The Baltimore Orioles have given fans quite a roller coaster ride over the last couple of years with ending a 14-year consecutive losing season streak with back-to-back winning seasons, including a playoff berth in 2012, but the latest dip in the coaster came courtesy of the team walking away from its agreement with free agent closer Grant Balfour due to something the team doctors saw in his shoulder during his physical. Today we examine why Tommy Hunter would not be the best internal option to replace Jim Johnson as the team's closer.
Hunter has been a great story as he came over to Baltimore, along with Chris Davis, from Texas in exchange for Koji Uehara a few years ago and was originally a starting pitcher. Towards the end of the 2012, the Orioles decided to make him a reliever and it has appeared to be a phenomenal decision.
He pitched pretty effectively at the end of 2012, but 2013 presented Hunter with his first full season as a reliever and he flourished. He posted a career low 2.81 ERA in 68 appearances and 86 1/3 innings, while also posting a career low 0.985 WHIP. He served as both a 2-3 inning guy as well as a late inning option and accrued six wins as well as four saves.
Pretty good numbers right?
His numbers are pretty good as a reliever, but the question is whether or not he is a good internal option for the closer's role in Baltimore now that Johnson is no longer with the team.
We do not believe so, and here's why.
Despite a very successful first complete season as a reliever, there are still some alarming statistics that show he would not be the best option as the primary closer.
We all know that Hunter is known for giving up the long ball, but he did do a better job of keeping the ball in park in 2013; however, all 11 home runs that Hunter allowed in 2013 were against left handed hitters. In addition to the homers, left handers also hit over 150 points higher against Hunter than right handers did (LH hit .294, RH hit .141). Of course when the average is higher, so is the on base percentage and lefties got on base at a .322 clip against Hunter in 2013.
The big split is not just a one year thing with Hunter, left handers have a career .294 average against Hunter as well as a .343 OBP and have hit 59 home runs, which is 25 more than right handers have.
It's not just that left handers hit him extremely well, but in his career, Hunter has posted a 4.05 ERA when pitching in relief with no days rest, meaning pitching in back-to-back games, which is often the case for a closer. He has also posted a 3.31 ERA when pitching in relief with just one day of rest, which is better, but still not what you want from your closer.
If Baltimore does not sign a free agent closer or acquire one via trade, we do not believe that Hunter is the best internal option as a full time closer. Ultimately, the best route may be to simply matchup in the ninth inning or ride the hot hand at the time as Darren O'Day and Brian Matusz also have some split issues that would make you think twice about handing either of them the job.
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