manager than it does anything else. And he doesn't get the national media attention of many others. But what his selection tells me is that the other teams are beginning to appreciate the value that Pence brings to a team.
I like Michael Bourn, and Bourn's speed in centerfield, but Pence covers as much ground as Bourn, and his arm from the outfield has nailed many runners at third and home. I would argue that, were it not for Carlos Lee, the Astros would have one of the best outfields in the majors; instead, Lee drags the whole crew down to complete mediocre status. And I'm sure the pitching staff appreciates what Pence brings to the field.
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What I don't understand is why Pence doesn't get the love that Lee, Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada get from the fans (Where are the idiot fans dressing up in puma-type costumes and riding stick horses in the outfield for Pence?). This guy's got the hustle of a young Craig Biggio -- he sometimes tends to be as careless running the bases as Biggio, for what it matters. He runs full-out all of the time, and he's not afraid to crash into a wall or dive to the turf to make a catch that will save a run or a get a final out.
I think Pence's offensive numbers would look a lot better were he batting third, fourth, or fifth on a consistent basis. He doesn't get the same RBI opportunities as Tejada, Lee, and Berkman, and for some reason, the aging, injury-prone, and generally ineffective Geoff Blum gets to bat fifth and get the opportunities to clean up when Lee fails to produce. But maybe if Pence were batting third every game, his RBI numbers would look a lot better since Bourn is often on base, just waiting to be knocked in.
Pence doesn't seem to let any of that get to him. He seems to play the same way every game. He runs full speed after every ball he hits, no matter where he hits it -- unlike Lee who often walks to work first after he grounds the ball to third or second. As Brian McTaggart notes, Pence makes the same effort whether the game is still in doubt or if it's out of reach.
Pence is easily my favorite player on this team -- Bourn is quickly becoming my second favorite. And I'm glad to see he's getting some acknowledgment nationally. And I hope that not only does he get to play in the All Star Game next week, but that he does something special -- make a big catch crashing into the wall or scoring from first on a single -- that really proves just how good he is.