Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers

Aaron Hill is an easy baseball player to like. He looks like a baseball player and, if I might be so inane, plays like a baseball player. He hit line drives for days and is quite an adept second baseman, diving about and getting his uniform dirty and the like.

Then one year he hit a like a million home runs and it ruined everything. Hill went into the tank, began popping everything up in the infield and striking out more than an “aggressive” hitter can afford.

One trade, two declined options, and one great season on a pillow contract later and now Aaron Hill is rich, as the Snakes and Hill are on the verge of announcing a three-year contract worth $35 million.

Hill’s three-year deal replaces the two-year contract the second baseman inked with the Snakes last season, after Arizona declined the two options built into the deal he signed while with Toronto, selling off all this arbitration years.

The Diamondbacks deal pays Aaron Hill for exactly what he is: an everyday second baseman in the big leagues. An annual average value of $11.67MM is simply the going rate for a league-average player. If dollars per WAR are you thing, he needs to accumulate 7 WAR through his age 31-33 seasons.

By fWAR, that is no sure thing. Over the last ten years, only 11 second sackers amassed 7 WAR between their age 31-35 seasons. Outside the elites like Chase Utley and dubious acheivers like Bret Boone, this list is mostly slap-hitting defensive dynamos.

So long as Aaron Hill continues to hit as he did in 2012, no problems. Unfortunately, none of the projection systems see it in him again. ZiPS sees him posting a .330 wOBA and 3.2 WAR, which is more than enough for the contract. Most other systems view Hill along the same lines: .330ish wOBA with 20 or so homers. Following the standard decline/regression model, if Hill posts 3/2.5/2 Wins, powered by his 20 home run history and contact-heavy approach for the life of this deal, everybody goes home happy.

2012 Aaron Hill looked a lot more like the type of player who could sustain this, rather than the “sell everything out for power” hitter struggling through the end of his Blue Jays career. Hill didn’t walk much more than earlier his career (and still below league-average) but he did cut down his hack at everything approach.

Compare the swing rates from 2012 to the two previous seasons:

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Like a new man! Hill went from swinging at 67% of pitches in the strikezone to swinging at 60% of pitches thrown in the zone. A more concerted effort to swing at his pitch, not just any pitch, paid dividends. Better contact makes more hits, who knew?

Sustainable swing changes or otherwise; these are the Diamondbacks. No team appears more bound and determined to always get their man, provided he fits their mould. Hill plays the Diamondbacks way, so quibbling over the vagaries of his rate of decline doesn’t phase Kevin Towers and friends. Hill will keep hustling and playing hard for Gibby and the boys for three more years. Seems like a pretty happy marriage, to be honest.

Update!

Looks like this deal does not actually replace the existing deal, instead covering Hill’s age 32-34 seasons. This transfers more “risk” back to the club, as that extra year older makes a difference.

Rather than 3/2.5/2 Win expectation, does it become 2.5/2/1.5? That is only 6 total wins and a somewhat aggressive decline but only 14 second basemen since the strike managed 500 plate appearances in their age 34 season.

There is slightly less pressure on the Diamondbacks to “recoup” all the value in this deal with Hill since his terrific 2012 ensures his current two-year deal is a smart one indeed. Minor details but something to watch as Hill ages. The keystone takes years off your life, apparently.