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Royals free agent target: Torii Hunter

I guess since there's so much speculation he's connected to the Royals, might as well say something about him. Is it inevitable?

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Ugh. At this point, I guess this article has to be written. Billy Butler is gone, and the Royals seem like they want Torii Hunter. I thought I saw somewhere that platooning him and Carlos Peguero at RF/DH is an option. I have this unpleasant taste in my mou........

...OK, I'm back. What is it about Torii Hunter that the Royals like? His clubhouse leadership? I can't read an article referencing Hunter and the Royals without hearing about clubhouse leadership. The Royals are looking to replace Ibanez, I suppose. He's fairly durable? Despite his older age, he appeared in 144 and 142 games for the Tigers in 2013 and 2014, respectively. He's got power? Among Royals regulars, only Alex Gordon had a higher ISO than Hunter in 2014. Hunter also would have tied Salvador Perez for 2nd on the team in home runs with 17. Hunter can still hit the ball hard; only one homer in 2014 would have not gone out at Kauffman for sure with 2 or 3 more questionable ones.

Let's not forget about this.

Or this.

Or this.

He apparently can hit homers at Kauffman. Maybe that's what the Royals are focusing on. But what is there not to like?

Everything else.

First, his defense. Hunter has -28 DRS and -22.4 UZR in the outfield during his time with the Tigers. UZR thinks his range is pretty awful. I tried to watch some defensive "highlights" on his page a few weeks ago, and I can't help but agree with UZR here. He looks fairly slow out there. Obviously, since they're highlights, he still made the play, but Dyson or Cain probably make those plays look routine. An average fielder probably makes some of those highlights look routine. And this is supposed to improve while spending half his time at Kauffman stadium?

Second, his age. The dude will turn 40 during the 2015 season. You have to think the big decline is coming soon, right? His wRC+ has declined each of the past 2 years.

Third, his walk rate. Walking more is supposed to be an "old guy" skill. Hunter fits in that "old guy" category, but his walk rate has declined from when he was with the Angels.

Fourth, his declining strength of contact skills. Using the batted ball distance methodology I mentioned yesterday, it appears that Hunter is on the decline. He is hitting fewer hard fly balls, and those hard hit fly balls are doing less damage than before. He pulled the ball slightly more in 2014 compared to 2012-2013, so maybe he's trying to stave off a precipitous performance decline by pulling the ball more.

Having said those things, maybe some of Hunter's problems are fixable. Pitchers aren't throwing him more fastballs, as you might expect they would do to someone whose bat speed is declining. Maybe his bat speed isn't declining.

hunter fastbals

Despite increased swing rates, he's not whiffing more on fastballs, either. He actually decreased his whiff rate against fastballs but increased his whiff rate against offspeed stuff and breakers.

hunter whiff rate

Some of the swing rate increase has come against pitches outside the strike zone. Given his contact skills in his aged state, perhaps he's putting a lot of balls in play that would go for balls instead. However, though I did say he's pulling the ball a bit more, he can still spray the ball around.

hunter spray chart

Sounds like a Royal, doesn't he?

So, Hunter is swinging at balls outside the zone more, he pulled the ball slightly more in 2014, and he increased his whiff rate against offspeed and breaking stuff. That sounds like a guy cheating fastball, doesn't it? When he gets a fastball, he can still crush it. The problem is the other ~34% of pitches that aren't fastballs. Maybe some team could help him lay off the offspeed stuff while still hunting fastball. I don't know if the Royals could.

Given Hunter's age, declining skillset, potential price tag, and Steamer projection of only 1.1 fWAR, I'm inclined to say no. If the Royals think he can rebound on both offense and defense from a down 2014, then they might find a 1 year, $10M commitment to him agreeable.

Is this as inevitable as acquiring Jeff Francoeur?