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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:

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

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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

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?

 

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.

 

Don't bother calling Terry Ryan for help, Chief.  Has he even publicly addressed the OF defense specifically as an issue of priority for the offseason?  When he mentioned the OF, he said he "needed a veteran RH bat." Nothing about a glove.  As Parker intimated about the Twins OF defense, he's "not that concerned" and "he doesn't trust the advanced stats."  If he's that detatched from the reality of the situation, I'm wondering if Jack Goin even bothers to present a case in this regard any longer. I know he let it out that he sees Sano as possibly debuting in the majors in the OF-  HIS RECORD SHOWS HE HASN'T PLAYED A SINGLE GAME IN THE OF IN THE MINORS! (puzzling, to say the least).  And we're now looking at the very possible reality of Ryan counting on the third Opening Day attempt being the charm, by possibly starting out, yet again, with Aaron Hicks and his rather "adventuresome" CF defense.

    • LaBombo and Sconnie like this
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TheLeviathan
Dec 03 2014 10:36 AM

Even if comparing Hunter to Heyward isn't fair, there seems to be universal consensus by Tigers fans, metrics, and video evidence to indicate he's basically a butcher out there now.

 

It's precisely the wrong kind of player for this team to add, especially with young pitchers on the way.

    • LaBombo likes this

If Hunter could still play defense.....wouldn't the Tigers have kept him, or Seattle have signed him?

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?

Sure.  If I was the Twins I'd say, "look what happened when Hughes, a flyball pitcher, came to us. 3rd best AL pitcher in WAR."  

Don't bother calling Terry Ryan for help, Chief.  Has he even publicly addressed the OF defense specifically as an issue of priority for the offseason?  When he mentioned the OF, he said he "needed a veteran RH bat." Nothing about a glove.  As Parker intimated about the Twins OF defense, he's "not that concerned" and "he doesn't trust the advanced stats."  If he's that detatched from the reality of the situation, I'm wondering if Jack Goin even bothers to present a case in this regard any longer. I know he let it out that he sees Sano as possibly debuting in the majors in the OF-  HIS RECORD SHOWS HE HASN'T PLAYED A SINGLE GAME IN THE OF IN THE MINORS! (puzzling, to say the least).  And we're now looking at the very possible reality of Ryan counting on the third Opening Day attempt being the charm, by possibly starting out, yet again, with Aaron Hicks and his rather "adventuresome" CF defense.


Is it possible Goin's advice to Ryan doesn't concur with the general consensus here at TD?

Perhaps they don't think corner OF defense makes as much difference as is assumed.
    • birdwatcher, gunnarthor, nicksaviking and 1 other like this
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TheLeviathan
Dec 03 2014 11:03 AM

Is it possible Goin's advice to Ryan doesn't concur with the general consensus here at TD?

Perhaps they don't think corner OF defense makes as much difference as is assumed.

 

Then very strong cases can be made that they are very, very wrong.

    • Mike Sixel and Hosken Bombo Disco like this
You don't even need metrics to think this is a bad idea, defensively. Dude is turning 40 next year. And while he has been a steady hitter, he's not a high upside one -- was this team's top priority really replacing Willingham's 110 OPS+? Didn't we have a lot of thse hitters last year?
    • LaBombo and tobi0040 like this

 was this team's top priority really replacing Willingham's 110 OPS+? Didn't we have a lot of thse hitters last year?

Actually, no.  Santana, Vargas, Dozier and Plouffe.  That was it.

You don't even need metrics to think this is a bad idea, defensively. Dude is turning 40 next year. And while he has been a steady hitter, he's not a high upside one -- was this team's top priority really replacing Willingham's 110 OPS+? Didn't we have a lot of thse hitters last year?


That's why I don't like the deal. It has little to do with corner OF defense.

He's not going to move the needle much anywhere, and IMO he probably represents the only position player addition for the winter of any consequence. He's just another "veteran innings eater" disguised as an OFer.
    • JB_Iowa, birdwatcher, Mike Sixel and 1 other like this

Parker,

 

You do fantastic work.Can you please submit your resume to the Twins?Seriously.

