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Former Twins Cooperstown Case: Torii Hunter


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While some other former Twins are making their ballot debuts, Torii Hunter gets his second chance at Cooperstown glory. Does he have a case for the Hall of Fame?

Two years after winning the 1991 World Series, the Twins took an athletic high school outfielder from Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hunter struggled mightily in his pro debut by posting a .503 OPS in 100 at-bats. Hunter moved quickly through the team’s system and spent nearly all of the 1996 season at Double-A, where he got on base over 33% of the time. 

Entering the 1997 season, Baseball America ranked Hunter as baseball’s 79th best prospect. He improved his OPS by over 150 points, including a tremendous Triple-A debut with a .891 OPS. Hunter appeared in seven games for the Twins between 1997-98, but the 1999 season was his first full season at the big-league level. As a 23-year old, he struggled offensively as he hit .255/.309/.380 with 28 extra-base hits in 135 games. 

One of the biggest reasons for his struggles was related to how the Twins were coaching him. Coaches told him to keep the ball on the ground and use his speed. “I was really bred to be a leadoff guy,” Hunter told The Athletic. “I felt like I had more, but I didn’t want to be un-coachable. I just did what I was told to do, but I felt like I was in prison. I had much more in me, but they wouldn’t let it come out of me. It was my fault. It wasn’t until 2000 I realized who I was and became who I thought I could be.”

From there, Hunter established himself as one of baseball’s best center fielders on both sides of the ball. He posted a 108 OPS+ in eight seasons from 2000-2007. Hunter was the heart and soul of the Twins teams that helped save the franchise from contraction. However, his career wasn’t entirely defined by his time in Minnesota, as he spent multiple seasons in Los Angeles and Detroit. 

His final resume puts him in the conversation for one of the best center fielders in baseball history. He won nine straight Gold Glove awards, the third-highest total of any center fielder in history. Hunter led the league in center field assists three times. He was named to five All-Star Games and won two Silver Slugger Awards. During his 19-year career, he hit 20 or more home runs in 11 seasons. From 2001-2013, he averaged 23 home runs and 12 steals per year while posting a 115 OPS+.

He helped teams to the playoffs in eight different seasons, including trips to the American League Championship Series with three different organizations. Even with multiple opportunities, his teams were never able to make it to the World Series. In those 11 Postseason series, he hit .274 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 48 games.

Even with his accolades, Hunter is going to have a tough time making a case for Cooperstown. His closest comparison on the ballot is Andruw Jones, who has been slowly gaining traction. Last year, Jones was in his fourth year on the ballot, and he received 33.9% of the vote. Hunter received 38 votes which accounted for 9.5% of the vote. Jones was one of the best defenders in baseball history, but Hunter’s offensive numbers may help him as voters get a more extended look at his candidacy. 

Hunter has more hits than 11 of the 19 center fielders already enshrined in Cooperstown. His 353 home runs rank even better as he is ahead of 13 of the 19 players in center. Unfortunately, his .277 batting average would be the lowest average among enshrined center fielders, and his 110 OPS+ is lower than 17 of the 19 center fielders. 

Hunter's career is tough to analyze because he was a great fielder early in his career and a much better hitter in the second half of his career. He will always hold a special place in the heart of Twins fans, but it doesn’t look like Cooperstown will be calling anytime soon. 

Do you think Hunter will be elected to Cooperstown? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES 
David Ortiz
Joe Nathan


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No - making the Twins HOF is great, making the overall HOF is not where he belongs no matter how much we enjoyed him.  I am just glad he is on the ballot another year so we can think about him.  Being on the ballot is often much better than being elected.  Election stops the discussion, but think about how much publicity Bonds and Clemens have had.  If they had been elected we would stop talking about them.  Rose and Shoeless Joe are much better remembered than their contemporaries.  

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I feel Hunter will be another either late ballot guy or vet addition.  He counting numbers are not as high many in the hall, but his defense was elite for so long.  He had the nick name of spider man because of how many HR he would rob.  It was not until much later in his career did I feel he made much of an offensive threat though.  

Personally, I used to call him captain double play because he seemed to hit into so many double plays when bases were loaded and 1 out.  I get he was coached to hit the ball on the ground early in his career, but with less than 2 outs I never wanted to see him hit with bases loaded.  With 2 outs, he was one of my favorite guys to see with bases loaded.  He was never the fearful offensive guy, and had his defense not been so elite he would have never played long enough to develop his offense like he did later in his career. 

