Torii Hunter is no stranger to being a pain in the arse of White Sox fans having spent the majority of his career playing for the rival Minnesota Twins. He was even a pain in the arse as he left Minneapolis to play for the Angels, as he was reportedly being heavily pursued by the White Sox at the time. Though he’s yet to sign, it appears that the Detroit Tigers are his most likely suitor, and Sox fans are prepared to be annoyed by Hunter yet again. Perhaps he’ll be an irritant, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be pleased with the possibility that the Tigers sign him.
Hunter is coming off the one of the best seasons of his career, achieved at age 36. He put up a .313/.365/.451 line with 16 HR in Anaheim good for a 132 OPS+ (the highest of his career). If you choose to believe in the Fangraphs player value information Torii Hunter’s 2012 output was worth $23.6M on the open market, which more than doubles the value he provided in 2011. The odds that he puts forth a year like this again? Not great.
Let’s start with the obvious: he’s 37. That’s fairly old for a baseball player. Hell, we’ve spent a good deal of time contemplating A.J. Pierzynski’s career year that came at age 35 and the repeat-ability of it. We know, it could happen but it probably won’t. Hunter’s 2012 is not out of nowhere. He’s been productive for most of his career and to call 2012 his absolute best season is up for debate, as his other top years were mighty close to that level of production. Still, is it wise to pay an aging player to repeat a year that isn’t going to get duplicated?
A look at the year itself and how he accomplished it. His .313 batting average is the only time in his career that he’s topped that .300 mark. Hey how he do dat? BABIP is how. Hunter usually has a Batting Average on Balls In Play that hovers around .300. in 2012 it was .389, well outside of his norm and nearly 100 points higher than the .297 mark in 2011. His previous high was .330 and produced the second highest batting average of his career, which was .299. With the large sampling of seasons to pull from, this has regression written all over it. He traded walks for strikeouts as he walked 3% less and struck out more than 3% more in the season, which wouldn’t be a good trend to continue if he’s relying on batted ball luck to get on base. He swung the bat more at pitches both in and out of the zone while making less contact across the board. Which segues nicely into a parting thought: Pretty much any season he gives Detroit is going to be better than what Delmon Young contributed. So though Tigers fans may end up disappointed that Hunter won’t do what he did before…Sox fans will be disappointed that he’s still an improvement.