Almost assuredly the most disappointing performance from the 2010 Blue Jays was that of Aaron Hill. No one expected Hill to duplicate his 2009 performance that saw him hit 36 home runs while batting .286 and putting up a powerful .213 isolated power. That outburst at the plate came on the heals of a disappointing and injury filled 2008. But he was above-average at the plate in 2007 as well, which had Hill looking like a premiere second baseman headed into 2010.
We now know that Hill was anything but that in 2010, but how he fell so far so fast is an intriguing and troubling issue. If and how he can rebound in 2011 is also a major concern, but that's a topic for another time. There are enough mysteries from this past season to try and figure out before trying to predict the future.
There were bright spots to his season that were mostly dragged down and forgotten due to his other struggles. Hill has never, and will never, be exceptional at drawing walks, but his 7.1 percent walk rate was his best in any season since 2005. Last year's .286 batting average made up for his career low 5.7 percent walk rate. Hill had his second highest career strikeout rate, going down on strikes 16.1 percent of the time. That's of little concern though as it was still well below the league average of 20.7 percent.
The walks weren't what sent his on-base percentage plummeting to .271, his .205 batting average did the damage. Players like Hill who don't strike out often become dependent on a good batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to hit for a high average. This is even more so for Hill, who also walks less than average. That became a big problem for Hill because he wound up with an almost unfathomably low .196 BABIP.
Complicating matters, Hill managed to hit 26 homers and maintain a .189 ISO, both marks were only bested once in his career (2009). The ISO remained above average with only 22 doubles collected in 528 at-bats. He hit more doubles than that in all four years of his career with at least 400 at-bats.
He managed to keep hitting homers while not hitting much of anything else thanks to hitting flyballs 54.2 percent of the time. Flyballs are good for hitting homers and not much else, line drives are where it's at for picking up base hits that don't end at home plate. Hill hit line drives in only 10.6 percent of his at-bats, far and away the worst mark of his career. It was also the worst mark in all of baseball, and by quite a bit too.
The combination of no line drives, and lots of flyballs killed his offensive production to the tune of a career worst .291 wOBA. Even more alarming is the trend continued all season long, he never hit more than 14.9 percent of his balls in play for line drives in any one given month. Likewise, his BABIP never pushed higher than .254, and it's no coincidence that both those numbers were both in July either.
Whatever it was that had Hill incapable of making sound and true contact, it appears that Hill doesn't know what to do about it, or what it is for that matter. At the least, Hill can take comfort that his normal exceptional defense didn't desert him this season too. He had above average defensive stats across the board, like he has many times in the past.
Hill was just twenty-eight in 2010 and should be enjoying the peak years of his career. It'll be a long offseason for Hill, hopefully long enough to figure out what went wrong in 2010, or just forget about it completely and move on to 2011. Jays fans would probably be better served doing the latter.
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