Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter has the best lineup spot in baseball and it should lead to a career year for the 37-year-old.
Hunter is off to a 14-for-33 (.424) start through seven games, and he has scored four runs as the No. 2 hitter in the batting order.
That spot means 2012 AL MVP Miguel Cabrera is on deck, ready to pad his RBI total when Hunter gets on base. If Cabrera doesn't get the job done, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez get their turns.
Hunter has never scored 100 runs in a season, but having those three monsters behind him should change that in 2013.
The right fielder is coming off a career-high .313 average with the Los Angeles Angels, and he accomplished that largely by hitting .350 in the second half.
Hunter needed a .389 BABIP to reach .313, and he had a .443 BABIP after the All-Star break, so there will be some regression, but I think we need to take into account how Cabrera's presence will impact the pitches Hunter sees.
According to Pitchf/x, Hunter has seen 45.2 percent four-seam fastballs this year, up from 34 percent last season.
That's also a product of seeing just 3.48 pitches per plate appearance, since pitchers throw more fastballs earlier in counts, but that's not much different than the 3.57 pitches per plate appearance he saw last year.
Last season, Hunter posted his highest line-drive and ground-ball rates in the past 11 years, according to FanGraphs (its records only go back to 2002). He had a 22.6 percent line drive rate, 52 percent ground ball rate and 25.4 percent fly ball rate, numbers that are 17.8 percent, 47.9 percent and 34.3 percent, respectively, over the last 11 years.
He has continued that trend this season, hitting 22.2 percent line drives, 55.6 percent ground balls and 22.2 percent fly balls.
Players get more hits on line drives and grounders than fly balls, so we can't really look at the season prior to 2012 as a guide on what to expect in 2013. He has made different contact since last season, and that has had a different effect on his BABIP.
It also helps that Detroit's leadoff hitter Austin Jackson has morphed into an on-base machine after piling up the strikeouts over his first two seasons.
Jackson had a 3.41 K/BB over his first two years in the majors, but he reduced that to 2.0 last season and posted a .377 OBP. Jackson has five walks and just three strikeouts in seven games this season.
Not only will having Jackson on base provide Hunter will RBI opportunities, it will make pitchers even more inclined to try to get him out early in the count, because the last thing they want to do is walk Hunter with Jackson already on base and Cabrera coming up.
With Hunter hitting fewer fly balls than ever before, the days of him belting 20 homers are over, but a .315 average, 100 runs, 15 homers, 90 RBIs and 10 steals aren't out of the question in this lineup.
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