Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Streak: Torii Hunter

This is a little bit less than some of the previous posts here, it has been a ridiculously busy week. Hopefully, we'll be back to full length stuff next week. Thanks for reading!

Torii Hunter brought a 21-game hitting streak into last night's game against the White Sox. Javier Vasquez kept him hitless through his first three at-bats, but he extended the streak to 22 with his game-tying RBI single in the eighth off of David Aardsma. Hunter has always been known as a streaky hitter but this hitting streak is by far the longest of his career.

The streak started off on April 11 against the Yankees when Hunter went 2 for 4 with two doubles. Since then he has extended the streak nine times in his first at-bat of the game, while he has only waited until his last at-bat twice to get a hit. This streak includes Hunter getting hit in the mouth in Kansas City in his first at-bat of that game and having to leave. Since he did not have an official at-bat, the streak stayed alive. Thus, Hunter has the statistical oddity of having a 22-game hitting streak over 23 games.

Over the course of the streak, he has put up a line of .378/.406/.678 while the rest of the Twins have hit .274/.335/.370. Obviously Hunter has been responsible for a large portion of the Twins power over the last month. In fact, Hunter has almost a quarter of the extra base hits (17 for Hunter, 60 for everyone else) in less than 10% of the plate appearances. Hunter has hit five homeruns during his streak, the rest of the Twins have mustered only ten. Hunter's BABIP is an astronomical .426 in this stretch which is as impressive as it is unsustainable. (Derek Jeter had the highest in the majors last season at .391). Over his career Torii's BABIP has always hovered around the league average, and I would be surprised if it doesn't level off and return to that point as the season goes on.

During the streak Hunter is hitting .314 (11 of 35) with runners on base and slugging .600 with 4 doubles and 2 homeruns, which is pretty good under normal circumstances but actually represents a dropoff from his overall hitting over this period. This is probably why his Win Probability Added (WPA) during this streak isn't as large as you might think, in 22 games, he actually has a negative WPA (-3.7%). Still, he has certainly come up with some big hits, including the game-tying RBI last night and a grand slam off of Jeff Weaver in Seattle.

As I metioned in the introduction, Hunter has always been known as a streaky hitter. Since 2002, Hunter has 3 (now 4) hitting streaks of 10 games or more. Most notable of these are the two streaks in May of 2006 which were separated by a single 0 for 4 game. Comparing Hunter's current streak to these others, I feel comfortable saying that we haven't seen Hunter hitting the ball this well for this long in the last five years. Getting on base is another matter, the other streaks all seemed to correspond with a nearly 1:1 SO/BB ratio, but clearly Hunter has been his free-swinging self during this streak. This actually worries me a little bit, because if and when this streak ends, if Torii goes into one of his cold spins, he doesn't appear interested in working the count and being at least a reasonably patient hitter, which could bode for an especially difficult time ahead. Alternatively, he's just seeing the ball so well right now that he is best served by going up there hacking, and once he cools off a bit, some patience will result. Having seen Hunter's approach at the plate for several years, I hope it's the latter, but I fear it's the former.

4/11 to 5/8/072290341205173
5/3 to 5/13/0610391740275.436.500.692
5/15 to 5/27/0611401420177.350.438.475
9/7 to 9/20/0411401530286.375.468.600

Of course, the longer Hunter keeps this amazing pace going, the better for the Twins. In the four streaks outlined above the Twins record is 32-22 (.593). That is certainly a pace that Twins fans could live with given some of the struggles thus far this season. Enjoy it while it lasts, hopefully we'll see a couple more long hot streaks from Hunter this year. After all, it is a contract year.

[UPDATE:] - Gleeman makes the point today that he thinks hitting streaks are a bit overrated, and I think some of the points I made above bear that out. I'd rather see Hunter hit lights out with guys on base and have some hitless games than extend his hitting streak with a meaningless infield single (like he did in the Red Sox series). It was nice to see that both Gleeman and I took note of the SO/BB discrepancy in this current stretch.

I thought it would be interesting to look at Hunter during one of his patented "hot streaks". But it turns out that maybe he's not exactly carrying the team on his back (witness the high SO total and the negative WPA).

[FURTHER UPDATE: 5/11] - Jesse at Twinkie Town looks at the streak now that it's over and comes to a lot of the same conclusions as I did. Torii's new streak starts tonight!


Corey Ettinger said...

I'm not certain your argument that Hunter isn't being patient hold too much water. Granted, he has never been a patient hitter, but so far this year his Pit/PA are the highest he's ever had.


He hasn't been taking many walks, but I'd say the quality of his plate appearances has remained steadily better than normal. He still doesn't take called strike one's very often, but he isn't swing at ball one as often either.

Obviously if he wasn't hitting as well the Pit/PA would also be higher

Ray Felix, III said...

Damn, and I was going to look up the pitches/PA stat. Those mental notes never seem to work as well as they should...

You make an excellent point. Allow me to ammend my argument to say that I'm not worried about the number of walks, because, like you said, that's not necessarily indicative of his overall approach. However, the high number of strikeouts to walks even in a stretch where he's clearly seeing the ball well is concerning to me.

He's hitting the ball solidly so it would seem that in order to strike out this much he's either swinging at bad pitches or watching good ones. So my real concern isn't over his patience (or his ability to take some pitches), it's more about his selectivity (his ability to differentiate betwixt good and bad pitches to hit).

Right now he's hitting the good pitches that he swings at. If that stops, and he's still showing poor selection, then we may be in for some dark days.

Corey Ettinger said...

I couldn't agree more.