Toronto Blue Jays 2B Aaron Hill entered 2010 flying high. After all, Hill hammered pitchers for a .286/.330/.499 line last season, with 36 home runs and a .357 wOBA that placed behind just Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley, Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler among keystone players. The LSU product’s unprecedented power surge (.213 Isolated Power) wasn’t expected to be repeated this year, but ZiPS and CHONE figured he’d be an asset at the plate again:
ZiPS: .275/.323/.447, .172 ISO, .337 wOBA
CHONE: .282/.332/.453, .171 ISO, .342 wOBA
Fantasy players bought the breakout performance big-time — according to KFFL, Hill’s ADP for 2010 was 49th overall. But, instead of providing a potent bat at an up-the-middle position, Hill has a .197/.289/.370 triple-slash and a putrid .296 wOBA. Despite the hefty investment, some owners are cutting ties altogether. Hill is on the waiver wire in nine percent of ESPN leagues, and 17 percent of Yahoo leagues. What’s going on here?
Two numbers jump off Hill’s stat sheet — his .192 batting average on balls in play and his 9.7% line drive rate, both lowest among qualified major league hitters. During his big league career, Hill has a .298 BABIP and he has hit line drives at a 19.3 percent clip.
Those missing line drives have been classified as fly balls, as Hill’s 48.9 FB% is well north of his 39.5 percent rate. And more of those flies are of the weak variety — his infield/fly ball rate is 14 percent. That’s nearly double the MLB average and above his career 10.1 IF/FB%. Infield flies are the closest thing to an automatic out on a ball put in play, so they’re BABIP killers.
Another potential cause of Hill’s poor hitting is his expanded strike zone. His outside swing percentage was below the MLB average each season from 2005-2008, and it was about six percent above the big league average last season. In 2010, he’s hacking at 33.3 percent of off-the-plate pitches, compared to the 28.1% MLB average. As a proportion of the big league average, that’s +19 percent (33.3 divided by 28.1). Also, he’s making more (likely weak) contact with those pitches thrown out of the zone — his O-Contact% was below the major league average the previous three seasons, but he has put the bat on the ball 71.9% of the time on outside pitches this year. The MLB average in 2010 is 66.4%, so Hill’s O-Contact is plus-eight percent.
Hill’s plate discipline this season has been less-than-stellar. But even so, there are reasons to expect a rebound to league-average hitting. His BABIP on grounders this year (.153) is 90 points lower than his career average (.243). His BABIP on fly balls (.081) is 34 points lower than his career mark (.115). Hill’s still hitting for power (.173 ISO), and his walk rate is in the double-digits (10.6 BB%) despite his chasing more pitches than usual, the result of opponents throwing him fewer pitches in the zone (46.2%, compared to the 47.3% MLB average).
The 28-year-old second baseman has a .258/.314/.431 rest-of-season ZiPS, with a .329 wOBA. CHONE projects a .268/.328/.451 line, which is roughly a .335 wOBA. His career triple-slash? .278/.333/.429, and his wOBA is .332.
Hill’s not the new Jeff Kent He has fallen into some bad habits, which have contributed to his struggles. However, he’s not a lost cause, either. Hill retains a good deal of pop, and he should resume being a solid, if unspectacular fantasy option with some better bounces and a plate approach reboot.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.