Right, Tommy Hunter with 133.2 IP. Sometimes you just need a guy to take the ball, I guess.
The O's picked Hunter up from the Rangers last season in the Koji Uehara trade, and moved him from the bullpen (where he spent all of 2011 for Texas) to the rotation. He began 2012 as the O's #2 starter, but that didn't go especially well.
It wasn't totally unexpected; Hunter maintained his excellent control (1.8 BB/9) but continued to not miss many bats (4.7 K/9). The biggest problem - by far - was that batters started to take Hunter deep left and right. Allowing 30 home runs in 20 games (2.3 HR/9) is not a recipe for success, and his ERA (5.71) and FIP (6.09) reflected that.
Of course some of that was poor fortune, as Hunter's 21.3% HR/FB rate was the highest in the Majors for starters with at least 100 IP. That's why his xFIP was a more reasonable 4.52, which still isn't good but is more in line with his career numbers as a back of the rotation starter.
Hunter was used in relief a couple times earlier in the season, but finally moved to the bullpen full-time in September. And that's where he may have finally found his role. Because Tommy Hunter the starter throws a 90-91 mph fastball, but Tommy Hunter the reliever throws a 95-96 mph fastball that he can actually blow by people. Here's the change in whiff rates against his pitches during the year:
As a reliever, he simplified his repertoire and is much more content to let it rip with the heater. It's also possible that the slider compliments things better that way than the curve, but this is a relatively small number of pitches to look at.
In any case, it's working. Out of the bullpen, Hunter pitched to a 3.71 ERA, 3.45 FIP, and 3.39 xFIP. Only Troy Patton had a lower xFIP (and his was just 0.01 lower) of pitchers with more than Tommy's 17 innings out of the pen. Hunter struck out 16 batters in those 17 innings, while handing out just 3 unintentional walks. he also threw the fastest pitch of any Oriole this year, at 100.1 mph.
As nonplussed as I was about the excitement some had when the O's added Hunter to the team as a starter, I can definitely get on board with him as a power-reliever who can potentially throw multiple innings out of the pen (I think I'm more comfortable with him in the 7th or 8th than Pedro Strop, at the very least). This could be one of those not-often-seen situations where a guy is so much better in shorter outings that he's more* valuable despite a somewhat reduced workload.
* More likely he'd be about as valuable; perhaps 1+ win in 80 innings as a reliever versus 1+ win in 120 innings as a starter.