On my Blog, The Fantasy Baseball Generals, at fantasybaseballgenerals.blogspot.com, I gave you guys a shout-out for the podcasts. Most I find to be useless or lacking entertainmnet, you guys do a good job. I also write a weekly column in the fantasy focus blog of The Hardball Times, and I will try to mention you guys there. Here is the post on my blog, a post on Torii Hunter:
Needless to say Hunter has been a huge surprise, one of the top five fantasy players this year. As of this moment he is at 14 HR 53 RBI 10 SB .312/.351/.571. I must have missed it when he turned into Justin Morneau. I was listening to the Baseball Geeks podcast (which is one of the very few worth listening to) and they were mentioning the Player Track rankings, with which I am not familiar. So I took a look and sure enough Hunter was ranked at number 2 (!) Can he maintain this pace or anything close to it?
He has a 34% hit rate. This should, in theory, revert back to his career norm, and he has almost always been in the 29% or 30% range. However, unlike is the case for pitchers (who in most instances will revert to form) a great hitter can maintain a hit rate above 30%; they are simply talented enough to do it. Hunter though seems unlikely to maintain his .312 BA. 34% is out of the normal range for him and well outside of the normal "noise" one would expect from a statistical perspective. He has never shown the skills to be one of those top hitters that can maintain a hit rate above 30%. He does have a solid but not spectacular 81% contact rate, has a 0.32 BB/K rate which is on the low side for an elite hitter and a 6% walk rate.
Looking at The Hardball Times, in the last three years his BABIP has been .298, .294 and .297, very close to the generally expected standard. This year?? .335, well above. He has dropped his GB percentage to 41% from the 49% range. Moreover, he has an astoundingly low 2.6% ratio of infield flies to fly balls and and 18.2% HR/FB rate. This HR rate, incidentally, is in line with his 2006 rate of 18.6%.
Overall, in my mind, we have the picture of a guy who should hit around .280 or .290 not .312. However, the power appears legitimate as a repeat of last year when he hit 31 HR 98 RBI with 12 SB tacked on for good measure. So I expect a drop in batting average, but a possible continued maintenance of his power, though any significant correction to his flyball rates will adversely impact his HR total.
Could anyone have seen this coming? Here were the preseason projections from BaseballHQ and Baseball Prospectus, my two main sources of projections:
HQ: 29 HR 98 RBI 17 SB .275/.327/.484
BP: 19 HR 74 RBI 14 SB .279/.337/.467
Shandler noted that he had a reliability score of 77 out of 100, and commented that he was "Past Peak." BP had him with a 0.91 Beta score, which is their measure of the forecast's volatility. A score less than 1.00 means it is more reliable than average. So I think it is fair to say that no one saw this coming, even after last year's power spike that Torii has maintained. The average/OBP/SLG forecasts are very similar, but the HR and RBI forecasts were very different; Shandler was much closer to what is occurring; he projected a maintenance of Hunter's power gains, whereas BP forecast a regression to the mean.
I have to admit that Hunter is one of my favorite players, and was on my first high-stakes championship team. He is an exciting player and it would be great to see him contend for an MVP award. So far he is superficially on track to do so, and if he keeps up his current paces the combination of his defense reputation and some resurgence of the Twins to contender status could put him in the mix.
On the other hand, J.P McIntyre wrote a column on The Hardball Times discussing the best players at their positions by Win Shares, the now famous/infamous Bill James metric, as adjusted by Dave Studeman at THT to Win Shares Above Bench. Hunter, surprisingly, is NOT in the top three; it is Vlad, Magglio Ordonez and Grady Sizemore. In fact he is not even close. Hunter is at a mere 5, which is not even in the top 20. At least relative to his league mates, he apparently is more valuable in fantasy than in real baseball.
From a fantasy perspective, according to BaseballHQ, Torii has been worth $37 in a traditional roto and $33 in a 5x5, Vlad is at $30 and $27, and Sizemore is at $38 and $36. So in fantasy terms Hunter has been equal to Sizemore and better than Vlad. Moreover, as mentioned above, according to Player Track at playertrack.com Hunter is second overall to A-Rod in fantasy value.
It is a great run so far, but one that is likely coming to an end. He should maintain his power, but should drop off in his BA/OBP/SLG. The steals will likely track his BA drop since he will have less opportunities, but 20 SB should be within his grasp. I hope it continues, though since I love Hunter even though he isn't on my team, heretical though that seems!