How Lucky Was Torii Hunter Last Season?

Stephen Dunn

Torii Hunter had a near career year at age 36/37 last season, but there were a few alarming rates that could lead to a quick demise.

Heading into his walk year, Torii Hunter was coming off a down year as a 35-year-old, possibly his worst overall season since 2000. However, Hunter may have had his best season of his career in 2012, posting a career-high 130 wRC+ and a +10 UZR/+15 DRS in right field. He parlayed that 5-WAR season into a 2-year, $26M contract from Detroit, but there are some major concerns from his underlying stats.

The biggest factor into Hunter's success on offense was his .389 BABIP. He saw his biggest departure from league average in groundballs, as his .327 BABIP on those dwarfed the .234 league figure. Hitting 52% GB on the season, this should have resulted in 19 less hits, which would have dropped his slash line to .277/.332/.416, even worse than his 2011. It may be a bit extreme to think he should have had an average rate, but a .327 mark is quite high. He also managed to have such a BABIP with only six infield hits. His flyball and line drive BABIP was within a couple hits of average, well within reason.

Another warning sign for this year is his diverging BB and K rates. After three straight years of an above-average BB rate and average K rates, the walks dropped and the K's rose, leading to a 3.5:1 K/BB ratio. His Swing% rose 5% to his pre-2009 levels, and my previous model had him actually walking about half-a-percent more than expected. His overall contact rate has decreased the past two seasons, with all of the decrease coming from within the zone, the more worrisome area.

Lastly, Hunter's ISO has been in decline the past couple seasons. His HR/FB% has remained well above average, but he only hit 24% flyballs this past season, resulting in 25% less homers. His doubles have also been down the past couple seasons, despite the rise in line drives. I expect the numbers to rise moving from Anaheim to Detroit, but the value isn't any better.

On the outside, $26M over two years looks like a decent deal for a player who just put up a 5-WAR season. However, it will be a stretch for him to accumulate 5 WAR over the next two years to live up to the contract. The increase in UZR and UBR showed new life in his legs, but I don't think it can last as he turns 38 in July. Unless the plate discipline returns, Hunter may have signed his last contract.

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