Monday, May 18, 2009

By Coral Marshall - Columnist

For someone who has won the Gold Glove for eight consecutive seasons, Torii Hunter is a guy who doesn't get much credit when it comes to the All-Star Game. Sure, a career .273 batting average with about 25 home runs a year are not the numbers one expects from an All-Star outfielder (think Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Ted Williams). Instead, Hunter's overall numbers are more akin to former Angel Fred Lynn, an All-Star who didn't make it to the game for the last seven seasons of his career. (He too averaged 25 homers a year and a .283 batting average, only .010 higher than Torii's.)

But the All-Star Game isn't about comparing the past with the present; it is about electing who is most deserving in the early months of a season to a game that not only celebrates the players who have done the best so far, but also determines which league gets home field advantage in the World Series. This should not be about fans only electing big name players, or players from their favorite team, yet it inevitably comes down to that; evidenced by the fact that fans are not allowed to vote for pitchers, perhaps even more telling is the election of David Ortiz to play first base when games are in National League parks and designated hitters are not used. But fans of the game of baseball should instead vote for the players who will give them the best game possible, especially since each team is required to have at least one player represented on the roster.

If the Angels are to have only one player on this roster, Torii Hunter is most deserving this season. This isn't to say that Mike Napoli and others have not stepped up to the plate metaphorically, but rather that Hunter has exceeded all expectations in Vladimir Guerrero's absence. While Napoli, Gary Matthews Jr., Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera and the rest of the team have really come through in the trying times the Angels have faced with this season's injuries, Hunter has displayed the fielding and batting expertise necessary to hold the team together, which does not even include his clubhouse presence — which one can deduce from player interviews keeps everyone in good spirits.

Instead of making the All-Star Game a who's who of baseball, fans should work to honor those who have made a difference on the field and carried their team to this point in the season. Torri Hunter has become a prime example of this. His defense is unmatched, as shown by the aforementioned Gold Gloves, and not to mention his almost nightly appearance on baseball highlight reels. And to be honest, the numbers don't lie — Hunter has a perfect fielding percentage so far this year; that means no errors.

His offense has been impressive so far this season, too. Before Sunday's game, the Angels had a total of 27 home runs this season, of which Hunter had hit 9; that's one-third of the total for the team. (Is anyone else reminded of Babe Ruth in the 1920s by that kind of percentage?) His total ranks him No. 10 in the AL. His at-bats-per-homer ratio is an impressive No. 10 in the league, as well. With 14-plus position players in a game like the All-Star Game, where players are likely to only get one or two at bats for the entire game, this is a highly important statistic. The fewer at bats, on average, it takes for a player to hit a home run the more likely in any game (let alone a game that they will more than likely not bat the minimum three times) they are to do so, increasing the odds of scoring at one time rather than having to put together a rally. While his batting average may not have him on any leader boards before Sunday's game, he was batting .317 this season (an entire .029 points higher than his highest single season average), and more importantly his .611 Slugging Percentage ranks him ninth in the American League, while his 1.012 On-Base Plus Slugging percentage puts him at eighth.

Hunter has not only stood out amongst the Halos this year, but amongst the entire league. Who knows, with these numbers, maybe by the end of the season this will become a petition for an MVP instead of an All-Star Game bid.
Love to hear what you think!


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