Thursday, February 19, 2015

Twins by position: Right field

Torri Hunter's hitting improved
after he left the Twins as a free agent
after the 2007 season. 
The most irritating aspect of the Twins offseason is the blithe assertion that Torii Hunter remains a good defensive outfielder.

Hunter, of course, was a perennial Gold Glove center fielder in his first go-around with the Twins. Now he's 39 and has played strictly right field since 2011, when he was with the Angels. The Twins will move Oswaldo Arcia to left to make room for the veteran.

Both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor, during the press conference at which they paraded the signing, dismissed the defensive metrics that rank Hunter at the very bottom of regular outfielders. And they did so in a manner that suggests that they don't get it.

I am not claiming that the new-age measurements of defensive range and effectiveness are perfect. They aren't. But the flaws in the various systems are, if anything, minimized in the case of Hunter.

The metrics won't tell us much about the Twins shortstop contenders. The most devoted adherents of the metrics say the numbers need time -- three years of regular play. Neither Eduardo Escobar nor Danny Santana have enough time to make the numbers meaningful as an evaluation tool. In their cases, the eyeball test remains necessary.

Hunter is a different case. He has had three years of regular play -- three years of steadily declining proficiency. In 2012, (this is Baseball Info System's runs saved measurement) he was four runs to the good; in 2013, he gave away nine runs; last season, he was 17 runs worse than the average right fielder.

Ryan and Molitor don't care what the numbers say. We watched him play 30 or so games, the new manager said at the press conference, and he made the plays.

What the new manager is saying, in effect, is: We trust our subjective judgement in a fraction of the games more than an objective measurement over the full season. That makes little sense to me.

Nor does Ryan's insistence that the Twins outfield defense last year was acceptable or even good. It wasn't. The objective numbers tell us that, of course, but so did the eyeball test. It makes me wonder if the Twins have gone so long playing slow and awkward corner outfielders -- Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham, Chris Parmelee, Arcia, Chris Colabello -- that they've lost track of what a good corner outfielder looks like.

Outfield defense was, emphatically, part of the problem last year (and the year before that). The day is long past when Hunter could repair that. He may not look as misplaced in the field as Willingham did, but he will still be part of the problem.

And the problem won't be solved until the general manager and manager acknowledge that there's a problem.

1 comment:

  1. While I am no big fan of bringing Hunter back, in this case Ryan is likely more right about Hunter defensively, than you are. Defensive metrics are often very misleading especially at the margins. There are of important defensive attributes that either not measured by defensive metrics or not measured very well by them. Throwing, positioning, taking good routes, just making the plays you should make, are all things Hunter can still do. Playing half of his games in a park that doesn't require great range will help as well.

    More importantly, Hunter is merely a bridge to the next wave of outfielders. It is entirely possible that 2 of Hicks, Buxton, Rosario will be big league ready at some point this season. Further shortening the amount time Hunter will spend in the Twins outfield. I think all the blogging I have read about the negative effect of Hunter's defense is rather silly. I doubt if he gets to 100 games in the outfield this year, unless the Twins are actually in contention all year AND Hunter is actually providing a good part of the reason they are in contention. Otherwise, I imagine there should be young outfielders pushing him to the bench by the 2nd half of the season.