by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It’s not that Tommy Hunter has been terrible, but there are definitely signs that he may not be long for the closer’s role. Let’s take a look at his performance, as well as the two most likely replacements:
He has converted 9 of 10 saves, while also seeing his strikeout rate improve (8.49 K/9). However, the latter is unrealistic given a 7.3% SwStr% and it will likely regress before long. While he’s shown good control, his 2.31 BB/9 is actually a regression from the past few seasons (though he only has walks in two of his outings).
While the regression in strikeouts and the potential home run issues are worrisome (something that’s always been there), the control is there and he also has been plagued by a bit of poor luck (.353 BABIP). Of course, we can also point to an 89.7% strand rate, showing good luck, and we get concerned all over again.
So what’s the bottom line with Hunter? He should continue to be a solid reliever, but there is a bit more bad than good in the underlying marks. While he should hold the job, for now, it’s easy to imagine him hitting a rough patch and being lifted from the role. That, of course, assumes that the Orioles feel someone else could run with the job.
He owns a 0.75 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, so it makes sense that his name would be put into the discussion. However, lefties have a .294 average against him in 2014, a trend that has been there throughout his career:
- vs. Right-Handed Hitters – .197/.271/.293
- vs. Left-Handed Hitters – .248/.303/.432
If there are all righties coming up he would clearly be a good option, but you can bet on opposing managers clearing the bench of lefties. He’s more of a specialist, and that’s going to make him tough to rely on.
This is the first season where the southpaw has worked out of the bullpen exclusively and, thus far, it appears to suit him. He currently owns a 0.93 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. There has been some luck involved, with a minuscule .189 BABIP, but there also is potential in some of the other numbers.
Thus far he owns a 6.52 K/9, but everything screams of an improvement:
- Velocity – up to 93.8 mph
- SwStr% – 11.6%
It makes sense, and should result in a major improvement in his strikeout rate. While he’s not going to maintain an 83.3% groundball rate, he has a career mark of 57.2% which will obviously limit his exposure to home runs. Throw in improved control (3.26 BB/9) and he could bring the total package.
Before we think he’s more of a matchup play, he’s fared equally well thus far:
- vs. Right-Handed Hitters – .180/.304/.308
- vs. Left-Handed Hitters – .138/.167/.138
He certainly has the potential to run with the job, if given the chance, and could easily be first in line if/when Hinter stumbles. For those desperately looking for saves, now is the time to stash him.
Source – Fangraphs