When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Tommy Hunter to a two-year/$18 million free-agent contract last December, it was panned by many around the league. Apparently, some in the organization weren’t keen on signing Hunter, then 31, to a lucrative free-agent contract either.
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports, the Phillies scouts pushed back against the front-office’s plan to sign Hunter, who was coming off of a career year out of the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen:
Phillies scouts warned against signing Tommy Hunter. Someone should have listened. The Phillies have done a lot of great things, but his $18-million deal is quite the overpay…
In 2017, Hunter increased the usage of his cutter to 31.8 percent of the time, after using it 17.6 percent of the time in 2016. FanGraphs pitch value metric says that Hunter’s cutter was the seventh most effective cutter among relievers in 2017. The cutter also turned into Hunter’s most commonly thrown pitch in 2017 – jumping from 20.9-percent in 2016 to 32.6-percent in 2017. He used the pitch most commonly against left-handed hitters, with them hitting just .167 against the pitch in 2017.
In his first season with the Phillies, Hunter has doubled down on his increase in usage of the cutter. FanGraphs now says he’s using the pitch just under 45 percent of the time in all situations. However, with increased usage of the pitch has come decreased success. Per Brooks Baseball, both left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters have had more success against the cutter in 2018 than they did in 2017.
It is worth pointing out that Hunter has been better of late. He posted a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings in July. He has 0.00 ERA in his first four innings in August. For all of the new critics of FIP, Hunter’s ERA has come down to 3.98, meaning it’s within the range of his 3.78 xFIP. He still has a ways to go before approaching his 3.27 FIP, but Hunter has been much better since the All-Star Break.
That’s not say the signing has been successful thus far – even if his ERA equaled his 3.27 FIP, it would still be underwhelming for someone making $9 million in 2018. Frankly, if he wasn’t under contract for $9 million in 2019, it’s fair to wonder if Edubray Ramos, who had a 1.91 ERA in 39 games at the major league level, would have been optioned to Triple-A when he returned from the disabled list on Aug. 1.
But despite what scouts may have said, the Phillies front-office had money to spend and elected to do so on Hunter. To a degree, we may be seeing a battle between old school and new school minds play out with Hunter’s tenure in Philadelphia. The first-half of the season went more along the lines of how the old school minds said it would. We’ll see how the second-half ultimately turns out.
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