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Closer Poised to Leap Forward: Tommy Hunter

By Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "Tommy Hunter") [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Jim Johnson and his 101 saves over two seasons are gone, shipped off to Oakland. Grant Balfour didn’t satisfy the health criteria of the Orioles. Thus, the closer role is up for grabs, and a recently converted starter could be poised to make the big step into the ninth-inning role.

Tommy Hunter, 27, was converted to a reliever during the 2013 season. From 2008 to 2012, Hunter spent his time on the mound primarily as a starting pitcher and he even experienced some success, pitching to a 13-4 record and a 3.73 ERA over 22 starts in 2010, but he found himself in Baltimore midway through the 2011 season. While with the Orioles in 2011, he got some opportunities as a reliever, but in 2013, he found himself almost exclusively in the bullpen.

Despite the 50 saves that Jim Johnson earned in the 2013 season, you could argue that Johnson was far from being the best reliever in his own bullpen:

Jim Johnson Tommy Hunter
ERA 2.94 2.81
Innings pitched 70.1 86.1
WHIP 1.28 0.99
K/BB 3.11 4.86


Regardless of how the 2013 season went, Tommy Hunter established himself as a prominent player in the Orioles bullpen. Typically, when a starter transitions to the bullpen, we notice an increase in velocity. Tommy Hunter features four pitches because of his pedigree as a starting pitcher--fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. Normally, a pitcher would cut down on his pitches so he can increase their effectiveness or simply strengthen them, because as a reliever, you won’t stay in a game long enough to use more than two pitches. However with Hunter, not only did he maintain all of his pitches, but there was actually significant spike in the velocity of each of them:

Starter (2012) Reliever (2013)
Fastball 92.0 96.2
Cutter 86.9 92.0
Curveball 78.4 81.7
Changeup 84.4 87.6


The dramatic increase in velocity clearly indicates that Hunter has embraced the reliever’s role and “cranked it up--” he won’t be holding anything back coming out of the 'pen.

Another noticeable difference for Hunter was the batted-ball profile Most pitchers want to maintain a good groundball rate to keep the likelihood of the home run to a minimum.

Starter (2012) Reliever (2013)
Ground ball 45.4 39.0
Fly ball 34.6 40.2
Line drive 20.0 20.7


In Camden Yards, a hitter-friendly ballpark, keeping the fly balls to a minimum will be in the best interest of the pitcher. If Tommy Hunter can find the key to what made him a ground ball pitcher as a starter and combine it with the increased velocity he's shown as a reliever, expect him to be a great closer and to help the Baltimore Orioles compete in the highly competitive American League East.


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