Welcome to Our First Ever Article: Aaron Hill, Aaron Hill: Where Art Thou Aaron Hill?

MLB reports:  Greetings Readers,

Based on my early run on twitter, welcome to the 1st official article entry for mlbreports.com. Please feel free to suggest topics, otherwise I will pick topics at random that interest me and I think you will enjoy.  Also all feedback is welcome, please message me any time.

So on to the article. With the help of one of my new resources, the Bill James Handbook 2011 (enjoy the plug Mr. James), I now jump into the mystery that is Aaron Hill.

2009 represented Aaron’s breakout year. A season where Hill led the AL in 682 ABs and played in all but 4 of the Jays games. 195 hits, 37 doubles, 36 home runs, 340 total bases, 103 runs, 108 rbis, .286 average and .499 slug. Fast forward to 2010. Jays fans believe the second coming of Joe Morgan is emerging in Toronto and that Hill would be the new face of this once proud franchise in the midst of rebuilding. What they got instead was the second coming of Russ Adams (exaggeration, of course, but you know what I mean). Look at Hill’s 2010 numbers last season: 108 hits, 22 doubles, 26 home runs, 208 total bases, 70 runs, 68 rbis, .205 average, .394 slug. So the question is: Which is the real Aaron Hill, the 2009 or 2010 models?

Most baseball people would argue somewhere in the middle. I would somewhat agree, but will throw in that the middle ground will lean more towards 2010. Yes I live in Toronto and no, I am not a homer or biased. Mostly. I have never been a big fan of Aaron Hill and was not ready to start engraving any hall of flame plaques after 2009. To me, Jose Bautista’s breakout is more likely to be reality than Hill’s. I see 2011 as the crossroads for Hill, where he either reclaims elite status or moves to the land of waivers, release, AAA buses etc.

There were some items of note that irked me about Hill in 2009. Walks. 42 walks, of which 1 was intentional. A .330 obp.  At first glance the .286 average that Hill sported in 2009 appears impressive.  But when you consider that it only translated into a .330 obp, something doesn’t sit right.  Hill has the reputation in Toronto of being a gritty hitter, “great #2″ who can set up the table and drive in runs.  But truth be known, for the great hitter that Hill is, pitchers found it necessary to intentionally walk him only 1 time.  That doesn’t show me a great deal of respect.  Hill in fact only took 42 walks in 2009.  In contrast, for Hill’s disastrous 2010, he was intentionally walked twice and took a total of 41 walks.  No difference whatsoever.    So studying Hill on this basis, he cannot take a walk whether he is hitting or not.  Pitchers are apparently aware of this and are not afraid to pitch to him.  2009 tells me that even if Hill can hit for a solid .286 average, the kid will not be considered any form of on-base machine.

Why the obsession with on-base percentage?  For a simple reason.  Unless you can hit like Vladdy Guerrero and scrape balls out of the dirt for home runs, a bad batting eye can lead to Jeff Francouer territory.  This is not the place to be.  We all know Francouer and his path in the major leagues.  Coming up Atlanta was seen as a hitter with power that will develop a batting eye.  That unfortunately never came and now Jeff is with the Royals last I read.  If I were him, I would be scouting out for apartments in Omaha.  Now.  But I digress.  An Aaron Hill player that refuses to take a walk and is not respected enough to be intentionally walked, will rarely make it far in a baseball career.  Of Hill’s 108 hits in 2010, 26 went deep.  Think about it.  The man was only able to have 108 hits in a full season, in 138 games and managing 528 at-bats.  Hill essentially played a full season in 2010 and a full 25% of hits were home runs.  Based on that rate, if Hill could have duplicated his 195 hits from 2009, he would have hit a whopping 50 home runs.  We are talking Jose Bautista territory, who did hit 54 home runs in 2010…and also walked 100 times.  It would take Hill 2.5 years to take that many walks.  Apparently this will not happen.  So even at 26 home runs, not a number generally to be sneezed at, Aaron Hill looked very weak in 2010.

The point that I am trying to make?  Essentially the following.  For Aaron Hill to be effective, he has to hit…and hit…and hit some more.  Even at close to 200 hits, this not a player that gets on at a very high rate.  Take away the hits, all the other numbers fall off the table.  The Aaron Hill of 2010 to me is Pete Incaviglia or Rob Deer, just less strikeouts.  In today’s mlb, players such as these are becoming less of a desired commodity.  Looking at the numbers we are seeing only one other “good” season by Hill.  2007  showed 17 home runs, 87 runs, 78 rbis and a .291 average.  160 games played that season with 608 at-bats.  Guess the number of walks?  You got it, 41 with a .333 obp.  In 4 years I don’t see any real progress, just one outlier year in 2009.

Consulting with my friend Bill James, what is expected from Hill in 2011?  Am I alone in my thinking or is one of the industry gurus in agreement with me?  142 games, 531 at-bats, 22 home runs, 76 runs, 73 rbis.  Ok.  So far so good.  But 138 hits and you guessed it, the standard 41 walks.  A .260 average, .319 obp and .446 slug.  My favourite whipping boy, Jeff Francouer, is projected to have a similar .318 obp.  Ouch.  The Aaron Hill of 2011 is an improvement of the 2010 version, but actually a regression of the 2007 model.  The hype from 2009 was just that.  Hype.  For those in the know, there were reasons to believe that there were warning signs from the beginning on Hill and 2009 should not have tempered them.  I was never a Hill backer, I will admit and have never wavered.  The Jays this past off-season traded their top starting pitcher, Shaun Marcum for the top prospect in the Brewers system.  A second basemen by the name of Brett Lawrie.  The writing should be on the wall for Aaron at this point and it’s actually a shame.  As a #7 – #9 hitter, he would have been considered steady and productive.  But being thrust into batting spots such as #2 and #5, he does not have the capabilities to produce as required.  As we all know in sports, especially in baseball, once expectations are thrust upon you, it is difficult to hide them.

By 2013 Aaron Hill will likely be on his 2nd or 3rd team and the above points will be moot.  But as the 2011 season approaches and the Jays rebuild and look to improve, excuse me while I don’t count on Aaron Hill.  I don’t expect the Toronto Blue Jays will either.

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Posted on January 17, 2011, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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