 

Are you able to isolate Hunter's defensive metrics at home and on the road the last two years?There is a suggestion on another thread that Comerica is the sole issue, not Hunters defense.

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nicksaviking
Dec 03 2014 11:39 AM

Great stuff Parker.

 

Still, Hunter catches that fly ball in TF.That is unless he started out playing two feet off the warning track.Comreica needs a rangy RF, Target Field has less need of one.

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?

I agree with everything in your post but how bad is still relevant.  I don't see why the assumption is that Hunter will go to right and Arcia to left makes any sense.  I see Hunter going to left. Hunter might be bad there but Willingham and Nunez were monumentally bad.  Being 5th worst is still going to save some runs over worst.  Plus Hunter's last two years offensively were way better than Willingham's.  We will not escape the bottom 5 until Buxton makes the scene.  Only three outfielders so the replacement of one slow guy with one of plus, plus speed will make a world of difference. This is just a stop gap and while I wasn't in favor of the deal it represents improvement offensively and defensively when simply comparing Hunter to Willingham.   

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Parker Hageman
Dec 03 2014 12:03 PM
Still, Hunter catches that fly ball in TF.That is unless he started out playing two feet off the warning track.Comreica needs a rangy RF, Target Field has less need of one.

 

Are you able to isolate Hunter's defensive metrics at home and on the road the last two years?There is a suggestion on another thread that Comerica is the sole issue, not Hunters defense.

 

 

I cannot isolate home/road splits for defense. It's possible someone at Inside Edge or another company can do this but I do not have access to that.

 

One observation in watching film of him this past year is that he plays deep. This make him very good at going back on balls (as we've all seen make plays at the wall) but bad at those that fall short. 

Jason Heyward's defense is so good--They traded him.

Actually, no.  Santana, Vargas, Dozier and Plouffe.  That was it.

Sorry, I meant ~110 OPS+.Our whole lineup was basically that last year.Some might regress, true, but I don't think another hitter at that level with no upside and questionable defense was our top priority.

Jason Heyward's defense is so good--They traded him.

 

For a pretty good pitcher with 3-4 additional years of control. $$$ was a huge factor there.

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Willihammer
Dec 03 2014 12:44 PM

One observation in watching film of him this past year is that he plays deep. This make him very good at going back on balls (as we've all seen make plays at the wall) but bad at those that fall short.


That's certainly something to keep in mind too. An out on a 190 foot foul fly ball can't be worth as much as a 400 footer to the gap. Not that playing deep is always the optimal spot to be...

If you are worried about his Defense just remember we have Schaefer available to deploy in the late innings of a game and the Twins RF is smaller than Detroits RF.Does this make everything better??? no but it does minimize the negative impact of his decline in the OF the best we can.Also Torii can still drive in 80-90 RBI's next season and that too will negate some bad plays.Overall this is the best we could hope for a 1 year contract from a solid player.Now its time for the real debate who plays CF next season Santana or Hicks and will Parmalee be outrighted with the Hunter signing? 

    • kellyvance likes this

This might be premature to say. But, suppose they decide to rush Buxton along a little and have an outfield of Hicks in left, Buxton in center and Hunter in right with perhaps Rosario in the mix too competing with Hicks. I do like the sounds of Hunter being in the mix mentoring this group.

 

In this scenario, maybe Arcia and Dozier are traded for a top of the rotation starter to give us a 1-2 punch to go with Hughes. Polanco or Escobar or both take over at second base.

 

Maybe mid season Sano gets the call up an Plouffe is traded for a solid bullpen arm.

 

I would find the above scenario at least more interesting to watch.

    • kellyvance likes this

Byron Buxton definitely could have gotten to the ball that Torii let drop in the gif. He also would have ended up with a separated shoulder. 

    • Mike Sixel, shs_59, woolywoolhouse and 2 others like this

people really need to end the bashing on this.

 

Maybe come mid april The Twins IN MOLITOR WE TRUST- will move Torii to DH full time...Ke

 

Kennys Vargas should start the yr in AAA . While Rosario, Buxton, Sano, Kepler and others are hopefully tearing more so than toiling in AA..... I think ABW should start off in FSL untill someone from AA moves up to AAA.

people really need to end the bashing on this.

 

Maybe come mid april The Twins IN MOLITOR WE TRUST- will move Torii to DH full time...Ke

 

Kennys Vargas should start the yr in AAA . While Rosario, Buxton, Sano, Kepler and others are hopefully tearing more so than toiling in AA..... I think ABW should start off in FSL untill someone from AA moves up to AAA.

 

Vargas had a .772 OPS for the Twins.He does not have any defense to work on.Not sure why he would be at AAA

    • LaBombo and Sconnie like this

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.


Ok... That GIF is awfully damning. If I saw Hunter do that in a Twins uniform... I'd be pissed at him for a week... At least.

Regardless... It's one play... He'd have to Delmon Young a few like that before I gave up and say he's a butcher.

On the defensive metrics... Outfield metrics are dominated by the routine ball.

Make one mistake on one routine ball and you are immediately put into a UZR hole that is impossible to climb out of.

It's like ERA for a RP that's throws three or five innings a week. One bad day where you give up 8 runs in a third of an inning... it's going to take a bunch of scoreless innings to correct it and that will take a while if you only throw a couple of innings in a week.

UZR is the same... One bad play... One botched ball in a high percentage zone is like giving up 8 runs in a third of an inning for a pitcher and your chances to correct it are overwhelmingly routine leaving you only a couple of non routine plays a week to make a dent in the bad UZR number,

Shift to the wrong spot at the behest of coaches and have the shift cause a ball to land in a zone where the ball is normally caught and you are in a big UZR hole.

Everybody is catching routine balls... catching the routine ball fixes nothing in the UZR world once one routine ball is misplayed.

I've never consider Torii to be a range guy but I will not use UZR data to support my hypothesis. It's flawed... Half cooked uselessness at this point. The fluctuations from year to year is an obvious indicator of its flaws.

To me... Defense is all about moments. Can you make the play when the pitcher and team needs it? Torii used to be pretty good at that... Let's see if he still is at age 57 or whatever.
    • kellyvance likes this

Ok... That GIF is awfully damning. If I saw Hunter do that in a Twins uniform... I'd be pissed at him for a week... At least.

Regardless... It's one play... He'd have to Delmon Young a few like that before I gave up and say he's a butcher.

On the defensive metrics... Outfield metrics are dominated by the routine ball.

Make one mistake on one routine ball and you are immediately put into a UZR hole that is impossible to climb out of.

It's like ERA for a RP that's throws three or five innings a week. One bad day where you give up 8 runs in a third of an inning... it's going to take a bunch of scoreless innings to correct it and that will take a while if you only throw a couple of innings in a week.

UZR is the same... One bad play... One botched ball in a high percentage zone is like giving up 8 runs in a third of an inning for a pitcher and your chances to correct it are overwhelmingly routine leaving you only a couple of non routine plays a week to make a dent in the bad UZR number,

Shift to the wrong spot at the behest of coaches and have the shift cause a ball to land in a zone where the ball is normally caught and you are in a big UZR hole.

Everybody is catching routine balls... catching the routine ball fixes nothing in the UZR world once one routine ball is misplayed.

I've never consider Torii to be a range guy but I will not use UZR data to support my hypothesis. It's flawed... Half cooked uselessness at this point. The fluctuations from year to year is an obvious indicator of its flaws.

To me... Defense is all about moments. Can you make the play when the pitcher and team needs it? Torii used to be pretty good at that... Let's see if he still is at age 57 or whatever.

 

No more of that Ole BS.

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=4ccUDrB_8jQ

    • ashbury likes this
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Parker Hageman
Dec 03 2014 02:50 PM
Everybody is catching routine balls... catching the routine ball fixes nothing in the UZR world once one routine ball is misplayed.

 

 

Completely understand your plight against UZR but your comments seem to overlook the fact that Inside Edge's numbers based on video scouts confirm what his UZR is saying. Likewise, raw batted ball data is also suggesting he is not able to cover as much ground as the top defenders. I believe those three lenses provides a clear picture about his level of defense in 2014. 


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