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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

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.

I'm not sure one or two routine misplays make a guy worst in the league in UZR.

 

Also, many players can probably make a few outstanding plays to balance a couple botched routine ones.Hunter has probably done that for most of his career.If he started failing to do that the past 2 years, at ages 38 and 39, isn't that notable?

How about this for a thought.....

 

"It's year to year, but I plan on being there the rest of my career," Hunter said. "If I go hit .280 with 17 (homers) and 83 (runs batted in) again, I'm playing again. If I do that, I'm pretty sure the Twins will have me back."

 

http://www.twincitie...r-one-year-deal

 

Can anyone rule this out, 100%?

Berardino says the Twins won't offer Hunter more than $5 mil for 2016. :)

    • ashbury, nicksaviking and LaBombo like this
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Willihammer
Dec 03 2014 03:30 PM

I appreciate the chasm between lousy defenders and elite ones like Heyward. But for purposes of who the Twins could sign in free agency, here is how Hunter's 2014 season compares to the other OFers on MLBTR's top 50 FA leaderboard (I've also included Heyward just to emphasize what an outlier he is).

I threw out innings in CF and any player-position combo under 200 innings.

Anyone care to guess who is who?
 

 


Attached Thumbnails

  • Attached Image: FA Outfield inside edge defense.jpg
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HitInAPinch
Dec 03 2014 03:44 PM

I wouldn't do anything that would take Arcia out of RF.He's gotta improve his defense and moving him around isn't gonna help a bit, just like the rest of the young planers.

 

I just can't get over the $10mil contract.That's way over the top for a player/coach type guy.

    • Mike Sixel likes this

Berardino says the Twins won't offer Hunter more than $5 mil for 2016. :)

 

Hunter in 2016?

 

If guys like Buxton & Rosario are not patrolling the OF by 2016 it's going to be a whole lot longer than I thought before the Twins are championship contenders.

    • Mike Sixel, LaBombo and Sconnie like this

No more of that Ole BS.

Yeah... Torii!!! That isn't even close to how you coach it.

BTW... My iPad struggles to load video now and webpages constantly reload after the latest update. I'm pretty pissed at Apple right now.
I had to reboot my ipad after the last update to get video to work. Like, days later. Works fine now.

 

Quote

  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."

 

I guess I put more weight on the next two sentences used to conclude that paragraph.

 

 

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.

 

Videos, charts and gifs can provide comprehension and understanding for dry recitation of stats. Had I not viewed the full videos of the two examples, I would not have known the game situations were different. They were presented and described as being similar plays.

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.

i'd rather see the same outfield from September than see Arcia and Hunter in the same outfield. If you aren't going to improve in the key area for improvement, then why change? The hitting was top 5 scoring in baseball. Is the plan to have football game scores? Twins beat Pale Hose 27 to 25 night in night out?
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Dec 03 2014 06:35 PM

 

zH5YLR4.gif

 

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

 

 

Let me apply the "eye test" to this, and then get back to you.

    • ashbury, Mike Sixel, nicksaviking and 1 other like this

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.


LOL.. I'm not overlooking any facts... I'm just not digging for all of them.

Torii may very well be what is being presented... I'm not equipped to argue. I just can't resist the chance to rail on UZR since the stat is thrown around frequently.

Good work as always Parker. Ill be curious to watch Torii daily in 2015.
    • ashbury and nicksaviking like this

I'm not overlooking any facts... I'm just not digging for all of them.
 

You've had your skeleton and mop signature line for a while now.Maybe time for a new one? :)

    • Riverbrian likes this

I'm not sure one or two routine misplays make a guy worst in the league in UZR.

Also, many players can probably make a few outstanding plays to balance a couple botched routine ones. Hunter has probably done that for most of his career. If he started failing to do that the past 2 years, at ages 38 and 39, isn't that notable?

Its quite possible... However... It all comes down to percentages and weighting of.

If You misplay a ball that is coverted at 95% in a certain zone...The punishment is large. The majority of balls hit are handled in these high percentage zones.

You only have a few chances to make a low percentage play when you get high Percentage plays by the boatload.and those low percentage plays converted are less and less uncommon.

You simply can't catch up and when you consider how little low percentage data is available from week to week... Even month to month or year to year... It produces unstable swings in the result and therefore unreliable data.

Yeah... I'm not a UZR fan.

With that said... Torii may be what is being claimed. I don't know... I'm just not trusting of UZR at all.
    • glunn likes this

I appreciate the chasm between lousy defenders and elite ones like Heyward. But for purposes of who the Twins could sign in free agency, here is how Hunter's 2014 season compares to the other OFers on MLBTR's top 50 FA leaderboard (I've also included Heyward just to emphasize what an outlier he is).

I threw out innings in CF and any player-position combo under 200 innings.

Anyone care to guess who is who?
 

Player 3 was Willingham?

http://www.fangraphs...lter=&players=0

 

I don't know quite what to make of the numbers. Yes Hunter is at the bottom of the list. Compared to average numbers it looks like Hunter did't get to about 6-7 balls all season that an averageor above average outfielder would have. Expand the list out and you find for the time he was out there, Parmelee played an above average RF.

