As the Angels embark on game 30 of the season fans of the club have likely noticed an alarming trend. The Halos have somehow amassed a 16-13 record despite a middle of the order that has produced very little offense all season long. While Vernon Wells (deservedly so) has been a lightning rod for much of that criticism. One could argue that outside of a hot opening week and a half, Torii Hunter has been equally as bad if not worse. Since seeing his average at a season high .317 on April 10th , Hunter has gone 13 for his last 66 good for a .196 batting average. What may be worse is that he has hit into a league leading 11 double plays on the season. Many of these like in yesterdays’ first inning ( 2 on, 1 out) have come in key situations and have stopped rally Monkeys dead in their tracks.
Let’s take a look at just how accelerated Torii’s double play pace is trending and also examine what can be done to keep the twin killings to a minimum.
Hunter is hitting into double plays at a record pace. For his career the most double plays Hunter has hit into was 23 back in the 2004 season with the Minnesota Twins. The all time MLB record for double play balls in a season is 36 held by Jim Rice. With 11 (GIDP) through 29 games Hunter is currently on pace to shatter that mark and astoundingly hit into over 50 double plays! Think about that for a second and keep in mind that the double play is easily the single biggest rally killer for an offense. If Hunter had merely just struck out a few times rather than hit into 11 double plays then the guy behind him ( albeit Vernon Wells) would have had a chance to bat with a runner on base and possibly do some damage.
So how can this madness stop?
Well it first starts with Torii’s approach. His struggles at the plate draw a direct correlation with his increased double play rate. Hunter has gotten overly pull happy and rolled over on pitches on the outer half all season long. The result of this is a pathetic resume of ground balls hit to the left side. When you also take into account that Hunter has clearly lost a step, you see another reason for the drastic increase in twin killings off his bat. Maybe in years pasts Hunter beats out a few of the softer hit balls and extends the inning, but at 35 years old and having played on Astro Turf to start his career that is no longer realistic.
The second key to reducing Torii’s double play rests with Mike Scioscia, we’ve complained all year long that Mike Scioscia has not run enough this season deviating from his usual aggressive base running approach. Well the case of Torii Hunter and the double play is yet another reason for Scioscia to get back to his running ways. Hunter has hit either 3rd or 4th all year meaning that generally the men on base when he has hit into the double plays have been some of the Angels speed threats ( Maicer Izturis, Peter Bourjos, Bobby Abreu and Howie Kendrick). Scioscia should start the runners early in the count with Torii at bat to stay out of the double play. Until Torii improves his approach and starts driving the ball the other way this is the short term fix. The book is out on Hunter and his pull happy ways so pitchers will continue to pound him away and the double plays will only mount. By sending runners with Torii up in double play scenarios the Angels will be able to extend innings and keep Hunter out of the hall of shame.
After all , some records were meant to be broken and some were meant to be owned. For Torii’s sake let Jim Rice be the King.