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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

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

 

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

 

nice metaphor. You could also say, spray-on hair to conceal a bald spot (or try to)

 

and of course there's the proverbial, "lipstick on a pig."

I mean its one thing if you have 1000 AB's in AA and then go straight to the big leagues.

 

But 250 - 350 AB's or less in not enough in my opinion to make the jump straight from the Eastern League.

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. 

Dozier, May 28 thru end of season 2013: 119 wRC+.

 

Dozier, full 2014 season: 118 wRC+

 

The shape of the production changed a bit in latter half of 2014, but this level of performance is just fine for Dozier's "blossoming."  Remember, he was never a star prospect.

 

And I think those were adjustments he had to make in MLB too, not AAA.

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)

 

Vargas looks like a left tackle and will only get bigger as he ages.He has no defense to learn....his job is to hit and hit only.

 

In 2012 he has an OPS of 1.030. 

 

In 2013 he has an OPS of .813.

 

In 2014 he had an OPS of .832 at AA, with 17 HR's in 97 games at AA and the Twins decided he was probably ready.He responded by putting up an OPS of .772 and hitting 9 HR in 52 games.A pace of 28 for a full year at the big league level as a 23 year old  (162 games). He was second on the team in OPS. I can't say he won't ever need to go to AAA and refine something, but I think he needs to give the Twins a reason for a demotion.

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Hosken Bombo Disco
Apr 14 2015 12:29 AM

There was a play in the top of the 6th today. Fly ball deep right but it's a play outfielders make. Hunter clearly misjudged it in my opinion. Let's hope it's just a case of him still learning Target Field.

 

Based on how Hunter reacted, it looked like he thought the ball would hit off the wall and that his plan would be the "bluff" catch, slow down and hold up the glove, to fool the runner into thinking it was just a fly ball to the warning track. Which... is actually what it was. It landed on the warning track pretty close behind him. Here is a link to the play.

 

The reason this play bothers me is because if Hunter makes that catch, the score remains 2-1 with one out, runner on first. Granted May was about cooked at that point and things got worse later. But then again, maybe the Twins escape the 6th and the game stays close until the end.

 

Bonus information: When Plouffe left his position to chase down the errant relay throw, Oswaldo Arcia ran in to cover third base from left. I really like Arcia--he's almost half Hunter's age and goes all out every play. Arcia should be Plan A for right field in 2016.

    • Willihammer likes this

 

There was a play in the top of the 6th today. Fly ball deep right but it's a play outfielders make. Hunter clearly misjudged it in my opinion. Let's hope it's just a case of him still learning Target Field.

 

Based on how Hunter reacted, it looked like he thought the ball would hit off the wall and that his plan would be the "bluff" catch, slow down and hold up the glove, to fool the runner into thinking it was just a fly ball to the warning track. Which... is actually what it was. It landed on the warning track pretty close behind him. Here is a link to the play.

 

The reason this play bothers me is because if Hunter makes that catch, the score remains 2-1 with one out, runner on first. Granted May was about cooked at that point and things got worse later. But then again, maybe the Twins escape the 6th and the game stays close until the end.

 

Bonus information: When Plouffe left his position to chase down the errant relay throw, Oswaldo Arcia ran in to cover third base from left. I really like Arcia--he's almost half Hunter's age and goes all out every play. Arcia should be Plan A for right field in 2016.

Hunter didn't have a prayer to catch that ball. His error came on the misdirected throw to the infield.

On most teams, when a pitcher gives up a no doubt gopher ball, he is shown reacting by hanging his head in disbelief, or disappointment! When a Twins pitcher gives up any fly ball, his reaction is to hang his head in fear, knowing nothing good can come of this!

Hunter didn't have a prayer to catch that ball. His error came on the misdirected throw to the infield.


Any decent defensive RF could have caught that ball.

It did look to me like he took a bad route.
    • Willihammer likes this

 

Hunter didn't have a prayer to catch that ball. 

 

It's real hard to say with 100% confidence. You could be right... But... I gotta say... I think an average RF gets to that ball. I don't believe that ball lands in the KC Outfield. At the least... His Angle was wrong... At the worst... His range is strikingly below par. 

 

For me... It has taken 7 games (I've watched maybe 4 of those) for me to completely 180 on Hunter. 

 

I've gone from: These Defensive Metrics are half cooked... There is no way Torii is as bad as they say. 

 

TO: Holy Cow... Hunter really doesn't have much range at all out there... Using the eye test.  

