2014 Player Previews: RF Torii Hunter

Despite being well into his late 30's, Torii Hunter was yet again a very productive ballplayer in 2013 for the Tigers. Under contract for one more year, can he continue to be a productive right fielder for the club in 2014?

Torii Hunter 2013 In Review

2013 Stats
Detroit 652 2.5 .346 .304 .344 .323 .334 .465 17% 3/2 -10 -11

After signing with the Tigers in hopes of competing for a World Series, Hunter provided more or less exactly what could be expected out of a 37-year old outfielder. He maintained a strong batting average, hit for a solid amount of power, and even reduced his strikeout rate from the prior season after being moved up to the 2 spot in the order.

One of the more notable revelations was that he was able to post a .300 average for the second straight year, without the benefit of the abnormally high .389 BAbip that he posted in 2012. At .344, he was still high, and based on his expected levels, that might have been a bit fortuitous still, but the strong average ensured his offensive productivity remained at a high level.

One caveat to the note about his productivity is that the increased average has gone hand in hand with a drop in his walk rate. Throughout much of his peak seasons, he walked 7-8% of the time, and as recently as 2011, he walked nearly 10% of the time. But his walk rate fell to just 4% in 2013, perhaps indicative of a shift in approach due in part to his power slowly eroding, as usually happens for players as they age.

Hunter didn't exhibit much speed on the base paths, swiping just three bases. He's another player that has demonstrated success in the past, so it's hard to say if his lack of swipes were due to a loss of speed, or a staff that put the brakes on most of their players, especially with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting behind him.

Hunter had built a reputation for outstanding defense, winning nine straight Gold Gloves, from 2001 to 2009. While the award hasn't always gone to the player that was in fact the best defensively, there's no arguing that Hunter was a very good defender for many years. He shifted from center field to right field midway through his Angels career, and had been a very good defender there as well.

But 2013 wasn't Gold Glove caliber, and it wasn't even average. Hunter's defense in right was decidedly below average, so much so that advanced metrics project he cost the team ten runs in right, the equivalent of losing an entire game. That was simply one facet the Tigers didn't anticipate when they signed Hunter.

2014 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 586 1.3 .287 .334 .325 .427 .328 -1
Steamer 620 1.8 .277 .323 .329 .428 .331 -7
Oliver 600 1.1 .268 .309 .309 .399 .310 -5

If Tigers fans are hoping for a bounce-back season out of the 38-year old, they're not going to find evidence of that in the player projections. The most optimistic of the projections believe he'll lose 10-15 points on his wOBA, with his average falling below .300, his walk rate holding mostly steady, and his power trailing off slightly, as one would expect given increasing age.

The Oliver projections are by far the most negative on Hunter's offensive outlook, forecasting a rather steep regression both in his power and his average, dropping his wOBA all the way down to .310, which would make Hunter just slightly above replacement-level caliber.

Defensively, the projection metrics are always shakier, but between the declining history and his age, it's no surprise that they all expect Hunter to be a below average fielder again in 2014.

The hope is that for a player that has remained remarkably healthy throughout his big league career and continues to keep himself in good physical shape, he will buck some of the traditional trends, holding steady year over year offensively, and possibly even seeing a slight uptick in his defensive performance. That's not an unreasonable expectation given his history - he has appeared in at least 140 games each of the last four seasons, and has only been under 100 games in a season twice in his career.

But the reality remains that for a position of upmost offensive performance, the Tigers are relying on the skills of an aging 38-year old who could be poised for another decline.

2014 Projections come from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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