We’ve been hearing for a little while now that it looked like Torii Hunter was headed to either the Tigers or Rangers, who are both coincidentally possible playoff position rivals of Hunter’s recent Angels squad. It turns out Detroit had more to offer, and as a result they have locked up the veteran outfielder for two years and $26 million. Hunter is now 37 years old and will certainly play right field as Austin Jackson continues to handle center and become one of the more underrated commodities in baseball.
Hunter picked the right time to get back on the free agent market, as his long-term deal with the Angels happened to expire right after the most valuable season of his career per FanGraphs’ WAR. Hunter chocked up 5.3 WAR thanks to a solid .356 wOBA season at the plate and defensive work that UZR feels is much improved. It’s long been a temptation for many to think of Hunter as a star or something close to one, but there are a lot of reasons to believe the extended flame of his career may be snuffed out sooner rather than later.
First off, Hunter’s offensive season has all the earmarks of a fortunate one. Hunter set career highs in wRC+ (130) and batting average (.313) while posting the second highest wOBA of his time in baseball. He did all of this while actually seeing his walk rate sink from the very respectable 8-9% range it had stalled at for several years to a paltry 6.5%. On top of that, the outfielder benefited from an insane .389 BABIP that is a far cry from his .307 career mark, and he posted the highest full season strikeout career he has so far. So, in other words, Hunter did more things wrong at the plate than he usually does and came away from it smelling like roses.
There’s always the chance Hunter’s defensive skills have finally started to show marked improvement in right field, but there’s probably a better chance that UZR did one of those things where it really likes a player for a small sample size. And hey, with UZR almost any sample size is too small. It seems likely that Hunter will suffer a downturn in 2013 as he creeps closer and closer to 40. He absolutely won’t have this kind of luck again for a second consecutive season, and his skills had already showed signs of visible erosion. That doesn’t necessarily mean this signing is a bad one for the Tigers, as the club needed a Major League player to man an outfield corner and compliment the big three (Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder) at the plate. It’s a short-term deal and the annual average is hardly embarrassing, so the Tigers may get adequate value even if Hunter slips back to his expected range of production.