 

I'm really trying to keep my feelings in check. I understand that everything is magnified in the first couple weeks of the season. Mistakes like these in July are typically Oh Welled away by the fan base because less are paying attention. I'm slapping myself in the face right now and saying... "Brian... Snap out of it... It's only 7 games".

 

It ain't working. 

 

To Follow up 3 dropped cans of corn on Sunday to what we saw yesterday in the home opener is going to shake most anyone up.

 

 

 

    • jimmer likes this

 

It's real hard to say with 100% confidence. You could be right... But... I gotta say... I think an average RF gets to that ball. I don't believe that ball lands in the KC Outfield. At the least... His Angle was wrong... At the worst... His range is strikingly below par. 

 

For me... It has taken 7 games (I've watched maybe 4 of those) for me to completely 180 on Hunter. 

 

I've gone from: These Defensive Metrics are half cooked... There is no way Torii is as bad as they say. 

 

TO: Holy Cow... Hunter really doesn't have much range at all out there... Using the eye test.  

 

I'm really trying to keep my feelings in check. I understand that everything is magnified in the first couple weeks of the season. Mistakes like these in July are typically Oh Welled away by the fan base because less are paying attention. I'm slapping myself in the face right now and saying... "Brian... Snap out of it... It's only 7 games".

 

It ain't working. 

 

To Follow up 3 dropped cans of corn on Sunday to what we saw yesterday in the home opener is going to shake most anyone up.

 

 

This is what needs to happen by July/August.

 

 

Buxton is in CF.Rosario or HIcks is in LF.Buxton shades whoever is in RF between Hunter and Arcia. I honestly think this makes our team 50 runs better just on defense.

If either Arcia or Vargas flounders at the plate, the other is the DH and we have an actual outfield.

 

 

    • Mike Frasier Law and jimmer like this

 

This is what needs to happen by July/August.

 

 

Buxton is in CF.Rosario or HIcks is in LF.Buxton shades whoever is in RF between Hunter and Arcia. I honestly think this makes our team 50 runs better just on defense.

If either Arcia or Vargas flounders at the plate, the other is the DH and we have an actual outfield.

Ah, c'mon, OF defense can't possible be responsible for THAT kind of difference;)

    • Mike Sixel and Willihammer like this

 

It's real hard to say with 100% confidence. You could be right... But... I gotta say... I think an average RF gets to that ball. I don't believe that ball lands in the KC Outfield. At the least... His Angle was wrong... At the worst... His range is strikingly below par. 

 

For me... It has taken 7 games (I've watched maybe 4 of those) for me to completely 180 on Hunter. 

 

I've gone from: These Defensive Metrics are half cooked... There is no way Torii is as bad as they say. 

 

TO: Holy Cow... Hunter really doesn't have much range at all out there... Using the eye test.  

 

I'm really trying to keep my feelings in check. I understand that everything is magnified in the first couple weeks of the season. Mistakes like these in July are typically Oh Welled away by the fan base because less are paying attention. I'm slapping myself in the face right now and saying... "Brian... Snap out of it... It's only 7 games".

 

It ain't working. 

 

To Follow up 3 dropped cans of corn on Sunday to what we saw yesterday in the home opener is going to shake most anyone up.

more converted.  welcome.

I'll also add... I'm not worried about Hunter's Throw at all. That's an Oops... It happens from time to time. 

 

The mistakes they are all making can be fixed... There will be a time when it starts coming together as much as it can and the Twins may even roll a decent winning streak or two this year.  

 

I'm just sitting here worried that the OF Range can't improve enough and the result of that will filter down to the pitching staff and inflate ERA's so everyone is will complain about the lack of pitching as well and I'll be sitting here thinking... Is it the Pitching staff or the lack of help they are getting.  

 

 

 

 

I'm just sitting here worried that the OF Range can't improve enough and the result of that will filter down to the pitching staff and inflate ERA's so everyone is will complain about the lack of pitching as well and I'll be sitting here thinking... Is it the Pitching staff or the lack of help they are getting.  

that's what's been happening the last couple years. no surprise it's happening again.  We had more than a full run difference between our ERA and FIP last year.  Easily the largest difference in the majors.

    • Willihammer likes this

 

that's what's been happening the last couple years. no surprise it's happening again.  We had more than a full run difference between our ERA and FIP last year.  Easily the largest difference in the majors.

 

Certain things can improve and others can't.Oswaldo Arcia is really, really slow.He has a lot going on and he tries really, really hard when going after a ball.Case and point, the ball that went off his glove (pop up he came in and towards the line).Gordon easily gets there.Most LF's really book after it and get to it.He sort of gets there and is so out of control when he does he can't locate the ball enough to catch it. 

