You will probably see at least 20 stories between now and Opening Day about how Torii Hunter's experience and veteran savvy will help the Tigers in 2013. While all of that is nice, the guy can still play.
We're just six days away and have seven players left in our countdown, so we'll need to fix that... later. Today's post is going to center around Torii Hunter, the solid all-around right fielder that the Tigers signed this offseason. We'll let one of the beat writers handle the fluff pieces about his veteran presence and leadership.
What happened last season?
Despite all of those years as a Minnesota Twin in which Hunter absolutely decimated the Tigers, he hit over .300 for the first time in 2012. His .313 average was largely buoyed by a .389 BABIP, but a career-best 22.6% line drive rate makes me hesitate to say that regression is imminent in 2013. His ground ball rate also hit a career high of 52.0%, so it's pretty clear that Torii made some adjustments to his plate approach. An on base percentage of .365 -- just .001 off of his career high -- further cements this hypothesis.
Defensively, Hunter has fallen off of the form that won him nine straight Gold Gloves, but this doesn't mean that he won't be a humongous upgrade over anyone that played right field for the Tigers in 2012. Torii had a UZR of 10.4 in right field for the Angels in 2012 and was worth 15 defensive runs saved. He also had 14 assists. By comparison, the entire Tigers outfield combined for 20 assists, led by defensive wizards Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch, who had five apiece.
What needs to happen in 2013?
The majority of Hunter's plate appearances last year came while he was hitting second in the Angels' lineup, sandwiched between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. This year, he will be hitting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera. Hunter might not hit .300 again as his BABIP falls back to earth, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a couple years of him hitting in the .290 range with an on-base percentage around .350-.360. Add in 15-20 home runs and a few stolen bases, and it's easy to see why the Tigers were willing to pay $13 million per year for his services.
That said, there are a few areas where Hunter could stand to improve. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and ISO (power) all trended in the wrong direction in 2012. While the drop in power may be partially due to the change in plate approach with hitting higher in the lineup, the walk rate is more of a concern. His 6.5% walk rate was the lowest he has had since 2007. Part of this can be attributed to where he was hitting in the lineup -- Hunter ended far more plate appearances ahead in the count in 2011 than he did in 2012 (indicating that pitchers were attacking him more often in 2012 with the second best hitter of our generation waiting on deck) -- but I don't know if this is the whole reason that Hunter took fewer free passes in 2012. It would be nice to see him draw a few more walks in 2013.
I don't think I have enough of a grasp on the English language to properly describe how much of an upgrade Hunter is in right field -- though I tried my best above -- so I'll just end this section here.
2012 stats and 2013 Bill James projections
All stats via Fangraphs
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does
If Hunter thought that he saw good pitching with Albert Pujols hitting behind him, he's probably ecstatic to have both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder waiting in the wings when he comes to the plate in 2013. Even if he regresses from last season's numbers, Hunter is still an excellent defensive outfielder and a dangerous out at the plate for opposing pitchers.