Dare I say the worst thing that ever happened to Aaron Hill was the 2009 season?
Yeah, the season when he won the Silver Slugger Award and was considered one of the best young second baseman in the league. But what exactly was the worse "thing" that happened to Hill that year was the 36 home runs.
Why you ask? If one observes the 2005-2008 version of Hill, one remembers the sweet, compact and quick stroke an ideal No. 2 hitter possesses. That swing earned him the ability to hit for average, with a decent on-base percentage and some home run pop. Then 2008 came around and we all remembered the concussion Hill suffered when he collided with the tiniest player in baseball, David Eckstein. We held our breath, but Hill finally returned in 2009 and had a career year, posting a .286/.330/.499 slash line along with 36 home runs and 37 doubles.
The thing that I remember the most as Hill was quickly building his slugging percentage was him saying he was not a home-run hitter and even he did not know where the power barrage was coming from.
Well 2010 rolled around, and a truly new Hill was born. If one compares Hill’s pre-2009 swing and his current swing, one will notice that the quick compact swing has been replaced by a longer swing which can include a ‘hitch’ at times, a typical power hitter's swing. For comparison purposes, when I say power hitter, I mean hitters like Adam Dunn and Jack Cust. It became obvious to me Hill thought he was a power hitter and not a contact hitter, hence the increase in pop-ups and strikeouts.
Now what makes the situation worse is that the Blue Jays also think he is a power hitter, allowing him to hit clean-up, fifth and sixth in the lineup. In addition, having Dwayne Murphy as a hitting coach will not force Hill to change his swing from a power stroke to a contact stroke, as he is all about the power. The reality is that Hill is a contact hitter. Here are some highlights from the scouting report of Hill by John Sickels from early 2005:
“Hill features a quick bat and excellent strike-zone judgment ... but scouts anticipate that he'll be good for 15-20 homers at maturity. His swing is compact, with pop to all fields. He should contribute a solid batting average and OBP.”
Now that I have made my point about Hill’s role change, I now want to address the issue of how people are ready to send Hill packing.
Firstly, one aspect of Hill’s game I appreciate is his hustle he brings to every at bat. He will sprint to first base on a ground ball to the pitcher. In addition, he is blessed with a shortstop’s arm and has great range defensively, especially to his left. This range to his left has considerably helped Adam Lind’s transition to first base. Now, I know he is struggling offensively, and no one knows if he will become the old Hill again, but if Hill truly leaves at the end of the year, who will replace him?
There are about five second basemen that I would rather have than Aaron Hill, namely Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Rickie Weeks, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler. Other possible candidates include Dan Uggla, who is atrocious defensively and Gordon Beckham, who has had one great half a year in his MLB career. That is to say if Hill was to hit the free agent market at the end of the year, more than half of the MLB will see Hill as an upgrade at second base and not a downgrade. Teams like the Orioles, Rays, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Twins, Angels, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Padres, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and possibly the Athletics would all be interested to upgrade the position.
Unless the Blue Jays are willing to make an outstanding offer to Jose Reyes and convince him to play second base, most likely any addition to the position would be a downgrade.
It seems like this mini-rebuild mode has hurt Hill the most as the club has forced him into a role he cannot handle. He is being forced into being the fourth/fifth/sixth hitter, when he truly should be hitting second, seventh, eight or even ninth. If the Blue Jays add another mid-lineup bat next year (such as a legitimate DH) coupled with Travis Snider and Brett Lawrie producing to the level that many scouts think they should produce at, would it really hurt the Blue Jays to bring back Hill on a cheap contract to play a flawless defensive second base and bat eighth or ninth in the lineup?
Hill could use the offseason to re-tool his swing, just like the Blue Jays transformed Travis Snider’s swing in AAA this year. An ideal Hill year should be similar to the one from 2007, where his slashes were .291/.333/.459 with 17 home runs and 47 doubles. I would love to see him turn it around as he brings other pieces to the table that is underrated such as his defense, his plus arm and of course, his hustle. Turning it around means that he can lose his nickname King of Pop-up (as Michael Jackson is the only King of Pop).
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue; I can be reached at @ShakeelSalamath on twitter.