Mets May Have Hidden Gem In Tommy Hunter
The New York Mets are looking for ways to fill out their bullpen, and with Seth Lugo undergoing elbow surgery, there suddenly is room for relievers to make their Opening Day bullpen. One of the more intriguing names is Tommy Hunter, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets this offseason.
Hunter, 34, is undoubtedly coming off a poor year. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have signed a minor league deal. Lost in that season is Hunter doing something extremely important – proving he was healthy.
From 2013 – 2017, Hunter was one of the better relievers in all of baseball. Over that five year stretch, Hunter had a 132 ERA+ while going 18-16 with a 17 saves, a 3.12 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and a 7.4 K/9. This lead to him signing a two year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Things did not turn out well for Hunter with the Phillies. In his first season, he was effective posting a 109 ERA+, which to that point, was the worst of his career as a reliever. In 2019, after a terrific start to the season, he went down with a torn flexor tendon. That led to him re-signing a one year deal with the Phillies.
While Hunter was trying to come back from the injury, he dealt with the same issues the rest of baseball had. It was a disjointed season where he couldn’t really work out with trainers or in gyms. He couldn’t work with the Phillies new pitching coach Bryan Price. Instead, he had part of a Spring Training, a ramped up summer camp, and then a shortened 2020 season.
In 2020, Hunter made 24 appearances pitching 24.2 innings. Overall, he was 0-1 with a 4.01 ERA, 1.135 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, and a career best 9.1 K/9. Of note, six of those 24 appearances were scoreless, and he allowed one run or fewer in 20 of his 24 appearances. Looking at that, you see Hunter was a bit of a boom or bust reliever.
Again, keep in mind, this was his first season back from elbow surgery. As is usual, you are going to see some good and bad. On the bad side, aside from the stats, we see from Baseball Savant, Hunter got hit extremely hard, and despite the career best strikeout rate, he wasn’t generating many swings and misses.
On the bright side, Hunter had elite spin on all of his pitches, and he had good control. Looking at his spin and velocity, it compared quite favorably to his 2017 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, which was arguably the best season of his career. Looking at that and other factors, we do see some evidence his 2020 season was better than many believed. In fact, he had a 3.31 FIP.
Looking at his 2020 season, you could envision him being able to return to form after a relatively normal offseason. There is something there for Jeremy Hefner to work with in order to get Hunter back to being the impact reliever he was prior to his surgery. Right now, there’s an open competition, and few in the entire Mets organization can boast the Major League success Hunter has had. As a result, we could very easily imagine Hunter not only making the Opening Day roster, but also having a significant impact in 2021.