Aaron Hill and Ben Zobrist Surprised, But Are They Legit?

Bryan CurleyCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

ST LOUIS, MO - JULY 14: American League All-Star Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on before the 2009 MLB All-Star Game against National League All-Stars at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by: Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

Last year’s second basemen were not your father’s (older brother’s?) second basemen.  If you were in a 10 team league chances are you ended up with a highly productive second baseman on your hands.  Today I will be taking a look at a few second basemen whose statistics represented a break from their career norms.  Then I will determine if it signifies the beginning of a new trend or if it is just a statistical outlier.

Aaron Hill

Aaron Hill finished last year with a PSR (for more details visit our PSR Rankings Explained page) of 10.38, which was third best among second baseman.  He finished the year with 36 HR and 108 RBI to go along with 103 R and a .284 AVG.  More impressively, he had the highest HR and RBI totals among second baseman.  These power numbers are in stark contrast to his career totals.

Here is a list of his home run totals by year with at bats in parenthesis:

2005: 3   (361)
2006: 6   (546)
2007: 17 (608)
2008: 2   (205)
2009: 36 (682)

As you can see, Hill more than doubled his previous high in HR.  In order to determine if Hill will match his 2009 power totals next year, we must dig deeper into the numbers and look at his ISO (isolated power) numbers and his HR/FB (home run/fly ball) rates.

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Notice how last year Hill had the highest ISO of his career as well as the highest HR/FB ratio of his career.  What concerns me about these numbers is that they are so much greater than in any other year.  Although it is natural for a player to develop more power as he gets older, it is unlikely to develop so much of that power in one year.  As a result, I don’t believe that Hill will be able to sustain his ISO and HR/FB from last year and thus will see a decrease in his power total.

While Hill’s power numbers last year seem like an aberration, his AVG and R seem sustainable to due a BABIP and LD% right around his career norms.  Don’t get me wrong Hill is still a valuable second basemen who is capable of having a HR total in the low 20s and an RBI total in the 90s.  Just don’t expect another 30 HR 100 RBI next year.

Ben Zobrist

In 2009, Ben Zobrist made quite the name for himself.  He went from being known as “the guy traded for Aubrey Huff” to the more affectionate Zorilla.  He posted a dazzling line of 91/27/91/17/.297 which were all career bests.  Here is a look at Zobrist’s career numbers:

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As you can see, Zobrist received the most AB’s last year as he was filling in for the injured Akinori Iwamura.  With Iwamura traded to Pittsburgh, Zobrist will once again man second base for the Rays in 2010.  If you look at the above table you can see that 2008 actually represented the start of a new trend for Zobrist.  His AB/HR ratio was 16.5 compared to 91.5 in 2006 and 97 in 2007.  He also walked more in 2008.  He walked once every 7.29 AB’s compared to once every 18.3 AB’s in 2006 and once every 32.33 AB’s in 2007.  In 2009, Zobrist’s AB/HR ratio was 18.55 which was right around his 2008 mark showing that Zobrist’s power in 2008 was no fluke.  He also walked once every 5.51 AB’s indicating Zobrist’s improved plate discipline.

From these numbers we can deduce that Zobrist probably would have put up similar numbers in 2008 as he did in 2009 if he was given the same amount of AB’s.  As a result Zobrist is a good candidate to repeat his 2009 performance in 2010.

There are two differences between 2008 and 2009 however.  One being AVG and another being SB.  He posted a high BABIP last year (.330) which resulted in a .297 AVG.  In 2008 he had a low BABIP of .255 which resulted in a .253 AVG.  Next year his AVG should fall somewhere in between as his BABIP will even out, probably closer to .297 due to his improved plate discipline.  As for the stolen bases, I think his 17 SB are for real considering he stole 36 bases in the minors in 2005 and 26 bases in the minors in 2006.

The Power of Robinson Cano and Jose Lopez 

Robinson Cano entered last season averaging 15.5 HR a year before belting a career high 25 HR in 2009.  If Cano is to retain his position as one of fantasy’s best second basemen he will need to hit around 25 HR again next year since he does not steal any bases.

If you look at Cano’s fly ball percentage (FB%) and line drive percentage (LD%) from last year you will notice he posted a low FB% of 33.4% and a good LD% of 19.9%.  For comparison others players who hit 25 HR such as Adam Laroche, Jack Cust, Juan Rivera, and Jose Lopez had a FB% of 43.4%, 42.9%, 38.4%, and 40.8% respectively.  This information indicates that Cano is not a good candidate to repeat his power surge in 2010 since he is more of line drive hitter than a fly ball hitter.

However there is one equalizer in this equation: new Yankee Stadium.  Cano hit more HR at home last year than away in less at bats.  Expect this trend to continue with Cano being a lefty pull hitter in a stadium with a short right field.

As a result, you can expect Cano to once again hit close to 25 HR and remain one of the best second baseman in fantasy.

Jose Lopez presents another interesting power case in that he also posted a career high of 25 HR last year.  His HR totals from 2006-2008 were as follows: 10, 11, and 17.

Looking more closely at Lopez’s 2009 stats we can see that he posted a career high ISO of .191.  His previous career high was .146.  He also posted a career high FB% of 40.8% besting his previous high of 37.4%.  In addition, Lopez’s 11.1 HR/FB ratio was a career best, trumping his previous high of 8.2.

While Lopez is entering his prime and is likely developing more power, he is unlikely to maintain high ISO, FB%, and HR/FB ratio, especially considering that he plays half his games in the spacious Safeco Field.  As a result, Lopez is not likely to hit more than 20 HR.

Although I am down on Lopez’s HR totals, I do believe that he can approach his career high of 96 RBI from last year and perhaps even surpass that total.  He will again be hitting in the middle of the order because the Mariners have no other “power” hitters.  Also, Chone Figgins joins Ichiro at the top of lineup.  With those two guys hitting ahead of Lopez, he should have plenty of RBI opportunities.

As always check out Baseball Professor for more fantasy baseball analysis.