Many fans called for Hunter to get a chance last season when Jim Johnson struggled. It didn’t happen then, but it might now. The O’s were seeking a closer from outside the organization, but as you may have heard, that hasn’t exactly worked out to this point.
In terms of makeup, character, want-to and fastball velocity, Hunter has what it takes to be a closer. I would have no worries about his ability to handle the pressure of the role and bounce back from a poor outing.
My concern with Hunter in that role comes on the stat sheet.
Last season, left-handed batters hit .294 with a .535 slugging percentage and .857 OPS off Hunter with 11 homers in 170 at-bats. By comparison those numbers for lefties against Johnson were .279/.400/.740 and three homers in 140 at-bats.
Plus, those numbers were similar to Hunter’s career numbers against left-handed batters, which are .294/.500/.843.
Now Hunter was dominant versus right-handed batters, giving up a batting average of .141 and OPS of .344. Yeah, that is dominant.
But any closer who throws right-handed will see lefty pinch-hitters late in the game and must have the ability to get out hitters from both sides of the plate.
Some fans prefer a closer that can throw the ball by hitters. Hunter can certainly do that, but I can throw cold water on that theory. First, Johnson struck out batters at a greater rate in 2013 then he did in 2012 (yet had a worse season) and at a greater rate than Hunter last year, averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings to Hunter’s 7.1.
Also, Johnson pitched on back-to-back days 14 times last season to eight for Hunter. Johnson pitched three days in a row four times last season to one for Hunter.
Hunter has the guts and velocity to be a closer. He is not afraid and welcomes any challenge at any time. The ninth inning is not for everyone, but he would not be the least bit timid about it.
The issue though is the stat sheet. If a player’s track record says one thing, can we expect that to change just because he is now the closer?