This is the article most directly about Torii's defense, so I guess this is the place to talk about it. The only actually reliable numbers we have to go on are the video scouts. They say that Torii converted an out on Converted outs at an 88% clip. The average fielder is not listed, since I'm guessing it probably undermines the intended point. Let's be charitable and say that the average fielder converts 93% of all chances. (The video scouts include impossible chances in their measure so nobody is going to be too close to 100%) Now, let's also say that every single ball put in play this year is going to go to right field. That means 100% would be 4374 outs over 162 games. The average right fielder is going to put 329 baserunners on due to fielding mistakes and general bad luck. Torii is going to put 596 baserunners on a game. 267 more baserunners allowed over the whole season. That's 1.6 baserunners a game if every single ball is hit to right field. It's barely enough to guarantee an extra run per game in that insane situation. 

 

This isn't to suggest that Hunter is the best or even a good fielder. It's to suggest that outfield defense is not worth the stress so many of you are putting yourselves through. Considering that Hunter has been at least 10% better than average on offense for the past 8 years, he's clearly a net positive, since he's guaranteed 3 chances a game to play offense. There's no guarantee that he'll get even that many chances on defense in any given game. Even if they have a recent history high 37% fly ball and 22% line drive, that still only gives Hunter a Maximum of 16 chances, with only 12 of those being realistic catches, thus a maximum of 1 or 2 that will fall in extra. Again, that's assuming that every line drive and fly ball is hit to right, and there are no strike outs. It's not so bleak, ya'll.  

Sorry LJhes, it does matter.   Your stats may all be correct but baseball is all about the difference in percentage.  A guy that gets on base 40% of the time vs one that gets on base 32% of the time means only 1 extra base runner every 3 games and that extra runner doesn't score all the time and even when he does it might no affect the outcome of the gamewhich is why WAR always seems to be such a small number but it all makes a difference in the long haul.  Next time you watch a series just picture Delmon Young in all 3 outfield spots for just one of the teams.  Odds are pretty good at least one of the games would have been turned on outfield defense.   I am only on boardwith this move because I think Tori is an upgrade over Willngam in both O and D  Now maybe it only means 5 more runs created and 5 more prevented but it is still improvement.

    • Kevin likes this

This is the article most directly about Torii's defense, so I guess this is the place to talk about it. The only actually reliable numbers we have to go on are the video scouts. They say that Torii converted an out on Converted outs at an 88% clip. The average fielder is not listed, since I'm guessing it probably undermines the intended point. Let's be charitable and say that the average fielder converts 93% of all chances. (The video scouts include impossible chances in their measure so nobody is going to be too close to 100%) Now, let's also say that every single ball put in play this year is going to go to right field. That means 100% would be 4374 outs over 162 games. The average right fielder is going to put 329 baserunners on due to fielding mistakes and general bad luck. Torii is going to put 596 baserunners on a game. 267 more baserunners allowed over the whole season. That's 1.6 baserunners a game if every single ball is hit to right field. It's barely enough to guarantee an extra run per game in that insane situation. 

 

This isn't to suggest that Hunter is the best or even a good fielder. It's to suggest that outfield defense is not worth the stress so many of you are putting yourselves through. Considering that Hunter has been at least 10% better than average on offense for the past 8 years, he's clearly a net positive, since he's guaranteed 3 chances a game to play offense. There's no guarantee that he'll get even that many chances on defense in any given game. Even if they have a recent history high 37% fly ball and 22% line drive, that still only gives Hunter a Maximum of 16 chances, with only 12 of those being realistic catches, thus a maximum of 1 or 2 that will fall in extra. Again, that's assuming that every line drive and fly ball is hit to right, and there are no strike outs. It's not so bleak, ya'll.  

 

You just recreated WAR, btw........

    • ashbury likes this

If that's the paper thin calculation of WAR, then it's absolutely useless. 

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nicksaviking
Dec 04 2014 03:41 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. 

 

He does play deep.At TF though that option is going to basically be taken out of his hands.You play deep in TF and you can still shake the 2B's hand.

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TheLeviathan
Dec 04 2014 03:53 PM

If that's the paper thin calculation of WAR, then it's absolutely useless.


Yup!

If that's the paper thin calculation of WAR, then it's absolutely useless. 

 

Really, you think that is the actual definition of how the defensive stats are calculated, as opposed to something headed that way? 

Lots of people don't think it is possible for Hunter to be "that bad"......anyone want to look at Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage this year, and explain how he "forgot how to shoot"?

http://espn.go.com/e...&pollId=4613070

 

 

a poll , nationwide, on what other sports fans (mostly educated fans) think of the Hunter to Twins move.

 

 

And in response to, tobi 0040who was questioning my Vargas to AAA notion, (citing his .761 ops for the Twins in 2014)

When has entirely skipping AAA ever been a good idea for the Twins? Brian Dozier hasn't even blossomed yet; if anything was dissapointing for me in 2014. after a great 2013.Hicks, is one of many many many examples that skipping AAA entirely is not a good idea.

The Twins needed a bat after they traded awway poor Kendrys Morales so they dug into AA to bring up Vargas , who did a great job. 

 

 But with torii on the roster i think its a better idea to have someone like Vargas in AAA. Where he can play everyday.And hopefully improve in some minor areas.

 

Hunter needs to DH at least once or twice a week. (if not more)


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