The hefty righty was 13-4 a year ago with a 3.73 ERA after missing some time at the beginning of the season due to injury.
That came after a rookie year which saw him emerge as a bulldog and an innings eater despite having more highly touted guys behind him in the team's farm system such as Derek Holland and Eric Hurley. In two seasons, he's compiled a 22-10 record with a sub-4.00 ERA.
But there's a problem with Hunter. He doesn't have an "out" pitch and he relies on pitching to contact, much like former "ace" Scott Feldman, who's now fighting to earn a job after losing his rotation spot last year. Sabremetrics tells us pitchers with a strikeout per 9 innings ratio of less than 5 or 6 are destined for failure, even despite the outlier season where they have luck and overperform.
Not to say Hunter is one of those guys yet. He's young and he throws in the low 90s, he just doesn't put up high strikeout numbers, and that can get you in trouble.
As it has this spring.
Hunter was shelled, once again, on Sunday in an 11-8 loss to those pesky San Francisco Giants when he gave up nine hits in 3 2/3 innings. Now, in three spring appearances, his ERA has ballooned to 8.31.
"I'm not making a very good [case] for it right now," Hunter told Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas. "I definitely have to get better, bottom line."
Ron Washington said the same while, of course, being reassuring and saying he has full confidence Hunter will find his stuff again, but it is a bit scary considering the sudden fall off Hunter had in the postseason last year after the 13-4 regular season and his pristine record at home, where he got pounded twice in the postseason.
Holland, Hurley, Michael Kirkman and one of the stars of spring training, Matt Harrison, have all vastly outperformed Hunter, but none of those guys have the track record Hunter has, and the spring is, well, just the spring. Then there's the Brandon Webb situation, which has the latest prognosis being a May return.
But it's still a concern, and Hunter needs to turn things around to instill some confidence back into Rangers brass before the season begins if he wants that rotation spot that's his to be lost.