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Examining Torii Hunter’s Hall of Fame Resume

Ballots for the 2021 Hall of Fame are being mailed out this week to eligible voters. Last season, Derek Jeter and Larry Walker were elected, but this year’s ballot doesn’t have any locks like Jeter was a year ago. Three former Twins will make their first appearance on the ballot. While Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins have little chance of being elected, Torii Hunter’s resume is a little more intriguing.
Image courtesy of © Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports
Hunter was a first-round pick by the Twins back in 1993 and he went on to have a 19-year big-league career. Known for his defensive prowess, he won nine straight Gold Gloves from 2001-09. He was no slouch at the plate either as he hit .277/.331/.461 (.793) while being awarded two Silver Sluggers. He was selected to five All-Star teams and there were five times he finished in the top-20 for the AL MVP. Those numbers are only part of the Hall of Fame equation.

Center field is a tough position to judge when it comes to Hall of Fame credentials. Some of the game’s all-time best players like Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Ken Griffey Jr. played the position and this can skew the numbers a little bit. Overall, there have been 24 center fielders elected to the Hall of Fame, which means not everyone was of the same caliber as the names mentioned above. So, what does a center fielder need to do to get to Cooperstown?

JAWS, a scoring system used to measure a player’s HOF worthiness, helps to separate players at each position. According to Baseball Reference, “A player’s JAWS is their career WAR averaged with their 7-year peak WAR.” Hunter doesn’t exactly fare well when using JAWS as he ranks the 34th best center fielder. There are four HOF players that rank lower than him, but all of them played in the 1930’s or earlier. The players directly ahead of him on the list include Curtis Granderson, Ellis Burks, and Andrew McCutchen. None of those players scream that they should be in Cooperstown.

Andruw Jones is a player that might fit a similar mold to Hunter’s career. Like Hunter, Jones was known for his defensive prowess on his way to winning 10 Gold Gloves. In fact, Jones is one of only three center fielders with more Gold Gloves than Hunter (Mays- 12, Griffey Jr.- 10). Unfortunately, their trophy rooms might be the only thing that puts Hunter and Jones in the same HOF conversation.

According to JAWS, Jones is the third best center fielder that has yet to be enshrined in Cooperstown behind Carlos Beltran and Kenny Lofton. That puts him well ahead of Hunter’s JAWS total. What might be even more discouraging is the fact that players like Lofton (10th place JAWS) and Jim Edmonds (15th place JAWS) fell off the HOF ballot after only one appearance. Even Jones has struggled on the ballot as he reached 19.4% in 2020 in his third year of eligibility.

Hunter will always have a special place in the hearts of Minnesota Twins fans. His energy and leadership help to define the teams that put Twins baseball back on the map. Looking at the numbers, it’s hard to imagine he has much of a case for Cooperstown.

Do you think Hunter has a shot at Cooperstown? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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24 Comments

I don't think he had a good enough career myself. He was just brilliant and fun to watch but he falls somewhere between very good and HoF. There's nothing wrong with that type of career either. He was a special player for sure.
    • Dantes929, DocBauer and chinmusic like this
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IndianaTwin
Nov 16 2020 10:33 PM

I don’t think he has a chance, and I wouldn’t vote for him, though he can gladly start on my team as an excellent player. 

 

That said, I sent a note to a friend earlier this evening on the topic. Aside from Andruw Jones, an intriguing comparison is Omar Vizquel. In JAWS, Hunter is several points ahead of Vizquel. Vizquel is being carried by his defensive reputation and his 11 Gold Gloves, but he was a well-below average hitter, with an OPS+ of 82. By contrast, Hunter won nine Gold Gloves at a demanding defensive position with an OPS+ of 110.  Vizquel played for a long time and was on good-hitting teams that rolled through the lineup, so he accumulated more than 2800 hits, but he only had two seasons when he was above league average. 

 

With that, I’m not sure how one can vote for Vizquel and not give serious consideration to Hunter. And Vizquel has tracked at 37.0, 42.8, and 52.6 percent in his first three years, so he’s getting support. 

