Torii Hunter, Right Fielder

A little over a week ago, I suggeted that the Angels should change their outfield alignment by promoting Peter Bourjos and giving him playing time that was being allotted to Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu (who could then both take DH time away from Hideki Matsui). By using Bourjos over the slow and aged, the argument was that they would get a significant improvement in their outfield defense and a peek at their future, as they’re staring at a pretty sizeable gap between themselves and the Texas Rangers.

Well, the Angels not only agreed with the assessment, but they’re taking it one step further; tonight, Bourjos will make his major league debut, and he’ll do so in center field. No, Torii Hunter is not getting a day off – the guy who has won nine consecutive Gold Gloves as a CF is playing right field for the first time since 1999.

Hunter has long been held up as an example of the questionable viability of defensive metrics by those who prefer visual analysis. His reputation is that of one of the game’s best outfielders, yet UZR has ranked him below average in CF for each of the last five years. The advanced metrics don’t think he’s terrible, just not anything special.

The Angels apparently agree, or at least don’t disagree very strongly. If they saw the difference between Bourjos and Hunter as minimal, they wouldn’t have bothered to upset the apple cart by shifting Hunter over in favor of the rookie. They’re taking the risk of offending their highest paid player, which isn’t something an organization does on a whim. That Hunter is moving to right to accommodate Bourjos, and not vice versa, is a pretty good sign that the Angels believe that there’s a big gap in defensive value between the two.

I think they’re correct, and they should be applauded for making a bold move that may not be particularly popular in some circles. Bourjos is exceptionally fast, and while we don’t have UZR for the minor leagues, the reports on him are very good, and players with his speed profile are often among the league leaders in range. This is the best use of resource that the Angels have.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

28 Responses to “Torii Hunter, Right Fielder”

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  1. wobatus says:

    Yeah, your piece imediately came to mind when I heard he ws getting called up, and again when I red he was getting the start in center. Bold move, and may be tough to break to Hunter while he still has the hardware streak, but if players are all about team like they say he will make the move.

    Now if someone will remind Mike Napoli that he used to take a walk now and then.

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  2. BJsWorld says:

    Nice. Bourjos should really be a nice addition to the outfield. I had thought that maybe Torii would head over to Left but going to Right field is fine too.

    The team wins by upgrading the defense in center, upgrading the defense in right, and being able to trot fresher legs to left (between Rivera and Abreu). I really hope that the team puts Abreu on waivers and someone picks him up.

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  3. True Grich says:

    Perhaps the Angels’ reasoning is to simply give Peter Bourjos the best possible chance to succeed and that’s by putting him in a position where he’s most comfortable. Credit should also be given to Hunter for taking the move in stride and without ego. You should also look at the whole dynamic of the OF situation with Abreu moving to LF tonight.

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  4. astrostl says:

    There is TotalZone for MiLBers:

    +76 (?!) in 2.4 years’ worth of games at CF.

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    • astrostl says:

      I don’t even understand where that 76 summary is sourced, though; the respective CF TZ’s from each listed season adds up to +52. There isn’t a TZ cited for his 2010 campaign. Maybe the additional 24 is coming from that, and added to the summary but not yet the season data?

      I’ll raise the Q with B-R and report back.

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  5. symbaton says:

    Hunter will likely continue winning Gold Gloves. I don’t think the award makes a distinction between the different OF positions, so the distinction is pretty meaningless anyway.

    Kind of like the award…

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    • Nikolai Volkoff says:

      It is unfortunate that hunter has won those GG the last few years while his zone ratings show him to be mediocre, completely over-rated and a phoney. Plus his arrogant bat flip when he hits the ball, exposes him as a phoney, imo. twins fans remember how he would show that phoney smile to nearly every main writer of opposing teams during his last year with them. makes him a fraud. He doesn’t deserve to win a 10th GG and have as many as Junior, Kaline, and soon to be Ichiro.

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  6. Silencio says:

    I don’t think this move is going to improve the Angels. I don’t have confidence that the kid can hit. Putting up only average stats in Salt Lake City means hes probably going to be around replacement level with the bat. I assume he is a great CFer and he is a good baserunner too but I don’t know if he is every going to be good enough with the bat to be more than a platoon starter on a 2nd division team or a 4th outfielder on a good team.

    I’m also very surprised that they would move Hunter over to RF even if it is probably the right defensive alignment.

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    • wobatus says:

      His road line is .313/.357/.495. It’s the PCL, but his line wasn’t completely driven by his home stats. His mle is .255/.294/.401. His walk rate doesn’t bode well for immediate success. Jose tabata, with better patience and less power, had an mle of .276/.331/.371, and he has outperformed that. Batting average driven. Not sure if Bourjos can quite get to slightly above-average, but his glove and positional value in center should make him an above-average player even now.

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  7. Anthony says:

    I am astonished at the gracious way in which Hunter accepted this change.

    As a Mets fan, I wish Beltran would accept that his range has diminished due to injury and age, and relinquish his centerfield spot to Angel Pagan in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, rumor has it that he has been extremely resistant to such an idea.

