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Torii Hunter: My Fantasy AL Turtle

The staff voting for the American League Fantasy Turtle was one of the most varied ballots for any award. The full award listing was described in full detail by Eno yesterday. All told, the AL Fantasy Turtle balloting was as follows:

Derek Jeter: 2
B.J. Upton: 2
Carlos Santana: 2
Doug Fister: 1
Yoenis Cespedes: 1
Brandon Moss: 1
Alex Rios: 1
Torii Hunter: 1

With such a close vote, I have elected to advocate my vote of Torii Hunter for AL Fantasy Turtle.

Coming into the season Torii Hunter wasn’t regarded (or drafted) as if the 36-year-old would be a pillar of a fantasy team. Hunter was coming off of a season where he hit .261 in practically 650 plate appearances and was caught stealing more times (seven) than he actually stole a base (five). His 111 wRC+ was his lowest mark in six seasons. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as though the best of Hunter’s career was in the past.

According to MockDraftCentral, for 17 qualified drafts that took place between 4/9 and 4/23 of this year, Hunter had an average draft position of 167.53. For some context, Carlos Marmol was normally taken directly before Hunter came off of the board. I —- and apparently many of you did too -— thought the combination of age, a crowded outfield (remember the Peter Bourjos hype in the preseason?) and a tough home park would take a serious toll on his overall fantasy value.

To be quite frank, even the first half of 2012 told a similar story for Hunter. Prior to the All-Star Game, Hunter sported a .761 OPS; his seasonal mark for 2011 was a nearly identical .765 OPS. Though he was held hitless in his first game after the Mid Summer Classic, his second game back in action was of the four hit variety and he drove in three runs for his efforts. After that game, everything clicked into place for Hunter.

Despite his rather underwhelming previous 922 PA’s, Hunter went absolutely bonkers in the second half. In a mere 311 PA’s, Hunter’s triple slash was an incredible .350/.394/.472. His .866 OPS post-ASB drove fantasy owners to start him for as long as he stayed hot. As is the case with so many hot streaks, even extended hot streaks, BABIP was a major factor. Hunter’s second half .443 BABIP fueled his line to an enormous degree. As late as August 20, I even wrote about Hunter’s BABIP being unsustainable. I may have been right about the fact that he was going to regress; I was just wrong about when it would regress. Hunter just kept putting the ball in play and getting hits. Specifically, Hunter peppered singles all over the field.

From April to the ASB, Hunter recorded 67 total hits, with 18 of those being of the extra-base variety. That makes for a 26.8% XBH percentage. For the second half, Hunter managed an even 100 hits and 23 XBH. Simple math tells us that Hunter managed to squeeze an astonishing 77 singles in 311 second half PA’s. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then two split spray charts should at least be worth enough to make your jaw drop.

That is an awful lot of green squares. For a different view, here is Hunter’s full season PA outcome splits presented in table form:

Event 1st Half 2nd Half
Walk 7.33% 5.45%
Triple 0.37% 0.00%
Strikeout 23.08% 22.44%
Single 17.95% 24.68%
Sac Fly 0.37% 0.64%
Sac Bunt 0.00% 0.32%
Runner Out 0.00% 0.32%
Pop Out 1.83% 2.56%
Lineout 2.20% 2.24%
IBB 0.37% 0.00%
Home Run 3.66% 1.92%
Hit By Pitch 1.10% 1.60%
Groundout 19.78% 17.63%
GIDP 3.30% 1.92%
Forceout 2.93% 1.60%
Flyout 11.72% 9.29%
Fielders Choice 0.00% 0.64%
Double Play 0.73% 0.96%
Double 2.56% 5.45%
Bunt Groundout 0.73% 0.00%
Bunt Popout 0.00% 0.32%

More balls in play + less ground outs + less fly outs = an amazing batting average on balls in play. Now, BABIP variation aside, fantasy titles aren’t cheapened due to an above average hitter Hulk-smashing the ball and getting some positive random variation. Hunter’s 5×5 numbers post ASB are 43 runs, six home runs, 57 RBIs, six steals and a .350 AVG. His second half was so great that it fueled single season highs in both AVG and OBP, as well Hunter’s highest RBI total since 2009 and the most runs scored in four seasons.

In order to really grasp the difference between his first and second half numbers, after the ASG Hunter had 33 more hits in just 38 more PA’s than the first half of the year. As of July 8 he had a .761 OPS. After July 12, Hunter recorded an .866 OPS the rest of the way. His combination of a slow start and brilliant finish made Hunter an easy call in my book for Fantasy AL Turtle.

ADP courtesy of Mock Draft Central
Spray charts and table information courtesy of Texas Leaguers
HTML table via Tableizer