 

Personally, I think that says more about folks messing up on Vizquel than it does on people overlooking Hunter. By that same JAWS score, Vizquel is WAY below the shortstops that are represented. The three guys immediately below him are Rico Petrocelli, Andrelton Simmons, and Rafael Furcal. By contrast, Vizquel is well behind non-HOFers like Bert Campernaris, Jim Fregosi, and Nomar Garciaparra. 

 

Oh, and you referenced Kenny Lofton. He got jobbed in entering the ballot in 2013, along with first-year guys Biggio, Piazza, Schilling, Clemens and Bonds. Also on the ballot that year were Morris, Bagwell, Raines, Smith, Martinez, Trammell, and Walker, all of whom have since been voted in. Plus McGriff, Murphy, McGwine, Mattingly, Sosa, Palmeiro.

 

With all those guys and voters limited to 10 picks, there just wasn’t room for Lofton. He’s a HOFer in my book, and it will be interesting to see if he jumps in quickly when he gets a shot by the Veteran’s Committee.

    • Dantes929, mikelink45, dougd and 1 other like this
I guess if Harold Baines can get in, Hunter could. I’d be really surprised if he did, though. That doesn’t diminish his stellar career.

Also, I want to mention how absurd it is that Lofton and Edmonds fell off the ballot. They both deserve to be in, and it’s not particularly debatable in my opinion.
    • Dantes929 and mikelink45 like this

The most important aspect of the HOF is the discussion it generates like this one.Hunter was a wonderful player who deserves his Twins HOF - beyond that I never thought of him in a Mays, Clemente, Aaron level of player.I am a small HOF person so it there is my bias.

 

But at the same time McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, Rose continue to get attention because they are not in.Even old Shoeless Joe gets more attention than Simmons, Speaker, Heilmann who were his contemporaries and did get in.

I call it the Hall of Controversy.Keep them out and they will be talked about for decades, but them in and we move on to the next one.  

    • Dantes929 likes this

Torii was an excellent player and had a long run where he basically didn't turn in a bad season (12 years or so in a row is impressive). He didn't have much of a decline period (last two seasons didn't add anything to his resume) and was a clubhouse leader for most of his career as well.

 

The problem Torii has is he wasn't quite good enough to get to a bunch of milestones as a hitter, and was a bit overrated as a defender. (He won 9 Gold Gloves and defense is a huge part of his reputation...but he probably only deserved about half of those) He also didn't really have any signature seasons where he really tore it up; there's just no serious MVP-caliber seasons in there.

 

There have been worse players elected, but Torii just doesn't quite fall into the same class. He was a wonderful player, very good for a long time. A deserving all-star a few times. But I wouldn't vote for him for the Hall, as much as I loved him as a player.

 

Let's comp him to Kirby Puckett, another beloved Twins CF: they're bWAR is almost identical, but Kirby amassed his in 7 fewer seasons. Torii won more GG's, but Kirby also had 6 Silver Sluggers to go with it. Kirby had a couple of MVP-caliber seasons (arguably was robbed in 1992) and Torii never got to that peak. Kirby was still a quality player when his career was cut short, and won two WS, having a legendary Game 6 that is inscribed in baseball lore. Torii never got there.

 

Torii's just a cut below the HoF for me.

 

Andruw Jones is an interesting comp as well: similar length of career, a bit similar in defensive reputation...but Jones was legitimately elite for the start of his career in ways that Torii just doesn't match. Jones has 62.7 bWAR vs 50.7 for Hunter, and again: Jones played fewer seasons (2). Hunter was a more consistent player, especially on offense, but Jones had a much higher peak. I think it's clear that Jones was a better player for most of his career. Jones fell apart after 30 and Torii kept rolling along well into his 30's, but Jones' 20's were so incredible that he stands a cut above.

 

Torii Hunter had a great career, was a wonderful player, but he wouldn't get my HoF vote.

