Hunter Pence has been finishing off the 2013 season with a bang. As in National League Player of the Week bang. Last week he did something very rare and hit home runs in four consecutive games. He also had 14 Runs Batted In (RBI) in one series, which is almost an RBI per at bat. But there is more being driven here than just the baseball. This is what has also been called a Salary Drive.
Welcome to Giants Salary Drive, 2013. It looks strangely similar to Giants Salary Drive, 2005, circa Randy Winn.
What exactly is a Salary Drive? During the month of September, up until September 16, Pence batted .412 and has had 25 RBI’s. This is perfect timing for Pence, because this is his contract year. At the end of this season, he will be a free agent, available to accept the highest bid any team makes him next year. That is what teams who are out of playoff contention call a Salary Drive.
It wouldn’t be so noticeable if Pence’s stats had not been so ‘ho hum’. On August 24, Pence was batting .278 with 15 HRs and 64 RBIs. But Pence has been hitting so well the past month that it’s filling up his stat sheet. Now it looks like he has had a great year, and who cares about the first four months, he is now batting .294 with 25 HR’s and 93 RBIs.
But when the numbers in a Salary Drive are grossly inconsistent with the previous numbers, it brings up a few questions.
How should the public perceive this month of fireworks before his contract year? How do the teams evaluate this? And how can players do this well only when their financial well being is at stake?
I don’t know. But I can give you an example of a team being fooled, and unfortunately that team was the Giants less than 10 years ago. In early August of 2005, the Giants acquired Randy Winn in his contract year from Seattle, in exchange for Jesse Foppert and Yorvit Torrealba. Winn played 58 games for the Giants and put up some very impressive numbers, hitting .359 with 14 home runs. But what really stands out is his month of September, when Winn hit .447 and had 51 hits in one month. He was named player of the month by Major League Baseball.
Do these statistics look strangely familiar? As Charlie Sheen might say about the Pence Salary Drive: WINNING!
But here comes the painful outcome for the Giants. The Giants proceeded to sign Winn to a three year deal for $23.25 million. But then in 2006, Winn hit just .262 with 11 home runs — fewer home runs in a full season than he had in just the two months for the Giants the previous year! When Winn retired, he ended with a decent but not great lifetime .284 batting average and 110 home runs.
So how did Winn pull off that gigantic Salary Drive in the month right before his contract ended? Those stats from one month were grossly different than his career numbers. Did Winn steal more than just a few bases? However he did it, Randy’s pocket book sure got a ‘Winn’ there.
It seems that a Salary Drive is the time that players do whatever possible to elevate their game. Could this be a time when they juice up on performance enhancing drugs (PEDS)? This could be an explanation as to how things suddenly change so drastically –right when they need it most for their financial well being. Considering that MLB has never tested for HGH, players can use it knowing they will not be caught. I am not trying to say that Hunter Pence is a juicer. But I can say that, judging from this photo, he does seem staggeringly ripped.
And if players do use PED’s, can we really blame them? Winn was a barely above average major leaguer who rode two incredible months into 25 million dollars. Makes financial sense to me.
An alternative explanation of the Salary Drive, other than PEDs, would be that motivation alone can spike performance. But if players can hit better when they are highly motivated, what does this imply about their motivation to win for the team during the regular season?
I think the Salary Drive is a huge joke being played on the public. How can major league teams, who now hire top tier statisticians, get fooled by an eager grin and a month of the Salary Drive?
In this era of sabermetrics and 100 million dollar contracts, I wonder what the numbers crunching geniuses think of the Salary Drive. Are they computing it based on a complex algorithm that factors in all past Salary Drives. Are the Giants factoring in past performances like Winn’s?
In the case of the Giants, it doesn’t really matter. They are like the person stranded on a desert island, with only one option and no alternatives. The Giants need some power in the outfield so badly, they might not care if Hunter Pence shot HGH in the on-deck circle right now. This year, the Giants have hit a total of 96 home runs. That is not even twice as many as Chris Davis of the Orioles has all by himself!
But does it make sense that Nate Schierholtz –who also played on a Giants World Series team, and whose stats this year were almost exactly what Pence had put up before the Salary Drive– should be paid 70% less than Pence?
Whatever the case, Pence has a serious Winn here!