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Torii Hunter In The Outfield: Just How Bad Can It Be?

The Minnesota Twins signing of outfielder Torii Hunter has sparked some debate among fans. The most recited complaint is that while Hunter is able to perform at the plate, his defensive skill set has eroded significantly and has made him a detriment to the team. Just how bad is his fielding?
At 39-years-old, there is little question that the tools that had at one time made him an elite defender -- a blindingly quick first step and the closing speed -- has been left behind in some old Angels uniform pants.

Every stat that measures range has painted him a liability in right field. Ultimate Zone Rating dismisses him wholly as the worst among qualified right fielder. Revised Zone Rating dinged him for not making plays in the accepted right fielder zone that are typically made. Inside Edge’s video scouts agree, saying he has caught 98% of all plays deemed “Almost Certain” (99% conversion rate average) and made 88% of all plays, third worst among right fielders.

As the metric world has come to a consensus regarding the outfielder, some industry sources have mentioned his defensive abilities are not represented within that particular data. Hunter has entered the savvy veteran world of being able to take a proper route in order stave off would-be advancing baserunners. He has done things like thrown behind runners on the bases to get them out. In some ways, touting skills like this feels like sort of like congratulating an elder person who is doing 10 under the speed limit for at least staying in his lane. While there may be some value, it is still not as important as getting to the ball on time.

Consider this play off the bat of the Twins’ Danny Santana in Comerica last June. With the bases loaded and two outs, this harmless fly balls lands safely at Hunter’s feet:

Posted Image


Meanwhile, compare that play to the one made by the former Brave, now current Cardinal Jason Heyward:

Posted Image


Admittedly, without the ability to have MLB StatCast data on both these plays, this is an exercise in imperfection. There are other factors that might have led to the outcome like daytime versus nighttime, the score of the game or whether or not the glove oil fumes were causing dizziness. These two plays were selected based on the hit type, estimated hang time, direction and perceived distance from the right fielder to the play. What the two examples show is the visual difference in the person with the highest UZR (Heyward) and the person with the lowest (Hunter) on a very similar play.

For those who do not enjoy the fruits of the advanced defensive metrics tree, the raw totals found within ESPN/trumedia’s database reveals more damning evidence against Hunter. By filtering the batted ball data to reduce all hits to right field, carrying in the air (line drive and fly balls) more than 210 feet past the no-man’s land between the infield and outfield, while examining the individual hit types (soft, medium and hard) we find that the batting average on balls in play across MLB in 2014 breakdown as such:

Attached Image: Hunter_Chart_MLB Avg.png


While the Tigers right fielders performed better than the average against the softly hit flies and liners (.124, third-lowest in MLB) they struggled mightily to provide the same coverage on more well-struck balls. The Tigers right fielders led by Hunter allowed a .356 batting average on balls in play on swings that produced medium-well hits (second-worst, just ahead of the Yankees) but the real damage was done on the hard-hit variety. Opponents were able to post a .778 average on balls in play, 21% worse than the MLB average and by far the worst rate in the league.

To put that in perspective, the Atlanta Braves, who used to employ right fielder Jason Heyward, led baseball with a .529 batting average on hard-hit balls in play. By the UZR standards, Hayward’s coverage was amazing. Not only was he able to convert on a vast majority of balls in his zone, he was able to make plays on 122 balls out of a right fielder’s zone. For his part, in approximately 200 fewer innings, Hunter made 50 out of zone plays.

Attached Image: Hard Hit Balls_Chart.png


What creates this effect? Why are the Braves and Heyward so much better at fielding well-hit balls than the Tigers and Hunter?

The obvious first difference is age and skill. Hayward’s young legs allows for greater coverage. Fangraphs.com’s Fan Scouting Report has Hayward rated as an 87 when it comes to a first step. Hunter, on the other hand, was rated a 38 for his first step. Overall speed is rated a tortoise-like 44 for Hunter and a hare-like 82 for Hayward. Having the quick first step allows for the ability to track those hard-hit balls. The speed allows closing on flies that are out of the range of most human right fielders.

