Torii Hunter, driven by his comfortable new surroundings, is locked in at the plate. (BeGreen90, Flickr)
When the Detroit Tigers signed Torii Hunter this past November, they knew they’d be getting an excellent clubhouse presence, a world famous defender and an illuminating personality.
What they probably didn’t anticipate receiving, however, was a .400 hitter who has looked capable of keeping that torrid pace up. Hunter, a career .277 batter, has started the season off scortching hot. Through the first seven games, he’s hitting .424 with two RBI’s and four runs scored. He’s only had one game without a hit, and in the rest of the games, Hunter hasn’t had less than two.
Given the numbers, it’s hard to say which Tiger hitter has been most impressive early in 2013. Prince Fielder has two clutch home runs to his credit, and he’s hitting for average. Miguel Cabrera has been his usual superhuman self, and Austin Jackson is reprising his role as a top table setter. Hunter, though, with his impressive numbers and play might quietly be the best. Another 3-5 performance against Toronto, including a “hitters hitter” at bat in which Hunter shrugged off an 0-2 count to collect his 2,000th career hit, raised more eyebrows yesterday afternoon and built upon his solid start.
What’s the reasoning behind all this? Comfort, more than anything. Watching games early, it’s easy to tell Hunter enjoys his surroundings. He’s smiling, gesturing into the dugout after hits and enjoying himself. Hunter’s personality fits this team, and as the season wears on, could truly be the straw which stirs a championship drink. If there was one missing element from the 2012 Tigers, it was a certain bit of effervescence. Early on this season, it’s clear there will be little lacking in that department.
Hunter likely won’t continue to hit over .400 all season long, but with Jackson, Fielder and Cabrera hitting around him and a more relaxed approach, it will be much easier for the outfielder to have a higher average than his previous career bests in 2009 (.299) and 2012 (.313). He can also remain a productive force within offensive production, and could end up leading the team in runs scored if his hitting keeps going and his strikeouts stay low near the top of Detroit’s order.
Quite frankly, you couldn’t ask for a better baseball fit. While questions about Hunter’s age and defense might surface over the course of two seasons in Detroit and his average may certainly level off a bit the rest of April, there is true value in the role he has already played making the Tigers’ dynamic lineup go while making everyone feel good in the process. It shows others that comfort should count for more than money within free agency decision making processes.
Want to see someone satisfied with his surroundings and having fun at work? Just watch Hunter’s next at bat with the Tigers. Not 10 games in, it looks like he’s belonged with these guys for years.
When comfort and confidence mix, the personal results can become extraordinary.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax