JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Torii Hunter by Jay Jaffe December 27, 2021 2022 BBWAA Ballot IntroTodd HeltonCrowdsource BallotScott RolenGary SheffieldDavid OrtizBilly WagnerAndruw JonesJimmy RollinsBonds, Clemens, Schilling, and SosaOmar VizquelBobby AbreuJoe NathanJeff Kent and Manny RamirezMark TeixeiraBuehrle, Hudson, and PettitteTorii HunterAlex RodriguezJay's 2022 BallotPrince FielderJustin MorneauRyan HowardA.J. PierzynskiCarl CrawfordJake Peavy The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule, and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated. Torii Hunter could go get it. Fluid and graceful while patrolling center field, he was renowned for his leaping, acrobatic catches and his willingness to sacrifice his body. He made a strong enough impression upon those who watched him that he won nine Gold Gloves during his 19-year career, more than all but three center fielders, namely Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Andruw Jones. Hunter earned the nickname “Spider-Man” for his ability to climb outfield walls to steal home runs — something he did more than just about anybody else during his career — though one attempt to do so at Fenway Park left him with a broken ankle, and another a concussion. “I’ll do anything to get that little white ball. I’ll put my life on the line,” Hunter told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Chen in 2005, sounding very much like the football player he was during his high school days in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Hunter rose from difficult circumstances in Pine Bluff, including a father who was addicted to crack cocaine and friends who fell into the dead-end life of drugs, guns, and gangs. His athleticism helped him escape, though when he entered professional baseball as a first-round pick of the Twins in 1993, his talent was more raw than most. The development of Hunter’s bat lagged behind his glove early in his career, but eventually, he improved to became an above-average hitter with multiple dimensions to his game. From 2001-13, he averaged 23 homers and 13 steals per year while hitting for a 115 OPS+, delighting fans with his penchant for the spectacular play, and gaining a reputation within the game for being a vocal clubhouse leader. In that span, he made five All-Star teams and helped the Twins, Angels, and Tigers to the playoffs eight times, though he never got further than the American League Championship Series with any of them. Last year was Hunter’s first of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, and in this space I compared his combination of superficially strong counting stats, less convincing advanced stats (particularly on the defensive side), multiple Gold Gloves, and impressive highlight reel to those of fellow candidate Omar Vizquel, who had surpassed the 50% threshold on the 2020 ballot. Obviously, the horrific allegations that have since come to light concerning Vizquel’s off-field conduct separate the two candidates, but they don’t change Hunter’s credentials. Nor do they change the fact that this ballot has a directly comparable center fielder in Andruw Jones, whose strong defensive numbers build a case that’s superior to Hunter’s and who has finally started to gain traction among voters; last year, his fourth of eligibility, he received 33.9% of the vote to Hunter’s 9.5%. Still, Jones was at 7.5% just three years ago, so it’s not out of the question that Hunter can grow his base of support, but he doesn’t look like half the candidate Jones does. 2022 BBWAA Candidate: Torii Hunter Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS Torii Hunter 50.7 30.8 40.7 Avg. HOF CF 71.6 44.7 58.2 H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+ 2,452 353 .277/.331/.461 110 SOURCE: Baseball-Reference Torii Kedar Hunter was born on July 18, 1975 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, one of four sons — Taru, Tishque and Tramar are the others — of Theotis, an electrician for the railroad, and Shirley Hunter, an elementary school teacher. Theotis, a Vietnam veteran, was a troubled man who spent his paychecks on alcohol and crack cocaine, to which he became addicted. Via the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike DiGiovanna’s 2008 profile: Theotis Hunter would disappear for weeks at a time, his family never knowing if he was dead or alive, and during one of those benders, Torii found his dad passed out on a crack-house floor. Shirley Hunter struggled to pay the utilities and keep her four boys clothed and fed on an elementary school teacher’s salary and a prayer. There were days Torii and his brothers knocked on neighbors’ doors, asking for food, or hid in the back of the house when bill collectors came. Hunter had to resist the temptations of drugs and gang life on the dead-end streets of “Pine Box” — “one wrong choice gets you buried in one,” wrote the Orange County Register’s Marcia C. Smith in 2008. The young Hunter “grew up with friends who went to jail for murder and friends who died in drive-by shootings,” continued Smith. “Gangs pulled at him. Dealers wanted him running a drug corner. Bullets flew past him. He lived in fear, so he carried a gun.” Sports offered more than a way out for the young Hunter. At five years old, watching his uncle play Babe Ruth League ball, he retrieved foul balls for a dollar apiece because his family needed the money. He began playing Little League at age eight, and at 12 patterned himself — his stiff-legged batting stance, his throwing, his Jheri curl — after Andre Dawson, whom he watched play for the Cubs on WGN with his grandfather. At 13, he flew in a plane for the first time to play in a tournament in New Mexico, where he hit a game-winning home run and was interviewed by reporters. The experience left an impression upon him. “You think that one way is the only way it’s supposed to be,” he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bobby Ampezzan in 2015. “When you go and see something else, see it’s a different way that you can live your life, you’re like, ‘Wow!'” Hunter’s real passion was for football, and thanks to his outstanding speed, hands, and throwing arm, he was good enough to start as an option quarterback at Pine Bluff High School. However, college recruiters from schools such as Arkansas and Louisiana State only saw him as a free safety, his other position. He was much more raw as a baseball player, but clearly had talent. From a 2002 ESPN Magazine profile by John Gustafson: Local legend has it that, during his junior year, he belted a ball 550 feet, sending it over a light stanchion before it came to rest on a dirt pile. “He could do things not many could, even though they were probably better players at the time,” says Mike Ruth, the Twins’ Midwest scouting supervisor, and one of the first to spot Hunter. “At 18, there were kids who could field better, hit more. But you knew that at 20 he was going to catch a bunch of them — and at 21, he was going to pass them.” The Twins chose Hunter with the 20th pick in the 1993 draft, a high-risk/high-reward proposition; among the 19 players chosen ahead of him, including longtime major leaguers Chris Carpenter, Derrek Lee, Trot Nixon, and Billy Wagner, only number one overall pick Alex Rodriguez produced more value in the majors. Hunter signed for a $450,000 bonus but fizzled in his first year of pro ball, hitting .190/.283/.220 with the Twins’ Gulf Coast League affiliate. He’d never seen a slider in high school; at one point after striking out for the third time in one game, he threw his bat over a backstop in frustration. “He couldn’t hit,” Twins scout Larry Corrigan told Gustafson, “But whenever he got hold of one, Mays and Aaron and Clemente … that’s what theirs sounded like.” Hunter improved to .293/.358/.439 with 10 homers and eight steals (but 10 caught stealing) at A-level Fort Wayne in 1994, but struggled mightily over the next three seasons, hitting a combined .244/.320/.357 at High- and Double-A stops, though he did get called up to make his major league debut on August 22, 1997; he pinch-ran for Terry Steinbach with one out in the ninth but was forced out as the lead runner on a game-ending double play. His performance at Double-A New Britain that year was so uninspiring, however, that after cracking the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list at number 79, he went unranked thereafter. As Hunter told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes last month, his struggles owed to his trying to please the Twins’ organization by hitting the ball on the ground and to the opposite field despite the natural power of what would become a 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame. “I was really bred to be a leadoff guy,” Hunter said. “I felt like I had more, but I didn’t want to be un-coachable. I just did what I was told to do, but I felt like I was in prison. I had much more in me, but they wouldn’t let it come out of me. It was my fault. It wasn’t until 2000 I realized who I was and became who I thought I could be.” Hunter improved to a combined .295/.333/.463 at New Britain and Triple-A Salt Lake City in 1998, and he went 4-for-17 during a brief cup of coffee with the Twins in April and May, collecting his first major league hit against the Orioles’ Arthur Rhodes on May 1. He made the Twins out of spring training in 1999 and spent the season playing regularly on a 97-loss team, making 90 starts in center field and another 23 in the corners. He hit just .255/.309/.380 for a 73 OPS+, and only solid defense kept him above replacement level (0.4 WAR). While he began the 2000 season in center field, his .207/.243/.300 showing resulted in a return trip to Salt Lake City in late May. There he reunited with hitting coach Bill Springman, whom he’d worked with at the Area Code Games in high school. Via Hayes, “(Springman) told me, ‘You have too much athletic ability, too much God-given ability, to just beat the ball into the ground.’… He just told me to drive the ball through people… He changed my perspective, my mindset, to more driving the ball. It really wasn’t all mechanical. It was just a thought process. Once he changed my mindset, my body followed.” Hunter hit .368/.403/.727 with 18 homers in 55 games in the high-altitude Pacific Coast League, then returned to produce at a sizzling .332/.371/.485 clip from July 29 to the end of the season in Minnesota. Even so, he finished the year with just an 80 OPS+ and 0.2 WAR on a 93-loss team. Elevating the ball with more frequency, he launched 27 homers in 2001, and while his .261/.306/.479 line was rather lopsided, his 102 OPS+ and outstanding defense (+20 runs) pushed his total value to 4.7 WAR and helped him capture his first Gold Glove. The Twins improved from 69 wins to 85 in manager Tom Kelly’s final season. Shortly after the season ended, Major League Baseball voted 28-2 to contract both the Twins and the Expos prior to the 2002 season due to their “long record[s] of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise” and their inability to fund new ballparks. When a judge ruled that the Twins had to honor their lease to play their final season at the Metrodome, the plan was shelved. The ploy did provide some motivation to the up-and-coming Twins, who under first-year manager Ron Gardenhire won the AL Central with a 94-67 record. The 26-year-old Hunter led the team with 29 homers, 23 steals, 94 RBI, and a 124 OPS+ (.289/.334/.524). Though Total Zone rated his defense at -6 runs, he made an indelible impression by robbing Barry Bonds of a home run in that year’s All-Star Game in Milwaukee, the top highlight of the infamous tie game, and he rode that notoriety to another Gold Glove. He also placed sixth in the AL MVP voting, the second year out of four in which he would generate some down-ballot consideration. In the playoffs, Hunter collected hits in seven of the Twins’ first eight games, and batted .300/.333/.500 in the Twins’ five-game Division Series win over the A’s, but cooled off in the ALCS against the Angels, going 0-for-8 in the final two games as the Twins were eliminated in five. In January 2003, Hunter signed a four-year, $32 million extension. While he hit 26 homers that year, his batting line sank to .250/.312/.451 (98 OPS+), and he stole just six bases in 13 attempts. In 2008, when he joined the Angels, he reflected on his first long-term deal, telling reporters, “My first contract, I really tried to live up to it, and I tried too hard.” Even so, his defense rebounded (16 DRS), and he improved to 3.8 WAR while the Twins won 90 games and another AL Central title. Facing the Yankees in the Division Series, Hunter reached base three times in four plate appearances in the opener, highlighted by an RBI triple and a run scored against Mike Mussina. The Twins won that game, 3-1, but lost the next three while scoring just three runs; Hunter scored two, one via a solo homer. Over the next four seasons — the last of those the option year on his four-year extension — Hunter hit a combined .277/.334/.484 (112 OPS+) while averaging 24 homers, 18 steals, and 3.6 WAR. He averaged only 136 games in that span, missing 18 days in 2004 for a right hamstring strain, two months in ’05 for a fractured left ankle, suffered when his spikes got caught in the padding of the right-center field wall at Fenway Park, and 15 days in ’06 for a stress fracture in the same foot. In terms of value, the best of those seasons was 2004, when his 18 DRS propelled him to 4.2 WAR. He set a career high for homers with 31 in 2006, and posted his best OPS+ of the stretch in ’07 (123, via a .287/.334/.505 line). He won Gold Gloves in all four seasons, but via DRS, his fielding declined from 18 runs above average in 2004 to nine above average in ’05 to four below average in ’06 and ’07 combined. The Twins made the playoffs in 2004 and ’06, but stayed only briefly. Hunter hit .353/.368/.588 in the 2004 Division Series against the Yankees; his 12th-inning homer off Tanyon Sturtze in Game 2 gave the Twins a lead and a chance to claim a two-games-to-none advantage, but the Yankees rallied for two runs against Joe Nathan in the bottom of the frame, and took the next two games as well. In 2006, Hunter went 3-for-11 in a three-game sweep by the A’s, his double and homer against Dan Haren in the finale going for naught. After a season in which the Twins sank to 79 wins, their lowest total since 2000, the 32-year-old Hunter hit free agency. He reportedly drew interest from several teams including the Braves, Dodgers, Nationals, Rangers, Royals, and White Sox, but ultimately signed with the Angels via a five-year, $90 million deal. In signing, he recalled the Twins’ ouster at the hands of the Halos in 2002 (“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”), and added, “Maybe I can do some damage and get about three rings out of this.” Hunter helped the Halos to back-to-back AL West titles in 2008 (100-62) and ’09 (97-65). He turned in a very typical Torii Hunter season in 2008 (111 OPS+, 21 homers, 19 steals, 3.5 WAR) and drove in five of the Angels’ 13 runs but scored none during the team’s Division Series loss to the Red Sox. In 2009, despite losing 32 games to a groin strain in July and August — forcing him to miss the All-Star Game — he set career highs with a 128 OPS+ (.299/.366/.508) and 5.3 WAR, the latter aided by 12 DRS as he claimed the last of his nine straight Gold Gloves. In the Division Series opener, his big three-run homer off the Red Sox’s Jon Lester keyed a 5-0 win. He hit a combined .273/.415/.424 as the Angels swept the Red Sox but bowed to the Yankees in a six-game ALCS. Healthy enough to play in at least 150 games for just the third time in his career, Hunter made his fourth All-Star team in 2010, and even with a September slump, finished with a 126 OPS+, the second-highest mark of his career. His defense was slipping, however. In early August, the Angels promoted center field prospect Peter Bourjos and moved Hunter to right field; even so, he finished with -11 DRS, limiting his WAR to 3.0. Hunter took to right field well, with 7 DRS in 2011 and 12 DRS in ’12. Though he clubbed 23 homers in 2011, his .262/.336/.429 finish produced his lowest batting average and slugging percentage since 2003, though his career-high 9.6% walk rate — a significant step up from his 6.5% as a Twin — propped up his overall production, and he finished with 3.6 WAR. Despite dipping to 16 homers and a 6.5% walk rate in 2012, his age-36 season, his .313/.365/.451 line, 129 OPS+, and 5.4 WAR represented new career highs in everything but slugging percentage. Hunter only played the one season alongside the Angels’ hotshot new center fielder, Mike Trout, and fell far short of his goal of collecting three rings in Anaheim. As a 37-year-old free agent following the 2012 season, he turned to the defending AL champion Tigers to aid his quest via a two-year, $26 million deal. Joining a lineup that included Triple Crown winner and MVP Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, he put together a very solid campaign on the offensive side (.304/.334/.465, 115 OPS+) and made his fifth and final All-Star team, but his defense slid well into the red (-7 DRS). That point was underscored, perhaps unfairly, when he tumbled into the Fenway Park home bullpen in an unsuccessful attempt to catch a David Ortiz fly ball that turned into a game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS; shots of the upended Hunter’s legs, juxtaposed next to a policeman’s upraised arms, circulated throughout newspapers all over the country. Hunter, who hit his head on the ground, refused to take a concussion test — “I’m an old-school cat. Thirty years from now, if I forget how to ride a bike, that’s O.K.,” he said — but later admitted to suffering a concussion as well as other aches and pains; he needed a cortisone shot and two months worth of rehab to recover. He did go 5-for-16 over the remaining four games of the ALCS, but the Tigers lost in six. They went three and out the following year against the Orioles, that following a season in which Hunter hit .286/.319/.446; given the major league-wide offensive downturn, his 114 OPS+ was on par with 2013, but his -15 DRS, pushed his WAR to 0.9, his lowest mark since 2000. In December 2014, after mulling retirement, he agreed to return to the Twins on a one-year, $10.5 million deal. The press conference for his return to the Twins spun off the rails when he called St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Mike Berardino “a prick” for asking him about his well-documented statements opposing gay marriage and his appearance in political ads supporting candidates vocally opposing gay marriage. On the field, while Hunter’s 22 homers represented his highest total since 2011, his OPS+ fell to 91, and his WAR to -0.7. It was time to go; at season’s end, he announced his retirement. … Unlike the ballot’s other prominent center fielder, Andruw Jones, Hunter finished his career with well over 2,000 hits. His total of 2,452 ranks 18th among those players classified as center fielders in JAWS (i.e., players who had more value in center field than anywhere else, if not necessarily more games played there) and is higher than 11 of the 19 enshrined non-Negro Leagues center fielders, including Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Hunter’s mentor, Kirby Puckett. Similarly, his 353 homers is 11th among that group, ahead of 13 of the 19 Hall of Famers. Throw in the hardware and make reservations for Cooperstown, baby! If only it were that simple. It’s not, and not just because Hunter’s .277 batting average is lower than that of the aforementioned 19 enshrinees. That’s true for Jones and his .254 batting average as well, but we’ve already dealt with his case. Still, many of the same arguments that I’ve advanced in relation to Jones apply here. Adjusting for the high-offense era in which Hunter played, his 110 OPS+ is lower than 17 of the aforementioned 19 enshrinees, ahead of only Max Carey (108) and Lloyd Waner (99). It’s lower than 53 of the 76 enshrined up-the-middle players (catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders), and even his nine Gold Gloves aren’t as big of a help as one would expect, or as reflective of his value: Gold Gloves vs. Defensive Metrics Player Pos GG Fielding Runs* HOF Brooks Robinson 3B 16 294 Yes Ozzie Smith SS 13 239 Yes Andruw Jones CF 10 235 On ballot Roberto Clemente RF 12 205 Yes Willie Mays CF 12 185 Yes Al Kaline RF 10 154 Yes Luis Aparicio SS 9 149 Yes Ivan Rodriguez C 13 147 Yes Nolan Arenado 3B 9 136 Active Yadier Molina C 9 132 Active Omar Vizquel SS 11 129 On ballot Mike Schmidt 3B 10 127 Yes Ichiro Suzuki RF 10 121 Not yet eligible Keith Hernandez 1B 11 117 No Johnny Bench C 10 72 Yes Ryne Sandberg 2B 9 60 Yes Don Mattingly 1B 9 33 No Torii Hunter CF 9 33 On ballot Ken Griffey Jr. CF 10 3 Yes Roberto Alomar 2B 10 -38 Yes SOURCE: Baseball-Reference Position players with 9 or more Gold Gloves (since 1957). *Total Zone through 2002, Defensive Runs Saved thereafter. While all five 12-time winners are in, the two 11-time winners aren’t, and Vizquel’s momentum has been thwarted by allegations of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Of the seven 10-time winners, Jones is the only eligible one on the outside. Of the five other nine-time winners, Mattingly is the only eligible one outside the Hall; he’s not getting in anytime soon, but the still-active Molina and Arenado very well might. If Hunter’s Gold Gloves offer only so much help, so too his body of postseason work, where his .274/.340/.414 approximates his regular season line, albeit with less power. His teams went 3-8 in their respective series, and while it’s not all Hunter’s fault that he never got to play in a World Series, he’s 13th on the all-time list of most games played without getting there. Even with the Gold Gloves and the playoff appearances, Hunter scores just 58 on the Hall of Fame Monitor, which dishes out credit for things that have tended to sway voters — seasons or careers at .300, awards, league leads in key stats, playoff appearances, and so on. On the monitor, a score of 100 is “a good possibility,” where 130 is “a virtual cinch.” Hunter’s score is tied with the likes of Julio Franco, Derrek Lee, Steve Sax and, Ruben Sierra — all decidedly non-Hall of Famers. He’s one point below Rabbit Maranville, the lowest-ranked shortstop in my JAWS rankings; Mark Belanger, the ultimate good-field, no-hit shortstop; and Garry Templeton, who was traded for Smith. His five All-Star appearances is a modest total, and he never led the league in any traditional statistical category of any significance, or placed higher than sixth in the MVP voting. Hunter’s candidacy looks no stronger on the advanced statistical side, primarily because he rates as just 33 runs above average defensively for his career via Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved, placing him 78th among players who played at least 50% of their games in center field; Jones is first at 235. Hunter was 61 runs above average during his nine-year run as a Gold Glove winner, and had a total of five seasons with at least 10 runs above average, including 2012, which came after that stretch, but he also had five seasons where he was at least five runs below average, including two in double digits. In four of his Gold Glove seasons, he was in the red, albeit not by much. According to Sports Info Solution’s Mark Simon, he’s second only to Carlos Gómez in home run robberies since 2004 with 12 (not including the All-Star Game one), but that’s already reflected in his DRS. Hunter’s speed helped him steal 195 bases, reach double digits eight times and top 20 steals three times. Unfortunately, he was also caught 99 times; his 66.3% success rate is unremarkable. Including his advancement on hits and outs, his baserunning was 16 runs above average, but offset by his -10 runs in terms of double-play avoidance — the price of hitting it on the ground so often. Taking into account the whole of his game, Hunter’s 50.7 career WAR ranks 26th among center fielders, about 21 wins below the standard; he ranks below 13 of the 19 non-Negro Leagues center fielders in the Hall, all of them Veterans Committee choices with considerably shorter careers. His 30.8 peak WAR is about 14 wins below the standard — two per year, ouch — and ranks 54th at the position, below all of the Hall of Famers besides Waner. While he had 12 seasons worth at least 3.0 WAR, he had just two of 5.0 or greater, both while with the Angels, and two others of 4.0 or greater, both while with the Twins. His 40.7 JAWS ranks 36th at the position, with Devon White, Curtis Granderson, and Ellis Burks right above him, and Willie Wilson, Hall of Famer Earle Combs, and Mike Cameron right below. He outranks just five of the aforementioned 19 center fielders in the Hall, none of them elected by the writers. Sorii, Torii. In a way, Hunter is not unlike Dwight Evans, who similarly was a much better fielder during the first half of his career and a much better hitter in the second half, an issue that suppresses his peak WAR and thus his JAWS. Through the 2005 season, his age-29 campaign, Hunter was 9 runs below average with the bat and 52 above average with the glove, while from 2006 onward he was 122 runs above average with the bat and 19 below with the glove. On a per-650 PA basis, his value was about the same in both segments, 3.6 WAR early and 3.4 WAR late. Eyeballing it, had he combined his best hitting seasons with his best fielding ones, he’d have produced about five more WAR across his seven-year peak — enough to push him to about 29th in the rankings, between Bernie Williams and Brett Butler, and not far below Dale Murphy, but still not Hall-caliber. Even so, Hunter has his adherents, probably enough to remain on the ballot for another year and perhaps longer; it’s worth noting that last year he received 16.2% of the vote from ballots that went unpublished at the Ballot Tracker, compared to 4.4% on the ballots published prior to the announcement of the voting results. Unlike Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds, both of whom far outrank him in JAWS but went one-and-done on the ballots, Hunter’s dealing with much less competition for those precious 10 slots. But even if he does get above 5.0%, he’s a long way from amassing enough support to emerge as a plausible candidate down the road.