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    • 198d says:

      Ditto Vernon Wells…

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      • Ryan says:

        actually VERNON range only diminished because of playing through a hamstring injury, and now is back to a plus defender, and by far the best CF on the team, better than bautista, flew, and snider cant play cf. maybe wise is better but their difference in bats is terrible and he should not see consistent time. in the outfield the jays have wells, lind, snider, bautista, and lewis….. clearly no spot for wise to get everyday action….

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      • 198d says:

        By any metric, VW is still a below average defensive CF — he’s just not quite as Dunn-esque this year. Admittedly, there is no viable replacement this year; Rios would have been much better in CF before he was let go but VW wouldn’t budge. We’ll see if he’s as gracious as Torii during the twilight years of his contract, but I have my doubts.

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  8. The Joe From 1993 says:

    Torii’s move to RF and Bourjos’ audition in CF is most likely part of a larger plan; specifically, for the Angels to try and sign Carl Crawford this offseason.

    During the All-Star break, Torii pretty openly was attempting to recruit Crawford to join the Angels.

    A 2011 OF of Crawford-Bourjos-Hunter would complement the Angels flyball pitching staff perfectly. Crawford would be an ideal fit; superb defense and offensive skills that blend perfectly with Mike Scioscia’s style of baseball.

    The Angels have heavy payroll obligations in 2011 ($93.7 million) but this drops dramatically in 2012 ($49.9 million) and even further in 2013 ($4.5 million). Thus it would appear that the Angels could accomodate a large contract such as the one which will be necessary to land Crawford, most likely be simply deferring payments to years 2012 and beyond.

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  9. Anthony says:

    The only way that Crawford isn’t playing for the Yankees is if he doesn’t want to be in New York. The Yankees won’t be outbid this winter for Crawford….

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    • Joe Meyer says:

      I’m not so sure about that. Even though the Yankees have a decent amount coming off the books ( When don’t you have a decent amount coming off the books when each player makes a crapton?) next year, alot of people feel that they won’t sign Crawford, especially if they sign Cliff Lee. The Yankees feel that Brett Gardner is more than adequate as Crawford-Lite and will cost them a bunch less.

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      • Lance W says:

        I agree. The Yankees are in much more need of Cliff Lee, who will probably at least approach a Sabathia contract. Between that and the raises that are coming up to a few other guys, I can’t see how the Yankees would be able to get Crawford (or Werth, for that matter), despite all the talk. Great thought by Anthony, in my opinion. Crawford to the Angels is just too amazing of a fit.

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  10. Nikolai Volkoff says:

    Alex, you and holden caulfield are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
    twins fan.

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  11. Rally says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with Gardner, Granderson, or Swisher, so the Yankees do not need to sign any outfielder. OK, Granderson is wrong against LHP, but Crawford is a lefty too. They can solve that problem much easier, like maybe keeping Austin Kearns around as a platoon mate.

    This is not the Angels organization making a potentially unpopular move here. This was Hunter’s decision. I’m in awe right now of Torii’s selflessness and self awareness. As far as being a team leader goes, he’s at least a step ahead of Derek Jeter. Remember when Jeter’s team acquired a player who played better defense at the same position?

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    • Ryan says:

      Thank you for pointing this out. No one asked Torii to do this. He did it willingly, which is an awesome move from a decorated veteran.

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  12. Anthony says:

    I hope you’re right and the Angels sign Crawford. But it’s not inconceivable that the Yankees could sign Lee and Crawford (especiallly if they don’t win the World Series (although, having said that, George has passed away, so that iron-clad will to do anything and everything after a failed year may not burn as strongly these days)).

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  13. scottz says:

    As a Twins fan, I am not at all surprised that Hunter is gracefully moving to right field. After all, one of the people who mentored Hunter in his very early minor league years was Kirby Puckett, who himself moved from center to right in favor of players like Alex Cole and Rich Becker.

    Side note: I also won’t be surprised to see Hunter return to Minnesota after his Angels contract is finished, to take on the Twins annual role of “good clubhouse veteran PH/occasional DH guy”.

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  14. Alireza says:

    Interesting that Hunter moved to RF, given that a lot of his lost defensive value (and the metrics, well UZR really, have been off on his value) has come from a drop in arm strength. That said, his debut featured an excellent throw to the plate and may well show that with the shorter throws and better ability to square up and balance, Hunter’s arm can still be an asset, or at least not a liability.

    The idea of having Crawford out there with Bourjous and Hunter strikes me as similar to the Seattle OFs of Chavez/Langerhans – Guttierez – Ichiro, with a touch less arm strength and more offense. Then you put Abreu at DH and have Rivera as a trade chip or 4th OFer.

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  15. Ian says:

    While the Angels make sense for Crawford, I am thinking/hoping that the Tigers will be making a decent pitch for him this offseason – they’ll be out from under a number of albatross contracts this offseason, and Crawford would be a perfect fit for a spacious LF, and batting 1-2 with Jackson atop the lineup. Yankees – would be difficult for them to bench one of Gardner, Granderson & Swisher. Best bet might be to try to move Granderson for pennies on the dollar, and likely eat some of his contract, in which case I’ll take him back here in Detroit – but that might be difficult, ego-wise, to pull the trigger on a move like that for the Yankees brass.

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  16. Ian says:

    And agreed – kudos to Hunter for suggesting/agreeing to move to RF. Pretty rare these days.

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