The less obvious factor might be the defensive alignment a team implements. It is not clear whether the Tigers are big proponents of moving people around in the field to maximize coverage despite having a defensive coordinator (Mike Martin) on staff. The focus has been on the infield shifts, much to manager Brad Ausmus’ chagrin. Likewise, the Braves seem to play straight up with some shading but the ability to generate twice as many outs in right field as the Tigers leaves the impression that they are positioning players very well.

****


In the end, it appears the Twins front office either is not concerned on the effect of the outfield defense on the pitching staff or are completely misunderstanding what constitutes good defense.

During the Twins Daily Handbook interview with Terry Ryan, Ryan dismissed the notion that the outfield from 2014, which was rated one of the worst by the advanced metrics, was as bad as it appeared. “We’ll be looking for outfield but I’m not as concerned about the outfield defense as maybe it sounds like you are,” Ryan told me, adding that he doesn’t necessarily trust the advanced stats.

One could argue that Hunter is not worse than Oswaldo Arcia in right field, as some of the advanced metrics would suggest. After all, Hunter is more experienced which leads to the proper execution of other elements of the game that are not captured by zones alone.

The advanced fielding stats can be misleading, there is no question. The data, however, doesn’t lie. It just is. And what the data says is that Hunter is not able to catch everything an average right fielder is able to. This notion could leave the pitching staff frustrated in 2015.

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96 Comments

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Paul Pleiss
Dec 03 2014 01:57 AM

"And what the data says is that Hunter is not able to catch everything an average right fielder is able to. This notion could leave the pitching staff frustrated in 2015."

 

What's the OF defense look like on opening day? Arcia-Hicks-Hunter? Throw Schafer in there somewhere?

 

I don't see how this improves the ballclub.

 

And thank you, Parker, for not joining the "Torii will be a great mentor/great clubouse guy" bandwagon. For this alone, i love you.

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Kevin, LaBombo and 5 others like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Dec 03 2014 03:07 AM
That gif is brutal. I don't think Hunter is loafing but it does show he has a very slow read. His best defense is that they had a 7 run lead in the 8th inning and he was playing it safe. Because you don't want a pop fly to get past you and roll to the wall, or something :)
    • LaBombo likes this
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lightfoot789
Dec 03 2014 03:24 AM

Having a defensive CF helps any team with their overall defense in the OF.Hicks / Santana / or Schafer will cover upfor more than you think with the correct shifts by management. I love the post that stated Hunter had a better rating than Stanton in 2013.We jump on these saber metrics too quickly as if they are the end all. 

 

9 LETTERS - CHEMISTRY

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minnesota transplant
Dec 03 2014 04:42 AM

I`m getting sick

    • LaBombo and nytwinsfan like this

Nothing like pick and choosing stats, in this case specific plays.

Hunter situation: 8th inning with Tigers up by 7 runs, bases loaded with 2 outs and the base runners running. It looked like he played it safe and kept the ball in front of himself while keeping the force out in play at 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Had he dove and missed the ball the runner from 1st could have scored with the batter advancing to 2nd or even 3rd base. There was a 7 run lead, why risk misplaying a ball in that situation?

 

The Heyward play was made in the top of the 1st inning with a runner on 1st base. Atlanta hadn't even been up to bat yet. The game was still wide open. If he had misplayed that ball, only one runner would have scored.

 

The game situations were totally different.

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel, gunnarthor and 5 others like this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 03 2014 08:03 AM
Nothing like pick and choosing stats, in this case specific plays.

 

 

First, I am sooooper glad you decided to stop reading right after the second GIF and make your comment here. After all, you missed the part where I wrote "Admittedly, without the ability to have MLB StatCast data on both these plays, this is an exercise in imperfection. There are other factors that might have led to the outcome like daytime versus nighttime, the score of the game or whether or not the glove oil fumes were causing dizziness." 

