As the Blue Jays season approaches the half way mark, several positive and negative trends have carried along long enough that extra attention is warranted. By far the two most concerning trends are the continuing futility of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. Both have been bad enough at the plate this year to generate serious concern about their futures.
This is especially true because both players are in what should be the primes of their careers but yet are having their worst seasons to date. Even more troubling is that the Blue Jays have committed to long term contracts with both players. The struggles from both players are showing up in both their traditional and more advanced statistics. The small sample size excuse, as well as the poor BABIP excuse are melting away leaving a great deal of concern.
Aaron Hill's problems are less concerning than Lind's for multiple reasons. First, Lind has been rated as a poor fielder in his time in left field, one of the least demanding defensive positions. That has largely regulated him to a DH role leaving his hitting as his only means of contributing to the Jays.
Hill on the other hand is generally considered to be an above average defensive second baseman, although UZR has pegged him as slightly below average since 2009. Second base is a much more demanding position than left field. Even a slightly below average second baseman has more value than an average left fielder, which Lind is far from being.
The second issue that yields more concern for Lind than Hill is their contracts. Hill is only guaranteed five million dollars for 2011, after which the Jays hold three option years covering 2012-2014. If the Jays decide he's unlikely to be worth his option price in any year after '11 they can walk away. Lind on the other hand is guaranteed 5.15 million dollars from 2011-2013, with no options until 2014.
Based on their track records before their 2009 breakout seasons neither should have been expected to repeat last year's performance in 2010. The problem is that they have both nose dived below any previous level of production thus far.
Lind is a career .272 hitter who's hit just .205 this season while his 7.5 percent walk rate is slightly higher than his career 7.0 percent. His power has also dropped, after never posting a full season ISO lower than .156 he's sitting at .144 in 2010. Most troubling is his huge spike in strikeouts. After striking out in 18.1 and 18.7 percent of his at-bats in 2008 and 2009 he's at 27 percent this season.
The strikeout spike demands a look at his contact rates and plate discipline numbers. And there's nothing reassuring there either, he's chasing 31.5 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This after chasing just 24.7 percent a season ago. Lind's also swung and missed 10.3 percent of the time, up from 7.2 percent in '09.
Again, looking at Hill's numbers there's less to be concerned about than Lind. Not by much though. Hill has been able to draw a walk in 10.5 percent of his plate appearances, a marked improvement over his 7.0 percent career rate. He's also maintained some power with a .182 ISO that's much better than any ISO over a full season from 2005-2008.
But he's still stuck with a .191 batting average and an almost unfathomable .182 BABIP. The BABIP looked to be the culprit earlier in the season for Hill. Now however, 236 at-bats into his 2010 season other factors have emerged. The biggest of which is Hill's 8.6 percent line drive rate and 52 percent flyball rate. Both numbers are way off his career norms and killing any chance of BABIP rebound. A return to his career 19.1 percent line drive rate and 39.9 percent flyball rate are Hill's only hope at this point.
How Hill is going to do that is another question entirely. The statistics can only go so far in identifying problems, trends and reasons for regression or improvement.
At this point Jays fans would be best served to believe that Hill and Lind can't possibly be this bad, no matter the reason, and wait for the rebound. Especially for Lind who only has a limited means for bringing a return on the Jays investment.