    • Dantes929, mikelink45 and Dennesey55347 like this

This is what Schoenfield says on ESPN - "Hunter: In a different era, a nine-time Gold Glove center fielder who hit 353 home runs and drove in nearly 1,400 runs would be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Not in 2020. Hunter's 50.7 career WAR will be an important factor for voters, and that figure is short for even a low-end, modern-day Hall of Famer. Hunter also had just one top-10 MVP finish, a sign that he wasn't quite viewed as a big star, despite his all-around excellence. It's also worth noting that some recent comparable center fielders haven't fared well in Hall of Fame voting:

Jim Edmonds: 60.4 WAR, eight Gold Gloves, off the ballot after his first year.

Kenny Lofton: 68.4 WAR, four Gold Gloves, off the ballot after his first year.

Bernie Williams: 49.6 WAR, four Gold Gloves, off the ballot after his second year.

Every team's best non-Hall of Famer

FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe looks at the HOF cases of the best player for each team who hasn't yet gotten into Cooperstown. League: ALInsider | NLInsider

The one center fielder who did stay on the ballot is Andruw Jones, who was chosen by 19.4% of the voters last year, his third time on the ballot. He won 10 Gold Gloves and is credited with 62.7 WAR. He hit more home runs than Hunter (434), but is behind him in RBIs and hits (although Jones has the better OPS). What separates Jones? He is viewed as a transcendent defensive player, right up there with Willie Mays as the best center fielder of all time. Indeed, the advanced metrics view him as far superior to Hunter, with 235 runs saved versus 33 for Hunter. In this case, I do believe the perception is correct and is reason enough to consider Jones while Hunter falls short."

    • Dantes929 and JLease like this

Who was the Twins best player not in Cooperstown?

 

WAR, which has been mentioned a few times, is a quick and dirty indicator to help suggest who should get closer scrutiny and who shouldn't. But for HOF purposes, the indicator I like better is WAA - Wins Above Average. On b-r.com it's basically WAR adjusted to take away a couple of "wins" each year to reflect an average player. As with JAWS, Torii doesn't fare too well with WAA - b-r.com ranks him 352nd all time among hitters that way, while WAR likes him a great deal better at 187th.

 

Basically WAR is an indicator of the ability to remain at the major league level, while WAA gives more of an idea of the ability to excel relative to his peers. WAA doesn't "penalize longevity" - Henry Aaron does just fine under either measure - but it does seem to weed out players who simply racked up workmanlike seasons.

 

For me, the difference drops Torii from "marginal HOF candidate" to "I'm not going to invest further thought." Sorry. Really good player, loved him on my team, but he's not going in.

 

/ edit - in answer to a question just above about who else on the Twins isn't in, Tony Oliva is an excellent counter-discussion. Tony's career was tragically short, and his WAR is lower than Torii's (43.1 vs 50.7) and yet his Wins Above Average is higher (20.2 vs 16.4). I'm not going to put a guy in the HOF based on one all-around number, but Tony's the one I would look closely at before Torii. Of course, Tony's been looked at closely, for decades now. Tough call IMO. I'd vote yes on him, but HOF is partly about emotion.

    • mikelink45 and JLease like this

Hunter is not MLB HOF level.He was great defensively over his career, but at the plate he was never a difference maker really.He never won an MVP or even up there in votes really.He was 6th in voting in 2002, his best career year.His longevity is something to admire.He should be in hall of very good, but not HOF.  

 

His peak years were good, but never great.He never had post season heroics that made him seem better than he truly was. Even when he hit in middle of Twins lineups he was never the feared guy you would never want to face.Overall he was just steady and good.Hunter was not normally considered the best player on his team either, being with Joe and Justin for years with Twins.Then vlad, bobby Abrue and others in LA.  

 

As much as I liked him for the Twins, I never once thought he was a HOF or future HOF players.The article states he is on par with McCutchen, who is still playing, and that writer suggest McCutchen is not HOF.If they are on par under the JAWS system, I would say McCutchen is more HOF level than Hunter as his peak years were better overall than Hunter's peak years.He has fallen off much more than hunter did, so that is where they are more on par now. 

    • mikelink45 likes this
Andruw Jones, Lofton, and Jim Edmonds probably deserve it over Torii. Great player, but not HOF worthy in my opinion. Of those mid 2000s teams, Johan Santana and Joe Mauer are the clear HOFers ti me, despite what the voters think
    • mikelink45 likes this
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strumdatjaguar
Nov 17 2020 10:48 AM
Torii was a great player for the Twins but not great enough to make HOF. The best Twins player (playing more than 4 seasons here) but not in Cooperstown would be Tony Olivia followed by Jim Kaat.

Torii Hunter was a wonderful player for the Twins but he is not a hall of famer.

 

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strumdatjaguar
Nov 17 2020 10:55 AM
If you want to get technical, the best Twins player not in the Hall of Fane is Joe Mauer. He will be there in his first few years of eligibility.

 

Who was the Twins best player not in Cooperstown?

Easy. Tony Oliva. Well, Mauer would be in that discussion as well but I think he'll get in. 

    • Dantes929, USNMCPO, D. Hocking and 2 others like this
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Dodecahedron
Nov 17 2020 11:42 AM

With Torii's stats, he needs a couple of WS rings to be considered a hall of famer. He won't get in.

 

Looking back at his stats now, I am even more underwhelmed by his numbers than I remember. His personality had a bigger impact than his production. For his personality to matter/be considered, he needed to win some championships.

Who was the Twins best player not in Cooperstown?


Other than Joe Mauer (who will certainly get voted in), it’s Johan Santana. I get he had a short career, but his peak was very similar to Sandy Koufax. From 2003-2010, he was overall the best pitcher in baseball (in my opinion). 2 time Cy Young winner, and should have won a third.
    • Monkeypaws, mikelink45 and DocBauer like this
Very good player. I just think if Jim Edmonds isn’t in, Hunter definitely shouldn’t be
    • Diesel likes this

 

Other than Joe Mauer (who will certainly get voted in), it’s Johan Santana. I get he had a short career, but his peak was very similar to Sandy Koufax. From 2003-2010, he was overall the best pitcher in baseball (in my opinion). 2 time Cy Young winner, and should have won a third.

I guess I would put Mauer, Morneau, Oliva, Kaat, maybe Nathan and maybe even Hrbek ahead of Hunter. I only brought it up originally because Mikelink post vaguely implied it might be Hunter.The best case for Hunter is still Baines.

    • mikelink45 and Diesel like this

 

I guess I would put Mauer, Morneau, Oliva, Kaat, maybe Nathan and maybe even Hrbek ahead of Hunter. I only brought it up originally because Mikelink post vaguely implied it might be Hunter.The best case for Hunter is still Baines.

 

If you're talking about the best Twin not in the HoF I'd say it's Mauer, Oliva, Santana, then maybe Hunter. The first three are worthy, IMHO and are a distinct cut above Torii, much as a I love him

 

Kaat is a complicated question...he's always felt borderline to me as a pitcher; a lot of his case hinges on his reputation as a great glove man, otherwise I think he doesn't get this kind of consideration. He wasn't a great run preventer and didn't have a lot of great seasons, but had quite a few good seasons and ate tons of innings. I might put Hunter ahead of him.

 

Nathan is also complicated: we still don't have great ways to measure relievers. Once he made the shift to the pen, Nathan wasn't just good, he was dominant. The only reason he's not talked about as the best reliever of his era was he overlapped with Rivera, who he matched fairly well with for more than the occasional season...but Rivera sustained it while Nathan really only had 9 great seasons as a reliever; Mariano had 17. I think it's a fair argument that Nathan didn't do it long enough. If SF had figured out that he should have been a reliever immediately...but they didn't, so Hunter is ahead of him too.

