With training camp opening in a few days, it is time to shift our pre-season preparations into full gear. What better way to do that than to kick off our annual player previews? And what better way to start the player previews than by placing the microscope on the Angels' leader, Torii Hunter? Is this the year that Hunter finally starts to feel his age? Or can a new defensive position and some lineup reinforcements rejuvenate Torii after a disappointing finish to his 2010 campaign?
2010 Stats: 573 AB, .281 AVG, .354 OBP, .465 SLG, 76 R, 23 HR, 90 RBI, 9 SB
2011 ZiPS Projections: 506 AB, .273 AVG, .340 OBP, .460 SLG, 72 R, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 13 SB
2011 Bill James Projections: 569 AB, .272 AVG, .340 OBP, .457 SLG, 81 R, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 11 SB
2011 Marcel Projections: 515 AB, .272 AVG, .340 OBP, .450 SLG, 81 R, 22 HR, 98 RBI, 11 SB
2011 MWaH Projections*: 550 AB, .278 AVG, .350 OBP, .460 SLG, 90 R, 25 HR, 101 RBI, 7 SB
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: Even though Torii Hunter put up strong numbers in 2010, it is ultimately a year he would probably like to forget. The season got off on the wrong foot for Torii before he even played a single game as he got caught up in controversey after a he made poorly worded comparison between Latin players and African-American players. He should of known right then and there what a frustrating season it was going to be. Hunter ended up starting the year at a torrid rate offensively, but after Kendry Morales went down, the pressure to perform began to build. Torii handled being "the guy" well at first, but as time went on, it simply became too much for him to take on. The real tipping point for Torii came, oddly enough, at the All-Star break when he played the role of host and recruiter throughout the festivities. He admitted how much energy that took out of him afterwards, and it was plain to see in his play that he never really recovered. It certainly didn't help that Hunter had to also swallow his pride and move out of center field (where is play was clearly slipping) to make way for Peter Bourjos. It was a noble move and a great piece of leadership, but Hunter clearly needed some time to get used to it. All these factors eventually led to Hunter grinding out a mediocre second half as he tried fruitlessly to keep the Angel offense from imploding around him. By the end of the season, he was so visibly tired and frustrated that you just wish the Angels could have sent him on a week vacation to recharge his batteries and clear his head so that he could come back strong, both physically and mentally, next season.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- Is old age finally catching up with Hunter? Torii turns 36 during this coming season and that is old for a pro player no matter how you try and spin it. We already saw how Father Time robbed Torii of his legs, necessitating his move to right, but did he leave enough for Hunter to still be productive offensively? Hunter barely seemed to have the energy to play the full 2010 campaign, but maybe his new, less demanding defensive position can buy him some reprieve. Or maybe it won't matter at all and 2011 will be the season that Torii's bat slows down as much as his legs did the year before.
- Has Torii fully accepted his defensive demotion yet? To his credit, Hunter said all the right things about moving to right last season, but his play in the second half suggested that he may not have been as totally committed to the idea as he led us to believe. Hunter is a proud competitor, so nobody could blame him for thinking he still has the chops to be an elite center fielder, but maybe getting a winter away from the game to digest everything will give him enough acceptance about this new stage of his career so that his defensive position won't be a point of distraction anymore.
- Can he pull his head out of his ass on the basepaths? This probably isn't the biggest of concerns heading into the season, but it is a pet peeve of mine (and I am probably not alone). Hunter made some truly mindboggling baserunning decisions, so dumb that even Vladimir Guerrero probably had to blush, and they simply need to stop. He is the leader of this team and he has to set a better example than that, so how about no more steal attempts of third base, eh, Torii?
What to Expect in 2011: It is almost unnerving just how similar all the projections for Hunter are. That kind of consensus is awfully hard to ignore, but I'm going to do my best. I am clearly more bullish on Hunter than anyone, but I think have some pretty good reasons. First and foremost, I think the full-time move to right field will do Torii a world of good. Not only was Hunter running himself ragged due to the normal demands of playing center, but he was also pushing himself beyond the call of duty to try and make up for the lack of range of Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu. Now Torii will be able to conserve his energy and focus more on keeping himself healthy and that should be big for him as he tries to extend his prime for one more year. And the Angels realize this too, which is precisely why they have talked only of having Wells move to center if Bourjos fails, and not moving Hunter back. Hunter should also be the big beneficiary of having Kendry Morales back and Vernon Wells added to the mix. For most of last season, Hunter was literally the entire Angel offense. Now he should have a lot more help and those reinforcements should allow him to stay focused and pressure-free mentally in the batter's box. I think that all adds up to Hunter staving off the moderate offensive decline the sabermetricians are expecting, even if it only lasts one year.