Torii Hunter’s Bat Goes Cold

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Torii Hunter’s defensive struggles are well known at this point in the season. If you trust DRS, UZR, RZR, or basic BABIP, he’s been one of, if not, the worst outfielders in the game. I’ll have a piece today over at TigsTown about that particular issue, but it’s also running alongside a rather troubling stretch at the plate. Hunter doesn’t bring defensive value anymore, but his bat has vanished over the last three weeks. Observe:

Split PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
March 31 to May 6 107 0.333 0.355 0.529 0.384 143
May 7 to May 26 68 0.172 0.221 0.297 0.233 39

You’re not going to lose your mind over 70 PA and I obviously picked the period of time from his peak to his nadir, but it’s troubling because he can’t get away with this for any length of time. Even when you include Hunter’s hot start, FanGraphs has him at -0.2 WAR and Baseball-Reference has him at -0.7 WAR. Baseball Prospectus calls it -0.1 WARP. It’s bad.

This is a bad season. The power is there, but he has a .303 OBP in more than 170 PA and is bringing no value in the field. The Tigers need him to turn it around because they don’t have an obvious replacement and you can’t hide him at DH on this team. A guy with Hunter’s star power isn’t going to ride the pines on this team, it’s just not how they do business. It’s going to be Hunter, sink or swim.

One of the biggest concerns is that Hunter, who swings at pitches outside of the zone more than the vast majority of players in the league has stopped making contact with them. This year he swings about 37% of the time at pitches outside of the zone with league average being 29%. That’s who Torii is, but when you break it down by contact outside the zone, it’s getting ugly. Up through May 6th, he was making contact 64.9% of the time when he left the zone. Since he’s making contact 52.5% of the time when he leaves the zone. League average is 63.9%. He swings a lot, but he used to make contact a good amount when he chased. That isn’t happening right now.

The margin for error for a guy like Hunter who is swing happy and doesn’t walk is small. If you slump at all, you slump hard. And while his BABIP is down, obviously, this isn’t hard luck slumping. Hard contact is harder to come by and he’s reverting back to his pre-2012 pull happy style.

Untitled drawing

They’re going to have to ride this out, but Torii needs to make an adjustment. The pitching staff has provided him (and Jackson and Davis) some cover over the last few weeks by being amazing and then being terrible, but you can’t hit at the top of the order or in the middle of it if you’re performing like this.

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