Everyone is looking for the next Wade Davis. Originally a failed starter, Davis transitioned to the bullpen, where he ratcheted up the velocity, developed the devil's cutter, and became so dominant that you actually have to google when he last gave up a run. The Kansas City Royals have Davis under club control for two more years, and we hate them for it.
Not every failed starter is going to turn into Wade Davis, but many of those failed starters still become solid bullpen arms. Enter Tommy Hunter, a guy who Twitter Fail Whaled as a starter earlier in his career. We're talking "ERA near 5.00 with a strikeout rate under five per nine innings" failed. So, the Orioles transitioned him to the bullpen, and voila! Hunter became an above average reliever almost instantly.
Three years after that transition, he is a free agent. The Tigers have shown interest in Hunter, who served as the Orioles' closer for a hot second, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick. Hunter, who is coming off of a subpar season after solid campaigns in 2013 and 2014, is projected to earn $10 million over the next two years, per FanGraphs' crowdsourcing project.
Who is he?
Hunter was selected by the Texas Rangers with the 54th overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft. The University of Alabama product moved quickly through the Rangers' system despite some middling results, and made his major league debut in 2008. He posted a 117 ERA+ as a starter in 2009 and 2010, and was part of a trade that sent him and a failed prospect named Chris Davis to the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. Don't fret, though, Rangers fans. Koji Uehara almost put up 1.0 WAR!
After he transitioned to the bullpen, Hunter streamlined his arsenal. He has primarily relied on his fastball, which sits in the high 90s, and a curveball in the mid-80s. He throws a cutter occasionally, which induces a high whiff rate, but has focused more on the fastball and curveball over the past couple years. Since 2013, Hunter has allowed a 3.26 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, though he struggled in a brief stint with the Chicago Cubs down the stretch in 2015, allowing a 5.74 ERA in 15 2/3 innings.
Why should we care?
Prior to that rough stint with the Cubs, Hunter was enjoying a lot of success in the O's bullpen. He posted a 3.05 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 191 2/3 innings, with a 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents hit just .233 off him during that stretch, and he allowed just over one baserunner per inning. Hunter is hell on right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .196/.253/.264 slash line since 2013.
While Hunter doesn't strike out as many batters as his high-octane arsenal would suggest, he does a great job of limiting walks, and has upped his ground ball rate considerably over the past two seasons. In 2014, he induced a career-best 50.8 percent ground ball rate, and was still above 46 percent while in Baltimore in 2015. He has increased his two-seamer and curveball usage to help with this, resulting in a much higher percentage of soft contact in 2014 and 2015 compared to previous seasons.
Why should we stay away?
This play was awesome at the time. Tommy Hunter was the pitcher.
That is a very abstract and reminiscent way of saying that Hunter gives up a lot of home runs. For his career, he has allowed 1.38 dingers per nine innings, though most of those came when the Orioles thought he could be a starter. Silly Orioles. As a reliever, his home run rate has been more palatable at 0.93 per nine innings, but he crept over that dinger-per-nine-innings mark again in 2015 as his ground ball rate fell.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It all depends on the money, but a two-year deal for a young pitcher like Hunter -- he turned 29 in July -- would make for a solid addition to the Tigers' bullpen. Hunter has shown some legitimate signs of improvement in the past few years, and will be moving away from the hitter-friendly AL East. His rough stretch in Chicago to finish the year is concerning, but might lower his cost just enough for the Tigers' limited budget.