Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter continues to churn out effective seasons despite his age. The 38-year-old outfielder may no longer be in his prime, but that didn’t stop him from ranking 17th among outfielder in Zach Sanders’ end of season rankings. Hunter has always been slightly underrated in fantasy leagues, initially due to his strong defensive reputation. He continues to be underrated, now due to his age. The past few seasons, Hunter has paid off as a late-round fantasy flyer. As with most aging players, the major question is; how long can he keep this up?
Even though he’s remained a strong fantasy asset, Hunter is no longer the same player. Eno Sarris looked at Hunter’s new approach in July. The past two years, Hunter has utilized a more aggressive approach at the plate. His walk rate has dropped precipitously, but he’s been able to compensate by hitting for higher averages. This was a conscious change made by Hunter once he started hitting second in the lineup. The tradeoff, as Eno pointed out in his piece, is that Hunter has lost some of his power. Still, the change seems to have been a good thing for his fantasy value.
How long can it last? Among similar players, Hunter rates fairly well. Looking at outfielder with similar strikeout and walk rates through the same age, only Jermaine Dye has a better wOBA since 1969. That number is technically fair, though, as Dye didn’t play past his age-35 season. The fact that Hunter has remained effective for two additional seasons makes up the differences in wOBA.
How did these players perform during their age-38 seasons?
|Name||PA||BB%||K%||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA pre-38||wOBA age-38||Difference||WAR|
*Hunter’s stats are from his past five seasons since he isn’t 38 yet.
Well, the first problem is apparent right off the bat. The list was cut down from 17 players to just eight. This shows just how rare it is for a 38-year-old outfielder to be in the league. The second issue is that these players rarely receive a lot of playing time. Dunston, Grissom, Wilson and Williams were not given many opportunities for playing time. Carter, McGee and White were limited to part-time work. Unless injuries strike, Hunter should easily surpass White’s 432 plate appearances.
The ray of hope here is that the three players who received significant playing time either showed slight improvement on their performance, or stayed stable. This comes with plenty of caveats. Each sample contains a small amount of plate appearances, and there’s only three players in the sample. That makes the numbers tough to trust. At the same time, Hunter was clearly better than any of these players over the past five years. Another encouraging sign is that all three of the players who received playing time all did so with low walk rates, so Hunter could continue to succeed even with his new approach.
At age-38, he’s still a considerable risk. Few players with Hunter’s skill set are capable of retaining major roles at the same age. But Hunter’s been one of the more successful offensive threats among these players. While it’s tough to invest much in a 38-year-old player, he continues to be a late-round pick with upside in most leagues. Though fantasy owners won’t go into their leagues depending on Hunter as a starter, there’s a good chance he’ll be capable of filling that role by the end of the season.
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