 

To the point about FIP and ERA. That was not an error.We somehow only had credit for two errors.But the difference between 70 wins and 90 wins is a few plays a game that you either make or don't make.With the current roster, we are going to rank dead last in making the borderline plays.

    • Hosken Bombo Disco and jimmer like this

 

This is what needs to happen by July/August.

 

 

Buxton is in CF.Rosario or HIcks is in LF.Buxton shades whoever is in RF between Hunter and Arcia. I honestly think this makes our team 50 runs better just on defense.

If either Arcia or Vargas flounders at the plate, the other is the DH and we have an actual outfield.

 

If Buxton is tearing it up... By All Means... If Hicks has found the light bulb... By All Means... Same for Rosario. 

 

But I'm not a fan of calling up players to burn service time while learning on the job or out of desperation.

 

If what I've seen so far... Is actually what it is in the OF.

 

I think the Twins have to make an immediate trade for an elite defensive OF with Range/Speed. I don't care about the bat... Get someone who can run down the baseball.... Bring Revere Back... Bourjos in St. Louis... Anybody with elite defensive skill. Call Seattle and make a deal for Franklin "Death to Flying Things" Gutierrez... He's just sitting there with no hope in Tacoma.   

 

After the trade... Hunter will need to be an expensive 4th OF. Then we are going to need Mauer and Plouffe, Arcia and Vargas to step it up and replace what we lose offensively. Move Schafer to LF and Arcia to RF/DH.   

 

If Plouffe... Arcia and Vargas don't step it up... It will force the Need for Sano... regardless if he's still striking out at 98% clip.

 

If the Twins can't swing a deal... And the OF Range remains this bad. The Twins will also have no choice but to call up the kids... regardless if they are ready or not. 

 

OK... I've slapped myself again... It's just 7 games... Relax... 

 

Nope... It still isn't working. 

    • Hosken Bombo Disco likes this

 

Certain things can improve and others can't.Oswaldo Arcia is really, really slow.He has a lot going on and he tries really, really hard when going after a ball.Case and point, the ball that went off his glove (pop up he came in and towards the line).Gordon easily gets there.Most LF's really book after it and get to it.He sort of gets there and is so out of control when he does he can't locate the ball enough to catch it. 

 

To the point about FIP and ERA. That was not an error.We somehow only had credit for two errors.But the difference between 70 wins and 90 wins is a few plays a game that you either make or don't make.With the current roster, we are going to rank dead last in making the borderline plays.

Our horrendous OF defense (and really overall defense) was an obvious flaw going into this season.

    • Willihammer likes this
Photo
Hosken Bombo Disco
Apr 14 2015 09:22 AM

Hunter didn't have a prayer to catch that ball. His error came on the misdirected throw to the infield.

Yeah it was hard hit, but hard hit fly balls to the warning track get caught in MLB. A younger Hunter with more speed goes directly at it and catches it just fine. Yesterday Torii ran a perfect route for a ball hit 15 feet further and high off the fence.

I think he'll get better as the year goes on and his bat needs to fire up to justify having him, otherwise tobi's idea of Arcia/Hunter platoon-type situation sounds like the best solution.

Even the nice catch he had in the first few games of the season, (the sort of dive he had close to the RF line coming in on the ball), he hesitated on his initial break to the ball and when he was running to it he took forever to get to 'full speed'. That 'great catch' that passed some fans eye test would have been much easier for most RF.

Photo
Willihammer
Apr 14 2015 11:37 AM

It was really on stark display yesterday. Not to pick on Ozzie but right after he derffed that catch in short left, Gordon had a similar opportunity on the first batter of the next half inning. Caught.

 

And shortly after Hunter missed the fly ball in right field, Rios got a similar opportunity. Caught.

 

And that's not even counting Dozier who seemed too concerned about scoring style points for some reason, or Santana who looked glitchy on just about every play.

 

Robinson, Suzuki and Plouffe were the only ones that didn't goof at least one opportunity. (Unless I'm forgetting one)

    • jimmer likes this

 

It was really on stark display yesterday. Not to pick on Ozzie but right after he derffed that catch in short left, Gordon had a similar opportunity on the first batter of the next half inning. Caught.

 

And shortly after Hunter missed the fly ball in right field, Rios got a similar opportunity. Caught.

 

And that's not even counting Dozier who seemed too concerned about scoring style points for some reason, or Santana who looked glitchy on just about every play.

 

Robinson, Suzuki and Plouffe were the only ones that didn't goof at least one opportunity. (Unless I'm forgetting one)

Like Suzuki's Passed Ball?

    • Willihammer likes this

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