 

I loved both of these great 1Bs, Morneau and Hrbek but neither goes ahead of Hunter for me. Morneau got smashed down by that damn concussion and the injuries kept him from having the kind of length you'd need to go past Hunter. Hrbek was healthier and stayed consistently excellent at the plate for most of his career. (I still struggle with defensive numbers at 1B; bRef doesn't think much of Hrbek as a defender and would have Morneau about as good. Scouting and the eye test I think disagrees with that, especially early in their careers.)

 

Hunter was a heck of a player, just not quite HoF.

    • DocBauer and Diesel like this
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Cap'n Piranha
Nov 18 2020 06:32 PM

I want my HOF to be extremely inclusive.It should consist almost entirely of names that every fan of the game knows, even if only in passing.If an honest to goodness fan of the game can walk into the HOF, see a player's plaque, and go "Who?", then it's not a HOF.

 

To that end, some players who were not just good but excellent should be left out.I would rather my HOF err on the side of exclusion rather than inclusion, to ensure that no one sneaks in as a "we had to elect someone" choice.It is not a bad thing to have a year without anyone being elected.

Hunter remains one of my favorite players of all time. He's absolutely a Twins HOF and that's not even debatable. He was soon offensively and defensively for years and meant an awful lot to the Twins and no question he was very good to borderline outstanding most years. I wrote a piece in the forum a couple years back how his leaving the Twins had a trickle down affect on the Twins roster, trade moves, etc that really impacted the team with his loss. It took a long time to replace him. To a degree, you could argue they have yet to do so.

But despite all of that, I have to agree that no matter how good he was, he just isn't in that ML HOF category.
    • JLease likes this
Troll Hunter was about 2 seasons short of the Hall of Fame. While he had the Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers awards and gave lots of colorful interviews, the rest of his stats are just short of justifying getting him in. He had 2492 hits. I think being over 2700 minimum. 890 extra base hits. I think he needed to be at or near 1000. 1391 RBI. There are only a few players with more than 1525 RBIs not in. Also 5 stolen bases shy of 200. I think he was 800 to 1000 at bats away from accumulating enough counting stats to get him in. His career OPS was only 110. Above average but not great so he really needed the counting stats to help his cause.

Troll Hunter was about 2 seasons short of the Hall of Fame.

I suppose that's one way of looking at it. But he played until he was 39, so it's not like he retired early. He played long enough, and very well, but not quite well enough for HoF standards, and as a result he comes up "2 seasons short" because he needed to pack about 10-15% more into each of the seasons he did play. He didn't need 2 more seasons including the outs, he needed just the productive parts of 2 more seasons.

 

The 110 OPS+ pretty much sums that up. He was 10% more productive at the plate than average, which considering the average MLBer is damn good. But not HoF good.
 

    • DocBauer likes this

 

Troll Hunter was about 2 seasons short of the Hall of Fame. While he had the Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers awards and gave lots of colorful interviews, the rest of his stats are just short of justifying getting him in. He had 2492 hits. I think being over 2700 minimum. 890 extra base hits. I think he needed to be at or near 1000. 1391 RBI. There are only a few players with more than 1525 RBIs not in. Also 5 stolen bases shy of 200. I think he was 800 to 1000 at bats away from accumulating enough counting stats to get him in. His career OPS was only 110. Above average but not great so he really needed the counting stats to help his cause.

 

I think Torii needed 2 of his 3.5 bWAR seasons to be more like 7-8 bWAR seasons. and another 2 of those 3 bWAR seasons to be 5 bWAR. He was a 5-time all-star, and some of those were a little questionable. He never had a top 5 MVP finish, and frankly never deserved one. Torii only got MVP votes in 5 seasons and only once finished higher than 15th...and didn't really deserve to finish 6th that year, either.

 

Torii was very good and really valuable for a long time (having 12 straight seasons where you put up at least 3 bWAR is really valuable!), but the peak was never there. Not enough all-star quality seasons, no MVP caliber seasons...he's kind of the epitome of the Hall of Very Good.

    • ashbury likes this

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