 

The other notable difference not pointed out in the article is that the two plays are slightly different. While Heyward closes in and makes a diving catch on a hard-hit ball, Hunter pulls up on a medium-hit ball. Had Hunter had a good first step or the speed of Heyward, chances are he might not even have had to dive for that ball. 

 

Second, since it was pointed out, yes, he suddenly did decide to play it safe because just one inning prior to that, he did this:

 

zH5YLR4.gif

 

This, is Hunter playing an Eric Fryer lazy fly ball into a triple when he could have gotten in front of it.

 

Last, this was a representation, not trying to make a straight-line comparison because, in the end, there is nothing that is more accurate than the data. When you compare the data, Heyward is able to get to far more balls than Hunter. The real cherrypicking would have been had I shown three or four highlights of Hunter diving or making plays at the wall. 

    • ScrapTheNickname, LaBombo, h2oface and 2 others like this

This is a terrible signing. I don't understand what the FO is thinking... Very disappointing day for Twins fans.

    • nytwinsfan likes this

This is a terrible signing. I don't understand what the FO is thinking... Very disappointing day for Twins fans.

 

Adding to the disappointment, Paul Molitor, he supposedly of the refrshingly new stat-inclined approach to managing a baseball team, owns this signing as much as the GM.  I'm still thinking (hoping?) that they saw more than enough last year of Arcia in the OF, and are considering DHing him full-time.... which would mean that the Twins are maybe not done adding to the OF, and have a Winter Meeting deal already lined up :confused:

These are my problems/concerns with the Hunter defense is horrible gang

 

1) Defensive stats, on a single year, are not that reliable.Two years ago, Hunter was consider a better RFer than Stanton by the stats.Yet everyone is burying him on last years numbers.

 

2) We fans are way too trusting of the numbers.Joe Posnanski just quoted Bill James who stated that he flat out hated WAR and thought the numbers were phoney.Every article will have a "the numbers aren't perfect" disclaimer and then use those numbers to say what they want them to say.

 

3) As bad as his defensive numbers were in one year, they weren't as bad as Cuddyer's in 10, 11 and 13 yet people seem a lot more forgiving of Cuddy's defensive limitations than Hunter's.I think there's an unsaid expectation that the slow looking white guy is trying as hard as he can and Hunter might be loafing on lazy fly balls. 

 

4) I think RF in Comerica is one of the hardest RF to play and Detroit CFers didn't seem to be very helpful in covering extra ground.That might be a way the Twins can protect Hunter. (A reminder, when Hudson came to the Twins in 2010, similar concerns were voiced.Klaw noted that the Twins would probably do a better job of shifting than the Dodgers and Arizona had an he expected a bounce back defensive season. That's what happened).All that said, I'm not sure RF in TF is much easier. 

 

5) Lastly, defensive stats don't have to even out.Most players are in the negative.In the AL, CFers combined for a -20 value last year. 

    • PseudoSABR and Monkeypaws like this

Who, among those that don't like this deal, do you think forgives Cuddeyer's defense? My guess is the people that forgive Cuddy's defense are the same people that think Hunter's defense is fine. 

 

If you don't believe the "stats" how about on Fangraphs where the fans rate defense? They hate his defense, with their eyeball test.

    • Sconnie likes this
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woolywoolhouse
Dec 03 2014 08:32 AM

I don't get the "DHing [Hunter] full-time" notion, with the great September showing of Kenny Vargas. Is the plan to start Vargas in AAA, since he had not seen that level before being promoted (out of necessity) late last year? Or would Hunter be willing to move to left field to keep Arcia in his natural position in right? Because- for the future success of this club- both Arcia and Vargas need to get major league at-bats before this team is back in the playoff picture.

    • Sconnie and Hosken Bombo Disco like this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 03 2014 08:36 AM
These are my problems/concerns with the Hunter defense is horrible gang...

 

 

Gunnathor, I certainly echo your hesitation in the belief of putting too much emphasis on a defensive stat like UZR. There is plenty of shade that can be thrown on a one-year sampling and the methodology in general. The problem though is that there are multiple different measuring sticks that rate Hunter's performance as the worst, including Inside Edge's video scouts which has nothing to do with the zone ratings found in the UZR.

 

More than that, when you just look at the sheer number of plays made, Hunter's performance was by far the worst at turning balls into outs. 

 

Are there factors like outfield partners, alignment and stadium playing an effect on this? Possibly. But reviewing the available video it is easy to see that his jumps and speed are just not there. 

 

I do believe there are other things a player can do to contribute defensively that are not measured in the advanced fielding stats and go beyond catching the ball that help a team but the most important thing in my mind is generating outs. Not turning a fly ball/liner into an out creates more opportunity for the other team to score runs. 

 

 

If you don't believe the "stats" how about on Fangraphs where the fans rate defense? They hate his defense, with their eyeball test.

i don't disagree that he's a bad fielder at this point.My problem is that I don't think defensive stats areaccurately measured or accurately valued.So we may be multiplying a wrong number with another wrong number to create a (negative) value that is not consistent with reality.(We have seen that before, to a lesser extent, with Orlando Hudson).That Hunter seems to be at the extreme end, one year being so-so and two years after being terrific, makes me think that there is a lot of noise in the numbers.I'm also expecting that Molitor will move his OFers around a bit more than what may have happened in Detroit.

 

He is old, he could turn into a pumpkin over night.But he hit pretty well last year and I think TF is a better place for his swing.So if he can put up a 110 OPS+ again, I think the Twins will be in good shape. But if his bat goes (and it's certainly possible), we might have two tough months of Hunter before he is let go.

Gunnathor, I certainly echo your hesitation in the belief of putting too much emphasis on a defensive stat like UZR. There is plenty of shade that can be thrown on a one-year sampling and the methodology in general. The problem though is that there are multiple different measuring sticks that rate Hunter's performance as the worst, including Inside Edge's video scouts which has nothing to do with the zone ratings found in the UZR.

 

More than that, when you just look at the sheer number of plays made, Hunter's performance was by far the worst at turning balls into outs. 

 

Are there factors like outfield partners, alignment and stadium playing an effect on this? Possibly. But reviewing the available video it is easy to see that his jumps and speed are just not there. 

 

I do believe there are other things a player can do to contribute defensively that are not measured in the advanced fielding stats and go beyond catching the ball that help a team but the most important thing in my mind is generating outs. Not turning a fly ball/liner into an out creates more opportunity for the other team to score runs. 

Perhaps this is not the correct place for this argument, because I do the correct discussion is just how bad Hunter'sdefense is. However, what I would like as a companion discussion to the metrics' description of Torii Hunter's 2014 defense as 'league worst' is why they have never recognized that Hunter is an elite defender. For example, shown below are the DWAR numbers for Hunter's career.While Gold Glove awards are subject to much more than defensive prowess (witness my all-time favorite Kirby Puckett's 6 awards), I think Torii passed our own eye-test as elite. In Hunter's 9 Gold Glove seasons his average DWAR was <1 (including marks of 0.2, 0 , -0.1 and -0.2). In contrast, Denard Span's last year year (post concussion) with the Twins earned a 2.4 DWAR, higher than any mark in Hunter's career. I would hope that a career of over 1500 games as a centerfielder would be sufficient to minimize SSS and adequately reflect a players true defensive potential.

 

SEASON DWAR AWARDS
1998 -0.3
 
1999 0.4
 
2000 -0.1
 
2001 2.3 GG
 
2002 -0.2 GG
 
2003 1.9 GG
 
2004 2 GG
 
2005 1.1 GG
 
2006 0 GG
 
2007 0.2 GG
 
2008 -0.1 GG
 
2009 1.4 GG/SS
 
2010 -1.1
 
2011 0.2
 
2012 1
 
2013 -1.5 SS
 
2014 -2.4

The Captain won gold gloves when he could barely move.....GG mean NOTHING.