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I feel like he is just short.  Another 800 or so ABs might have given him enough counting stats accross the board.  I did an analysis on him a while back.  I think Tori had 6 All Star appearances.  8 seems to be the number for guarenteed enshrinement.  With those extra 800 or so AB Tori could push his career extra base totals to over 900.  His career steals to 200 his career hit total to over 2600 and his RBI total to over 1525.  At that point he would have a case as an all round player with his 9 gold gloves and media and fan favorite.  Where he is at now, I put his odds in the 10 to 20 percent chance range. One thing he has going for him is i doubt anyone suspects him of using steroids back then.  While he was only a 110 OPS hitter he did that against alot of steroid users so that may help his case.  Was he really 110 or was he a 125 against a nondoping field? How much did steroids affect the competition during his career?  I think if this narrative gets pushed alot his odds go up.

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I think of myself as a Large Hall guy, and for some reason Torii doesn't register with me the way some others that I bring up (Lou Whitaker, Vada Pinson) do.  Probably I need to get on the bandwagon.  But, in the real world, not Ash's Hall, he's pretty much the definition of borderline. and there are a lot of candidates who also need attention and votes.  So I'm not high on his chances.

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It would be really problematic for me if he was elected to the HOF.

One, his offensive stats just aren't good enough (imagine putting him in the HOF alongside Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr.).

Two, his defensive accolades were largely a result of his pure speed being able to make up for terrible routes, bad positioning and poor reactions; as soon as age took away his wheels, he became a RF and not a particularly good one at that.

Three, imagine electing to the HOF in 2021 someone who said he would have problems if he knew he had gay teammates. That he got elected to the Twins Hall of Fame with that commentary already on the record is really problematic; it would not reflect well at all on the league if they elected that guy to the Major League Hall of Fame as well.

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6 hours ago, RonCoomersOPS said:

 

Two, his defensive accolades were largely a result of his pure speed being able to make up for terrible routes, bad positioning and poor reactions; as soon as age took away his wheels, he became a RF and not a particularly good one at that.

 

Disagree strongly with all the above. Torii Hunter was a fantastic CFer. He took great routes, which combined with his speed and fearlessness led to lots of extra outs.

 

That said, I think he falls a little short of Cooperstown. 

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To me, there have always been two distinct criteria when I examine if someone is a HOF player.

1] Pure production, and that can be defensively as well as offensive numbers.

2] When said player played, was he amongst the best in MLB at his spot for a number of years. That allows for variances in the game over the decades.

As to #2 first, I don't feel I'm a fan or a homer when I state that he was one of the very best CF in MLB for a good 6-7yrs, and a solid RF for a few more.

As to point #1, his accolades and production numbers in the OP are worth re-reading again, and I'd invite you to re-read them again yourselves, as I just did again before continuing on. 

Not going to re-hash them all, but the GG's, the assists, All Star selections, consecutive seasons of HR production etc. Hits and HR BETTER than 11 and 13 of 19 CF already enshrined? ALL of this screams HOF to me.

BUT, I think he's a later, veterans type of selection due to 2 things:

1] His first couple of seasons were non-descript offensively and he had a few injuries that held him back.

2] His actual BA and career OPS, despite some very good numbers, probably hold him back.

I think he's worthy, or at least in serious conversation. And I'd have him on my ballot. But I feel he just comes a little short, especially today when criteria like OPS have become such a profound measuring stick. I do hope he makes it at some point and if so, I don't think anyone can say he doesn't deserve it.

**A quick aside: I'm late on the Nathan OP but just wanted to star that a decade ago Nathan has almost no chance based on perspective and past voting. But with changes not only within the game, but his numbers/production and perspective changes, he should absolutely be a HOF selection at some point. And it's not just about save numbers, it's about dominance, production and numbers for about a decade.

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Hunter's not even close in my book. He had a very long career, but was steady "good" rather than great. 5x All Star in 19 seasons just doesn't get it done. Hunter's very best season is the average season for the 7 year peak of an average hall of famer.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hunteto01.shtml

Hall of Fame Statistics

Gray Ink
  Batting - 29 (1020), Average HOFer ≈ 144
Hall of Fame Monitor
  Batting - 58 (371), Likely HOFer ≈ 100
Hall of Fame Standards
  Batting - 34 (249), Average HOFer ≈ 50
JAWS
  Center Field (36th):
    50.6 career WAR | 30.8 7yr-peak WAR | 40.7 JAWS | 3.5 WAR/162
  Average HOF CF (out of 19):
    71.9 career WAR | 44.8 7yr-peak WAR | 58.3 JAWS | 5.4 WAR/162
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8 hours ago, RedBull34 said:

I wonder if he will eventually be looked upon more favorably since his peak was in the heart of the steroid era, but as far as I know, never got caught up in that controversy.

Maybe, but it didn't help better players than Hunter like Fred McGriff.

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On 11/26/2021 at 1:52 PM, USAFChief said:

Disagree strongly with all the above. Torii Hunter was a fantastic CFer. He took great routes, which combined with his speed and fearlessness led to lots of extra outs.

 

That said, I think he falls a little short of Cooperstown. 

Torii Hunter, from 2002 to 2015, was good for all of 23 defensive runs saved above average according to Fangraphs. If you throw out 2002 and 2003, he was good for -11 defensive runs above average. Yeah, sure, he might have been a world beater from 1998-2002, but we don't have that data.

Hunter also turned in pretty poor range runs above average for most of his career, too. Fangraphs has him at -7.4 range runs above average for his entire career, in fact. For the last 8 years of his career, he posted only one above league average season according to this metric.

And, if you look at Hunter's Inside Edge Fielding numbers (which, admittedly, were only collected during his last few years in the league), you'd see that he was really only consistently good for converting likely or routine plays into outs.

I hate to say it, but the numbers point to Hunter not getting many (if any) extra outs nor preventing many runs relative to his CF peers for most of his career. He made some great plays thanks to his wheels and it's nice to over-remember them, but once his wheels started to give out his advanced numbers kind of really expose the bad routes and the bad positioning.

I've no doubt he falls short of Cooperstown. He might even fall quite a bit short of New York.

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On 11/26/2021 at 9:39 AM, 21bdp21 said:

Hall of very very good borderline hall of Fame. If hall of fame it's for fielding. 

Agreed, but Andruw Jones is the best defensive centerfielder ever (he also has 434 HR's) and doesn't look like he'll get voted in. If Jones doesn't get in, there's no road for Torii to get in. I'd vote yes on Jones, no on Torii. 

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On 11/26/2021 at 10:39 AM, Brandon said:

I feel like he is just short.  Another 800 or so ABs might have given him enough counting stats accross the board.  I did an analysis on him a while back.  I think Tori had 6 All Star appearances.  8 seems to be the number for guarenteed enshrinement.  With those extra 800 or so AB Tori could push his career extra base totals to over 900.  His career steals to 200 his career hit total to over 2600 and his RBI total to over 1525.  At that point he would have a case as an all round player with his 9 gold gloves and media and fan favorite.  Where he is at now, I put his odds in the 10 to 20 percent chance range. One thing he has going for him is i doubt anyone suspects him of using steroids back then.  While he was only a 110 OPS hitter he did that against alot of steroid users so that may help his case.  Was he really 110 or was he a 125 against a nondoping field? How much did steroids affect the competition during his career?  I think if this narrative gets pushed alot his odds go up.

Generally 60 WAR is the line. If under 60, you're looking for extra reasons to put that guy in. (postseason heroics? underrepresented position? Early injury/high peak guy?) Over 60, you're looking for reasons to NOT vote that guy in. (PED's, Schilling's politics, Pete Rose)

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3 hours ago, dex8425 said:

Generally 60 WAR is the line. If under 60, you're looking for extra reasons to put that guy in. (postseason heroics? underrepresented position? Early injury/high peak guy?) Over 60, you're looking for reasons to NOT vote that guy in. (PED's, Schilling's politics, Pete Rose)

Tori checks lots if extra boxes for reasons to be in the Hall.  Minority, great with team mates, media, loved by fans, winner, so if you can justify with counting stats like 900XBH or 2600 hits or 525 2Bs or 375 HRs 1500 RBI, 9 gold gloves and 200 career steals.  All of which were within possibility with 2 more seasons, Torii would be in the Hall.  With 800 or so more ABs he would likely hit or been close to those numbers ....

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11 minutes ago, Brandon said:

Tori checks lots if extra boxes for reasons to be in the Hall.  Minority, great with team mates, media, loved by fans, winner, so if you can justify with counting stats like 900XBH or 2600 hits or 525 2Bs or 375 HRs 1500 RBI, 9 gold gloves and 200 career steals.  All of which were within possibility with 2 more seasons, Torii would be in the Hall.  With 800 or so more ABs he would likely hit or been close to those numbers ....

Agreed, but I don't think Torii has either the high peak or overall counting stats to be in. Kenny Lofton has 68 WAR and is not in the HOF. Jim Edmonds-8 gold gloves, 393 HR's, 60 WAR, not in HOF. If Andruw Jones (62 WAR) and Jim Edmonds can't get in, Torii (50 WAR) has no chance. 

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1 hour ago, dex8425 said:

Agreed, but I don't think Torii has either the high peak or overall counting stats to be in. Kenny Lofton has 68 WAR and is not in the HOF. Jim Edmonds-8 gold gloves, 393 HR's, 60 WAR, not in HOF. If Andruw Jones (62 WAR) and Jim Edmonds can't get in, Torii (50 WAR) has no chance. 

I agree he doesn't have the stats.  He needed at least 800 more AB with around a .730ish OPS minimum to get there.  and even then he would just be at the bottom of the line of qualifying this way.  

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