The 37-year old Hunter is coming off of a 2012 campaign where he hit .313/.365/.451 with a 130 wRC+ and 16 homeruns with 9 stolen bases in 10 attempts. His average and wRC+ were both career bests while his on-base percentage was .001 from his career high. Hunter does add value, especially with his glove in right field, but do not expect a repeat of his 2012 season where he was a +5.3 fWAR player although he could still be worth five wins to the Tigers. Let me explain.
Hunter’s 2012 success at the plate can be explained with one word: Luck. Hunter’s career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) prior to 2012 was just over .300 and his career high mark in a season with 140 or more games played was .319 (he had a .336 mark in 99 games in 2000 and a .330 mark in 119 games in 2009). In 2012, his BABIP was an outlier .389 which will be very hard to approach, let alone repeat.
Hunter did set career best marks in line-drive rate, ground-ball rate, and infield-fly rate –which would all coincide with a player’s spike in BABIP — but he also set a career high in strikeouts with 133 and strikeout rate at 22.8%, after a career 18% rate coming into the 2012 season.
Hunter also had his second worst walk rate since 2002 and his 6.5% walk rate was well below the league average of 8%. This lack of discipline was a bit of a surprise after three straight seasons in which Hunter improved his walk rate and never dipped below 9.3%.
But, despite the fact that Hunter’s numbers will come back to earth in 2013, his bat will still be an upgrade over the departed Delmon Young, who posted an 89 wRC+, and the team’s primary 2012 right fielder Brennan Boesch who posted a 77 wRC+.
Hunter’s glove will also be a significant upgrade over the right field combination of Boesch, Avisail Garcia, Don Kelly, and Andy Dirks that combined to post a -16.6 UZR in 2012. Even if Hunter cannot repeat his +10.4 UZR from last year he is still at least an above-average defender in right that should post a positive UZR which should easily make his glove worth around a two-win upgrade. Here is what Detroit’s lineup and could look like next season:
1. Austin Jackson (CF) (R)
2. Victor Martinez (DH) (S)
3. Miguel Cabrera (3B) (R)
4. Prince Fielder (1B) (L)
5. Torii Hunter (RF) (R)
6. Alex Avila (C) (L)
7. Jhonny Peralta (SS) (R)
8. Omar Infante (2B) (R)
9. Boesch/Dirks/Quintin Berry (LF) (L/L/R/L)
Hunter adds balance to the lineup and in the field. This also allows manager Jim Leyland to use the proper offensive matchups in left field, based on the opponent, while giving him more depth on the bench and defensive replacements.
Hunter may not be the +5.3 fWAR player he was last year but, with seven straight seasons of a wRC+ of at least 113, it’s plausible to see Hunter put together a 110 wRC+ with a positive UZR and BsR (base running), making him a potential five-win improvement over the incumbents he will be replacing in the field and in the lineup that were below replacement level for the Tigers in 2012.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt