Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Torii's Next Stop, The Mound

Last night, Torii Hunter decided to officially hang up his cleats after 19 seasons playing Major League Baseball. Having spent the majority of his career with the Twins, the fan favorite no doubt will go down as one of the most celebrated Minnesota sports figures ever. What he should not do though is see his number hung from the rafters (er above Barrio in left field). Instead, his next stop should be the mound for a ceremonial first pitch.

There's little denying that Torii Hunter gave both the Minnesota Twins and the game of baseball a significant amount of lift. He was a nine-time Gold Glove award winner, he went to four All Star games, and he won two Silver Sluggers in his career. The Arkansas native belted 353 career home runs, tallied 2,452 hits, and drove in 1,391 runs. By all measurable standards it was a great career.

That also presents the issue for Hunter in regards to retiring number 48. It was great, but not exceptional.

As things stand currently, the Minnesota Twins have retired just seven numbers. Those include Kirby Puckett, Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Tom Kelly, and Bert Blyleven. Four of those players are in the Hall of Fame, one is an eight-time All Star, another is a two-time World Series manager, and the final is somewhat of a by-product of being a hometown hero. So, where does Torii fit among that grouping?

In terms of statistical quantification, Hunter has compiled a career 41.6 fWAR. That number is higher than only Tony Oliva (40.7 fWAR) and Kent Hrbek (37.6 fWAR). It trails significantly behind Kirby Puckett (66.1 fWAR), Rod Carew (72.3 fWAR), and Bert Blyleven (102.9). Hunter's best season by fWAR standards came in 2012 (with the Angels) when he posted a 5.2 mark. On a per season basis, he's averaged just 2.19 fWAR. To put that into context, Eddie Rosario posted a 2.3 fWAR for the Twins in 2013.

When deciding whether or not to retire Hunter's number, it's probably less about the numbers than the other factors surrounding it. Looking back on his career, you'd be hard pressed to argue that Hunter's value across Twins Territory was not first and foremost felt through an emotional attachment. He was fun to watch, played the game the right way, and got it done. As noted above though, he was great, but not exceptional. Allowing him in the club opens up a difficult door.

Looking back at some of the teams Torii was best known for, there's two other names that would seem to be in his class. Both Brad Radke and Joe Nathan could have a similar claim to make should Hunter's jersey be no more. Radke owned a 38.7 fWAR despite being a pitcher and playing for only 12 seasons (he also was with the Twins for all of them). While Nathan can't be quantified through WAR, his Twins record saves total comes full circle.

In total, the suggestion is far from Torii Hunter not being celebrated, he absolutely should. However, he should not be revered, and the honor of a number no longer being available should remain a sacred right of passage. Hunter has my vote to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day 2016, but leave the jersey retiring to those who achieved more.

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