    • LaBombo and big dog like this

A bigger question is why would any FA pitcher want to play with this horrendous defense behind them?? Its embarrassing and Terry Ryan owns it. Can't wait to listen to Ryan's blathering and blasting young players in the media when these guys are 15 games under .500 in June like he has nothing to do with it.

 

Hunter will be batting 4th on opening day. That should tell you all you need to know about how useless this FO is.

Perhaps this is not the correct place for this argument, because I do the correct discussion is just how bad Hunter'sdefense is. However, what I would like as a companion discussion to the metrics' description of Torii Hunter's 2014 defense as 'league worst' is why they have never recognized that Hunter is an elite defender. For example, shown below are the DWAR numbers for Hunter's career.While Gold Glove awards are subject to much more than defensive prowess (witness my all-time favorite Kirby Puckett's 6 awards), I think Torii passed our own eye-test as elite. In Hunter's 9 Gold Glove seasons his average DWAR was <1 (including marks of 0.2, 0 , -0.1 and -0.2). In contrast, Denard Span's last year year (post concussion) with the Twins earned a 2.4 DWAR, higher than any mark in Hunter's career. I would hope that a career of over 1500 games as a centerfielder would be sufficient to minimize SSS and adequately reflect a players true defensive potential.
 
SEASON DWAR AWARDS
1998 -0.3
 
1999 0.4
 
2000 -0.1
 
2001 2.3 GG
 
2002 -0.2 GG
 
2003 1.9 GG
 
2004 2 GG
 
2005 1.1 GG
 
2006 0 GG
 
2007 0.2 GG
 
2008 -0.1 GG
 
2009 1.4 GG/SS
 
2010 -1.1
 
2011 0.2
 
2012 1
 
2013 -1.5 SS
 
2014 -2.4


Keep in mind defensive metrics are a recent development. UZR, for example, was first developed in 2003 IIRC, and has undergone a couple fairly major revisions since then. Other metrics are even younger. So DWAR for years prior to that is based on, um...not sure. Can't seem to find an answer.

I would not sign here as a FA SP for a one year make good contract. It looks to be bad out there on defense. We can disagree on how bad, but does anyone think the OF defense will be anything other than bottom 5?

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Winston Smith
Dec 03 2014 10:02 AM

Only a band aid with very little stick-um on it.

 

What's the plan Terry?Where are you going with this team?

    • LaBombo likes this

So what will Hunter's real value be to the team ?Only time will tell.Some times we ask why the Twins signed player A instead of player B.Maybe player B didn't want to sign with the Twins.

Nice article. Good breakdown on the advanced metrics.

 

I'd like to see Hunter vs. 'an average RF' not the best RF advanced metrics has EVER seen.

 

It's like comparing Oswaldo Arcia to Babe Ruth.

 

"Yeah...Oswaldo just doesn't seem to be as good as Babe."

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Parker Hageman
Dec 03 2014 10:10 AM
So DWAR for years prior to that is based on, um...not sure. Can't seem to find an answer.

 

 

Pre-UZR calculations used Total Zone Rating as the defensive measurement for WAR. 

 

http://www.baseball-...otal_zone.shtml

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Brock Beauchamp
Dec 03 2014 10:14 AM

So DWAR for years prior to that is based on, um...not sure.

magic.gif

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, USAFChief, gunnarthor and 1 other like this

I would not sign here as a FA SP for a one year make good contract. It looks to be bad out there on defense. We can disagree on how bad, but does anyone think the OF defense will be anything other than bottom 5?

Not sure.  It could turn out ok if some things break right.  Hicks could be a good defender in left, maybe Buxton rushes to the majors.  

 

In any event, I doubt most players put much stock in defensive numbers.  Fangraphs had a few articles on that last year and most players don't know about WAR, UZR etc.  But a lot probably think "hey, Hunter, he's good."  And leave it at that.

If you were a SP trying to resurrect your career.......would you come here with Arcia in LF, Hunter in RF, and ???? in CF? A guy on a 1 year deal, with upside, would you come here?

    • LaBombo, jokin and nytwinsfan like this

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