The Mockingbird

Hill Hacking

with 9 comments

Aaron Hill improved his power game in a big way last season, breaking the Blue Jays’ record for doubles by a second baseman (41) by one, and tying the home run record (17). But he also struck out a lot and lost (number) points off his OBP. Towards the end of the year he went on fire, cutting down on his K’s and getting a lot more hits. Could he have been swinging for the fences a little too much after getting off to a torrid start?

One point of interest is his performance in 3-1 counts. Over the season, Hill went 3-16, with 2 home runs and a double. 16 balls in play is not a lot to go by, but if you look at the breakdown in results of the pitches recorded by pitch f/x, he also fouled off over 40% of all 3-1 pitches, almost twice as many as any other count.
hill-the-count.png

Maybe he was trying too hard to hammer that pitch? They were good pitches to hit: 29/37 (78%) of those measured were 4-seam fastballs and only 2 were breaking pitches. He was right to be hacking away at them, but that’s a lot of grooved fastballs that he knew were coming down the middle and didn’t really do much with except foul off. At that rate over the full season, this would project to:

66 3-1 pitches
51 4-seam (non-sinking) fastballs
27 foul balls
16 taken for strikes
13 outs
5 balls
3 hits
2 swinging strikes

So maybe he was getting a little too excited in that particular hitter’s count, as opposed to those earlier in the at-bat (such as 2-0, where he was much more selective, letting 64% of pitches go b). He also only swung at 22% of first pitches! So at least he’s trying to work the count occasionally.

Even at the cost of a little power next season, it would be nice if Hill could get on base a little more and settle into the #2 slot for the Jays’ future. He has such a quick, compact swing and maybe he was just trying to do too much with it at times last year as Brantley was trying (successfully) to develop his power. Consider this the first test of Gary Denbo- to mold a still-developing Aaron Hill into the kind of hitter that best matches his tools as he enters his prime.

Written by halejon

February 8, 2008 at 8:43 am

Posted in Seriousness

9 Responses

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  1. Hill has this thing in his swing where he dips his right shoulder as comes around to the zone that I really like. Gives him a little more versitility in either shortening up or extending his arms depending on whether or not the ball starts breaking inside, without losing any of the bat speed. A lot of his home runs didn’t come out of a power swing as much as bat speed and just blasting it in the sweet spot. I don’t have the details, but just watching, it seemed the more traditional up-plane power swing he was trying to use seemed a little unfinished, and he was vulnerable to pitches up in the zone that he’d get on his normal swing.

    Bryant Telfer

    February 8, 2008 at 3:58 pm

  2. I know exactly what you mean…he went on a home run tear for a while and it didn’t seem like he was really turning on the ball, just coming around quick on a good pitch and they went out. That seems much more suited to his swing to me.

    I was going to look at where his home runs came from to try and get some details, but there’s not really enough to go on. Maybe all his doubles too.

    halejon

    February 8, 2008 at 6:42 pm

  3. I expect a power regression this year because he had that 1.200 OPS against curveballs, and you have to figure nobody’s going to throw him one anymore.

    Torgen

    February 8, 2008 at 7:09 pm

  4. Don’t forget the 1.562 OPS against cut fastballs (although I think a lot of those are just hanging pitches classified as such). They can’t throw him ALL sliders and splitters next season, though…

    halejon

    February 8, 2008 at 7:27 pm

  5. Weirdly, ZIPS is projecting Hill to have his worst season next year. The implicit reasoning is that it doesn’t buy his power spike from last season and expects him to drop off, while also expecting him to struggle as he did last season in getting on base.

    I don’t buy it (nor do the other projection systems, which all have him around .288/.344/.435), and it’s worth mentioning that Hill substantially outperformed his ZIPS projection from this season. I do think Hill made the conscious effort to try to hit for more power in 2007, but that’s not a bad idea for someone with his batspeed who’s just entering his prime, and it wasn’t entirely unsuccessful (as shown by his 66 XBH). His fly ball % was up in 2007, but so was his line drive % (though not by too much) and his Home Runs/Fly Ball were way up, which suggests that he was using the fly ball effectively. If he can retain the power while also getting back to the ability to get on base that he exhibited in 2005, he’ll turn a corner.

    I actually think hitting 2nd, especially against lefties, would help Hill a lot. Hill is an intelligent player and he spent lots of last season batting ahead of Jason Phillips, Sal Fasano, John McDonald, a Greg Zaun who wasn’t too effective until late in the season, Jason Smith, Curtis Thigpen, etc. It’s not unreasonable to expect that Hill was reasonably calculating that a walk wasn’t going to help the team much with those fellas coming up, and the he needed to drive in whoever was on the bases. I think batting him early in the lineup would allow him to refocus on getting on base, while still utilizing his improved power.

    hugo

    February 8, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  6. There were a lot of questions about Hill’s ZIPS when they were released- someone came back and explained that other than it not buying on the power spike, historically second basemen who are not superstars regress in their mid 20’s. I don’t think it’s anything to be particularly worried (or outraged) about though- by definition projection systems are meant to find long-term trends and ignore blips, and are not very good at predicting young players who are all over the place, still developing, and don’t have a lot of minor-league numbers to go on.

    That’s a good point- Zaun mentioned doing much the same thing batting in front of McDonald. If I was batting with men on base and the terribleness that was the bottom 1/3 of the Jays’ lineup last season, I’d swing so hard at a 3-1 pitch I might make contact the second time the bat came around.

    halejon

    February 8, 2008 at 10:06 pm

  7. I thought the other thing that might have swung the ZIPS projection was that Hill was pretty unimpressive offensively in the minors, but blossomed once he hit the majors. ZIPS might be assuming that a guy who never had success at AA/AAA can’t succeed in the majors, even though Hill got called up early because of injuries.

    Torgen

    February 8, 2008 at 11:57 pm

  8. Yeah, I remember the discussion about Hill’s minor league career. It seems a little silly to penalize someone who already had 2 1/2 solid major league seasons under his belt by 25 for not having a spectacular minor league career, but it must have some predictive value even at this stage, I suppose, or it wouldn’t be part of the methodology.

    I agree about the projections – just looking at the other projection systems means that either ZIPS is wrong, or the others all are, since they all have Hill as an above-average offensive 2B. With his defense, that’s a very valuable thing, even if he never turns into the perennial all-star that I think he could be. Obviously I’m biased, but Hill won me over when he came up as a 23-year old middle infielder and held his own (a pretty darn tough thing to do, although his original callup was at 3rd of course), showing a good approach at the plate and a nice swing.

    hugo

    February 9, 2008 at 1:15 am

  9. Hmm…that is interesting. All the other systems just say he’s not going to HR or K as much next year, which I think is pretty obvious. I think you’re right, Torgen- it’s got to be the minor league stats that ZIPS is relying heavily on. I think if you just showed me Hill’s stats without any context I would probably predict a slight downturn next season, but ZIPS just predicts a really, really bad year out of nowhere and I’m not sure I understand why. I’m looking at the Graphical Player book and it likes him as well.

    I don’t think it’s a bias…Hill is smart, learns fast, plays hard and has a good swing. He’s shown a bunch of tools so far and it’s just a matter of what he ends up balancing out into. Oh yeah, and that gold glove thing.

    halejon

    February 9, 2008 at 7:40 am


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