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Known mostly for his fielding, Torii Hunter had a career year at the plate in 2009, putting up a slash line of .299/.366/.508 in 506 PA, despite the fact that he battled injuries and spent some time on the DL. It was, by a comfortable margin, his best year at the plate, and he set career highs in multiple categories, including AVG, OBP, and OPS. Even OPS+ pegged it as his best offensive year to date.
His fielding, however, was a different story. Despite the fact that many still view him as one of the best in the league, and any time he makes a highlight-worthy play people will mention how great he still is, the numbers just don’t support it. We have UZR data going back to 2002, and Hunter has not had a season in that time worse than his 2009. His UZR peak came in 2003 with a 15.7, and he was equally as bad last season, posting a -17.9. Even OOZ saw his decline, with the 13 he posted his lowest showing by a wide margin. It is not a huge shock that Hunter would be losing a step, since he turned 34 last season, but it does illustrate one of the differences between the believe-their-eyes and the believe-the-stats crowd.
Looking forward may make people think I’m a broken record that see’s nothing but bad for the Angels, but I assure you neither of those are the case. To say I expect regression to hit Hunter in 2010, when I also said it about both Morales and Saunders, is not to say that I see regression everywhere and no one can ever improve. Instead, I let the numbers guide me on this, and I think in this instance they’re pretty clear. Not many players have a career offensive year at age 34 and then improve upon that the next year (at least, not naturally). To think, then, that Hunter will show at least a fair amount of regression offensively is not to go far out on a limb at all, I believe.
When it comes to the projection systems, ZiPS projects Hunter most favorably, seeing him with a .288/.350/.489 line and a .367 wOBA. CHONE is actually among the most optimistic, projecting a .272/.332/.465/.348, for a nearly 20 point gap in wOBA between the two. I’m more inclined to agree with CHONE on this, if only because they’re more in line with his career numbers, which I think Hunter will fall back towards. In both of his seasons in Anaheim thus far he’s posted numbers above his career averages, likely a result of Angel Stadium being a better offensive park than the Metrodome was. Given that, I think something in the .280/.345/.470 range is where Hunter will finish the season. Unfortunately, I can’t see his UZR suddenly improving, and as long as Hunter has the mystique of an excellent defensive CFer surrounding him, he’ll remain in that spot and cost the Angels some runs. He makes up for it with his bat, but at a premium defensive position like CF, it’s not in a team’s best interest to have a negative defender there. Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things we’re going to have to accept for the duration of his contract.