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.

Comments (10)

  1. I remember looking at his home/road splits early last year, seeing a pretty sharp difference, and thinking he was a desert creation. Good for him for turning it around, but I’m annoyed that he didn’t do it in Toronto.

  2. Good for Aaron. It makes sense given the Diamondbacks prefer players like Aaron Hill more than the Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips of the world. Hill is “gritty” like their manager.

  3. Always like Hill. Thought he was going to be a lifer, shame he had to be traded away. But very happy to see him get paid. Good for you Aaron Hill.

  4. If he doesn’t stick at 2B they can always move him to the outfield. Arizona LOVES outfielders.

  5. Good for him, I always liked the guy and I thought it was a great trade for him at the time.

    As for the Snakes, I’m not seeing how the get value out of this deal.

    I’m pretty sure his career year is behind him

    You could say Aaron is a little over the Hill!

    Sorry…Its Friday and I’m snowed in!

  6. While you’re right that he makes much better contact now than he has in the past by virtue of swinging at less pitches, his strikeout rate never really spiked at any point after his 36 homer season like you suggest in your intro Drew.

    • Right, but he did take less walks and swing at more pitches at the corner of the zones. His strikeout rate didn’t appear to spike because he had more plate appearances to keep the rate consistent. Add in a bunch of walks, the plate appearances fall, and you may see a spike.

      Not sure if this is what he was going for…

      What’s his whiff rate look like?

      • That’s not true either. He walked more in 2010 than 2009. His 2009 walk rate was actually the lowest he had. His K rate only rose 1.2%.

        I’m just nitpicking though. Everything Drew wrote about the type of contact Hill made last year and the suspected reasons all seem correct. The K rate just never went up in any meaningful way.

    • It went up to 14.5% the following year, up over the year before.

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