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Hunter Finally Finds Groove Over Heart Of The Plate

Monday against Minnesota, the Angels broke the two run barrier for the first time in eight games, hanging four runs on Nick Blackburn and the Twins. With C.J. Wilson and Scott Downs on their respective games, four was enough, and the Angels won just their second game in their last eight tries. The hero was Torii Hunter, who plated the Angels first three runs behind an RBI single in the first and a two-run home run in the fourth inning. The home run marked his third of the season and his third in the past four days. Blackburn’s offering was right over the middle of the plate, just as those from Jeanmar Gomez on Saturday and Justin Masterson on Friday. The four-day run ends what has been an uncharacteristic struggle for Hunter with pitches over the middle of the plate in 2012.

Hunter, like most MLB hitters (and most anybody who has ever played baseball), likes the ball over the heart of the plate, but he wasn’t showing it in 2012 until this week.

The above graphic shows Hunter’s extra bases per at-bat (or raw ISO) in each part of the strike zone prior to his first home run overlaid on a heatmap of his isolated power in 2011. Hunter feasted on pitches over the center of the plate regardless of height last season. Although what little power he had flashed before his current hot streak — four doubles, no other extra base hits — came in these zones, he still owned just a .167 ISO in his very best power areas before breaking through. In just four days, he’s raised that number to a whopping .448.

This is not a problem unique to Hunter, at least within the Angels roster. Albert Pujols has recorded just two doubles on 18 pitches over the middle third of the plate, for an ugly .111 ISO. Kendrys Morales has yet to record a single extra base hit on a pitch over the middle in 17 tries (from either side of the plate). Howie Kendrick has three extra bases on 21 pitches. These three hitters in particular, to go with Hunter, were to form the meat of the Angels’ order. Given their inability to hit some of the game’s easiest pitches with authority, it should be no surprise the Angels’ offense has defined anemic early on this season.

At the same time, however, Hunter’s recent hot streak should give the struggling Angels hitters some hope. It seems incredibly unlikely that major league hitters — much less those of the high quality of Pujols, Morales and Kendrick — will continue to miss and miss so badly on the pitches they’ve crushed at every level throughout their lives. Much like pitchers are not machines and will occasionally serve up meatballs over the heart of the plate, hitters miss as well. But they are too well trained and too talented at the major league level to keep missing over the course of the grind that is a full season, and if Torii Hunter’s hot streak is any indication, when things go right it can be easy to forget they ever went wrong at all.