Torii Hunter is coming off of one of the best seasons of his distinguished career, and the 37 year old realized this might be his last contract of significance, if not the last contract, of his big league career. He said he wanted to find a home where he could play full-time and have a chance to win. He got his wish Wednesday when it was announced that he signed a 2-year, $26 million deal to join the Tigers (for more on the deal and how it came to pass read the entertaining story of The Tale of Torii the Tiger). His signing will obviously also ding the value of Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia and Andy Dirks who will now struggle for at-bats in Detroit, but what does this mean for Hunter and his fantasy value in 2013?
Hunter appears likely to play right field and hit second in the Tigers order behind Austin Jackson and in front of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. There isn’t a better spot in any order that Hunter could have landed in, period.
Hunter started his career in 1997 though his first two seasons he totaled all of 19 plate appearances. Still, he’s been around forever, and he’ll turn 38 right after the 2013 All-Star Game. Should his age be a concern? You bet your rear end it should, and that’s easy enough to see if we look at two main components of his game – power and speed.
Hunter hit 16 home runs in 2012, his lowest total since going deep 14 times in 2005 (he appeared in just 98 games that year). The 2012 season was his first of 138 games played in which he didn’t go deep 20 times (he’s appeared in 138 games ten times). Besides the onset of age, why did his homer total fall? Let’s look at his fly ball ratio. Here are the marks the past four years: 36.3, 33.6, 33.3 and 25.4 percent. Last years mark is clearly an outlier for a guy who owns a 34.4 percent career mark, but the trend is unmistakable – he’s not lifting the ball like he used to. Now he missed his career HR/F ratio of 15.8 percent by only two tenths last year so when he does lift the ball he still goes deep with the same regularity. Unfortunately for Hunter though, Comerica Park was just 17th in homers in 2012 (it’s not exactly a launching pad).
Hunter has long been an effective base stealer. He’s never stolen more than 23 bases, and has only hit 20 steals three times, but he’s still a threat for double-digit thefts, or is he? After a run of 6-straight seasons of basepath success from 2004-09, Hunter stole at least 12 bases each season and five times he swiped at least 18, he’s kinda stopped running. The last three years he has failed to reach double-digits, and it’s not just his steal total that has shrunk, but his effectiveness has vanished as he’s converted 23 steals while being caught an unconscionable 20 times. Why Mike Scioscia ever even let him run is beyond me.
‘So the power is slipping and the steals are too, but Ray, the guy hit .300 last year so he’s still valuable in the fantasy game.’ I wouldn’t disagree with that sentiment, but let’s not take it too far. Yes Hunter hit .300 for the first time, he hit .313, but the guy is 37 years old. He had also failed to hit .282 the previous two seasons. He owns a career batting average of .277. His BABIP of .389 in 2012 is only, oh, .059 points higher than it has ever been before (career .307). His line drive rate of 22.6 percent was also a career best, just the second time he even posted a mark of 20 percent, and light years above his 17.8 percent career mark. Add in a career worst 0.29 BB/K mark and you’ve got yourself one of the most fortunate .300 hitters you will ever see. Hunter will not hit .300 again in 2013.
As I noted above, Hunter couldn’t have done a better job insulating himself with elite batters. If he does hit second for the Tigers he will have a very productive season. His RBI total will likely fall, but he should have no problem keeping his runs scored mark high. Still, be careful not to overvalue the logo on his jersey on draft day – this is still a 37 year old who has seen his power and speed decline, and one that has no shot to replicate his batting average from his last season in Anaheim.
By Ray Flowers