Don't Pull the Trigger on Aaron Hill Just Yet
Aaron Hill has been back playing every day for the Blue Jays for slightly over a month now. He landed on the disabled list from April 8 to 23 when he injured his right hamstring. Since returning the results have not been encouraging, especially coming off a career year in 2009. When a player has a career year in his thirties, that's one thing, but when a player has one at age 27 like Hill did, you'd hope he could replicate it for a few more seasons. Hill is struggling to match his production from any season right now.
Going into the Jays' series against the Baltimore Orioles, set to start tomorrow night, Hill is hitting just .154. The incredibly low batting average is dragging down his on-base percentage (.268) and slugging percentage (.324) to equally ugly levels of production, leaving it to look like Hill is completely lost at the plate.
But the further away we go from Hill's batting average, the more optimistic things start to look, starting with his 12.7 percent walk rate, which sits well above both the league average, 9.1, and his own career mark of 7.0 percent. Likewise, his isolated power stands at .169—well below last year's outstanding .213, to be sure, but still better than his career average of .151. In short, he's walking more than usual and still collecting some extra base hits.
There are two parts to explaining his .154 batting average. With the extra walks have also come more strikeouts, as he's gone down on strikes in 19.1 percent of his at-bats. That's just about league average, slightly better actually, but well above his career mark of 14.3 percent. That's a combined 10.5 percent less balls in play than his career norms, which isn't always a problem.
Unless, that is, if your batting average on balls in play happens to be .144. That is Hill's current BABIP, an almost unfathomable number given his career mark of .299 and this season's league-wide average of .297. If Hill had a .299 BABIP on his 104 balls in play this season, he'd be hitting .272, and this article wouldn't exist.
The main culprit for that lowly BABIP is Hill's career low 8.2 percent line-drive rate. He's never had less than 17.3 percent of balls in play hit for liners in his five-year career before this one. Line drives have substantially higher BABIPs than any other batted ball. When Hill starts hitting more line drives, it will fuel a rise in his BABIP and batting average.
Throw in career-low BABIPs on his groundballs and fly balls, and you have the perfect storm for a depleted batting average.
His batted ball profile does have a silver lining though. 11.1 percent of his fly balls have left the park, better than any season except '09. You'd still like to see more line drives and more balls fall in for hits, but he looks like he can pop 20-plus homers this season.
Some of Hill's struggles can be attributed to bad luck, which can happen in small sample sizes. The lack of line drives could also be partially due to the hamstring problems he's experienced so far this year. He might be out there almost every day, but that doesn't mean his legs aren't still sapping some of his power. The further away he gets from his hammy problems, assuming they're gone, the better.
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