In many ways Detroit Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter had a career year in 2013. He didn’t eclipse 30 home runs like he did with the Minnesota Twins back in 2006 or drive in 100 runs like he did back in 2003 and 2007, but he did establish a new career-high in hits with 184. He also batted .304 which was the second-highest batting average of his 17-year career, bested only by the .313 he hit in his final season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2012. He also legged out five triples, which was his highest total since he hit five three-baggers back in 2001 during his age-25 season.
Now that Hunter has begun knocking on the door of 40, he has seemingly become a slightly different type of player who hits for more average and less power than he did in his younger days. However, it is very important to note that the overwhelming majority of the success he has been having over the past two seasons has come batting in the two-hole. Hunter hit .343 in 356 at-bats in the two-hole in 2012 and .306 in 588 at-bats while batting second in 2013.
However, Hunter’s spot in the Tigers’ 2014 lineup has been left unclear as a result of the Tigers’ offseason additions of Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis. Moreover, the fact that Andy Dirks is a much better hitter when he is batting in the top third of the lineup is finally gaining the attention that it should, and the departure of Prince Fielder took a big chunk of power out of the middle of the Tigers’ lineup.
Therefore, if Hunter does not bat second, the most logical spot to place him would be the No. 5 spot — behind Victor Martinez whom manager Brad Ausmus recently confirmed will be batting fourth. Some, however, are questioning whether or not Hunter is still capable of being the formidable middle of the order hitter he was earlier on in his career. The answer to this question is simple: yes.
Although Hunter, who will turn 39 in July, may no longer be the 20-30 home run threat he was with the Twins and during his first four years with the Angels, but he still has more than enough power to bat fifth and protect Martinez. The 17 home runs he hit last season for the Tigers was good for the third highest total on the team behind only Fielder with 25 and Miguel Cabrera with 44.
Moreover, he still has the ability to drive the ball through the gaps and collect a lot of extra-base hits as well. In addition to his aforementioned five triples, he also clubbed 37 doubles in 2013 and had 282 total bases which was the third-highest total of his career. Most importantly, however, he still drove in 84 runs. RBI are RBI regardless of whether they come by way of the home run or the single.
The other issue some fans are worried about is that if Hunter bats fifth he will no longer have the luxury of batting in front of Cabrera and may have Austin Jackson, Alex Avila or Nick Castellanos batting in the No. 6 spot to protect him. This is a legitimate concern as it remains to be seen what Castellanos will give the Tigers at the plate in 2014, and Avila has not been an offensive force since 2011. Jackson, however, could thrive in the six-hole.
The Tigers have been given the perfect chance to drop Jackson in the batting order, and if the team takes advantage of this opportunity they could see Jackson become an entirely different type of player. Jackson could morph into a Mike Cameron- esque center fielder who hits in the .260-.280 range with 20 home run pop which would in turn give Hunter ample protection.
If Hunter is sandwiched between Martinez and Jackson, he should find himself in an excellent position to give the Tigers another All-Star caliber season.