Monday, May 16, 2016

The Torii Hunter Hangover

Photo Credit: Marilyn Indahl- USA Today Sports
When a team starts out as poorly as the Twins have this season, fans are going to be left searching for answers. Is this Terry Ryan's fault for not having a better roster? Are the minor league coaches to blame for not preparing the team's top prospects? Or is there a much simpler answer?

Over the last week, there has been plenty of discussion about Torii Hunter not being on the current Twins squad. Even national baseball writers have noticed and wondered if Hunter could make a difference in turning this team around. Hunter himself has said that the Twins' "are kind of going through the motions."

For years fans of this club have engaged in endless discussion about who the clubhouse leader is with Hunter not on the roster. Joe Mauer's quiet demeanor doesn't demand everyone's attention. Some players might react better to more subtle leadership compared to Hunter's boisterous attitude. Players like Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins have taken on leadership roles but it's not quite the same as with Hunter.

This isn't the first team to struggle a year after Hunter left. There's been an interesting trend in regards to team's Hunter has been on and the club's results in the season following his departure.

Los Angeles Angels Era (2008-2012)
The Angels were a playoff team the year before Hunter signed with them as a free agent but they were easily swept out of the first round by Boston. In Hunter's first LA season, the team improved from 94 wins to 100 wins, the only team in franchise history to reach the century mark. The Angeles lost to the Red Sox again in 2008 before making the ALCS in 2009 and losing to the Yankees. That was the last year Los Angeles won a playoff series. Hunter's last year in LA was 2012 when the club went 89-73 and finished five games out of first place. The season after he left was even worse as the club dropped to 78-84. The Angels finished 18 games out of first which was their worst mark since 2003.

Detroit Tigers Time (2013-2014)
Hunter moved on from Los Angeles and came back to the AL Central in 2013. The Tigers were coming off a World Series sweep the year prior to signing Hunter. Detroit jumped from 88 wins in 2012 to 93 wins with Hunter in the line-up. That club made it to the ALCS before falling to the Red Sox in six game. Detroit's 90 wins topped the AL Central again in 2014 but they were swept by Baltimore in the ALDS. The club took a big step backwards during their first year without Hunter and finished 74-87 (20.5 games behind Kansas City).

Minnesota Twins Homecoming (2015)
Minnesota brought Hunter back last year on the heels of four straight 90-loss seasons. Some questioned the move since it didn't seem like the Twins were in a position to start winning now. The Twins proved plenty of doubters wrong as the team wasn't eliminated from playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. Minnesota also improved from 70 wins in 2014 to 83 wins. His play on the field wasn't leading to wins but his off the field leadership might have kept moral a little higher. It's hard to argue with results as the Twins struggled to get to double-digits wins by the middle of May.

All three of Hunter's clubs have struggled in the year after he left. Los Angeles won 11 fewer games, Detroit fell by 16 games, and Minnesota seems destined for another 90 losses. Can one player make that much of a difference?

There's no way to quantify what a player's off-field contributions are to a team. A lot of this leadership happens behind closed doors and out of the earshot of local media members. From dance parties to firing guys up in the clubhouse, Hunter made his mark on this franchise but he certainly couldn't get the current squad into playoff contention by himself.

Hunter has been the heart and soul of this organization during his two Minnesota stints but there isn't a simple solution to fix the 2016 Twins because there are plenty of other things wrong with this team. Pitchers need to pitch better and batters need to break out of their slumps. Baseball is a game of adjustments and this club hasn't made the right adjustments yet.

No amount of dance parties is going to fix those issues.

No comments: