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Giving Aaron Hill $35 million another misstep for Diamondbacks

Feb 8, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

Aaron Hill

Arizona GM Kevin Towers has mastered the art of buying high and selling low this winter.

In giving Aaron Hill a three-year, $35 million extension on Friday, Towers made another high-risk, low-upside move.  Second basemen have a history of cratering earlier than most, and Hill is going to be 32-34 during the years his extension covers.

Of course, Hill was terrific last season, one of the NL’s 10 best players. However, he has a terribly inconsistent history on offense (Hill has a career OPS of .759, yet he hasn’t actually posted an OPS in the 700s since 2007), and his glovework has gone from outstanding in his mid-20s to above average now. He’ll almost certainly be a below average defender by the time his new deal ends in 2016.

The big problem here is that Hill is going to play this year at 31. His new deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. Contracts of this type for second basemen in their 30s are practically unheard of and for good reason.

According to Baseball-reference, Hill has accrued 21.4 WAR through age 30. Here’s a list of every other second baseman since 1900 to amass between 18 and 25 WAR through age 30 and what they did from ages 32-34, the years Hill’s extension covers.

Jimmy Williams – .195/.257/.235 in 374 AB – (0.7) WAR
Del Pratt – .313/.370/.437 in 1,702 AB – 10.2 WAR
Max Bishop – .271/.433/.368 in 1,053 AB – 8.5 WAR
Red Schoendienst – .293/.345/.403 in 1,688 AB – 9.7 WAR
Bobby Avila – .247/.334/.343 in 1,351 AB – 3.0 WAR
Ron Hunt – .285/.395/.320 in 827 AB – 3.7 WAR
Davey Johnson – .325/.411/.554 in 157 AB – 1.8 WAR
Dave Cash – .227/.287/.280 in 397 AB – (0.7) WAR
Steve Sax – .237/.287/.315 in 710 AB – (0.6) WAR
Bill Doran – .272/.372/.387 in 1,151 AB – 4.9 WAR
Robby Thompson – .217/.307/.340 in 692 AB – 1.7 WAR
Delino DeShields – .221/.329/.340 in 497 AB – 0.2 WAR
Ray Durham – .289/.360/.484 in 1,466 AB – 7.1 WAR
Luis Castillo – .270/.366/.315 in 1,031 AB – 0.9 WAR
Brian Roberts – .244/.308/.340 in 459 AB – 0.1 WAR
Orlando Hudson – .246/.318/.352 in 1,155 AB – 3.1 WAR

The old-timers don’t look so bad. Pratt, who played from 1912-24, sustained no drop-off due to age, and Schoendienst, a late-bloomer as a hitter, ended up in the Hall of Fame. However, of the 11 players here to play in the last 50 years (everyone after Hunt), only Durham maintained his previous level of production at ages 32-34. Most of the rest weren’t useful at all. That’s the tendency with second basemen: once they stop being quality regulars, their lack of versatility prevents them from contributing even as part-timers.

Taken altogether, the average player here produced 3.3 WAR from ages 32-34. The Diamondbacks  are expecting much more than that from Hill after guaranteeing him $11.67 million per year. History suggests they’ll almost surely end up disappointed.

  1. jwbiii - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    So you’re saying that buying the career year of an over 30 2Bman is a bad idea?

    • jeffbbf - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:38 PM

      no, only those who amassed a WAR of between 18-25 through age 30, had a career year at 30, and then signed a 3 year contract that kicked in after the end of their year 30 season. sheesh

    • aarondommin - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:50 PM

      Its fun to cherry pick stats. Why don’t we use the stats Aaron Hill has accumulated since becoming a Diamondback, since thats the team he is signed to play for the next 3 years. In 190 games with his current team Aaron Hill has amassed a WAR of 6.0 . Aaron Hill had always been considered a good-to really good prospect that appears to be a late bloomer (insert PED joke here). There is no sense to bash the contract since the baseball community says that for every 1.0 WAR a team should pay roughly 4.5 million dollars. If Aaron Hill produces at least a 2.5 WAR at his position the contract must be considered a success no? Based off his time in the Desert I see no problem with that.

  2. vallewho - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    He must have true-grit

    • butchhuskey - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      Can Rooster Cogburn play second base?

      • Sign Ahead - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:22 PM

        Isn’t he already managing the team?

  3. illcomm - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    the WAR stat is flawed

    • kirkvanhouten - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      …as are many things. It doesn’t mean it’s not a pretty good quick way to evaluate how good a player is.

    • bolweevils2 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:32 PM

      Well, yeah. It is flawed. The problem is everything else has even greater flaws. If you have to hang your hat on one stat, the best we’ve got at the moment is WAR.

    • Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Feb 8, 2013 at 3:27 PM

      …as are most of your comments on this website.

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 8, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      True my friend, every stat has its’ limitations. But as Voltaire said, perfect is the enemy of good.

  4. APBA Guy - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:33 PM

    Wow, this is a head scratcher. I know they like Hill in AZ, but he’s been wildly inconsistent through his age 30 season. Here’s his OPS since 2008:

    2008: .685
    2009: .829
    2010: .665
    2011: .655
    2012: .882

    Middle infielders tend to decline past 30, so this really looks questionable.

    • Sign Ahead - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      As a Diamondbacks fan, I hope that this is a brilliant move. But I fear it’s going to be a new riff on the timeless Eric Byrnes story: Team meets player. Player has good season at just the right time. Team rewards player with long, expensive contract. Player has predictable decline. Team wishes it could lose player, but can’t.

      This signing got us thinking about some potential changes to baseball’s free agent market. If the recent TV-induced windfalls make new signings more expensive, then Aaron Hill’s contract may turn out to be a good deal even if he does decline. “Ahead of their time” sounds a lot better than “broke and disappointed.” We’ll be holding our breath and hoping for something good.

  5. j15emerson - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    “Hill has a career OPS of .759, yet he hasn’t actually posted an OPS in the 700s since 2007”
    I mean, yeah but are we ignoring his.829 OPS in 2009 and last year’s .882? Very poor wording there.

    “his glovework has gone from outstanding in his mid-20s to above average now. He’ll almost certainly be a below average defender by the time his new deal ends in 2016”
    An assumption with no facts to support it. Glovework is the last skill a player loses.

    Part of his rebirth after the trade was that he loves Phoenix. He lives near the team’s Spring Training facility in Scottsdale. Not that Toronto is not a good hitter’s park, but it’s no Chase Field. He is closer to home and in a better park. He was also expected to live up to his 36 HR in 2009. Less pressure. This is a new Aaron Hill, that may be the best 2B in the NL. Dbacks needed to make the deal, and it’s a reasonable price for a top-of-the-line player.

    • pdowdy83 - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:37 PM

      Umm, the wording is appropriate. Hill has either had an OPS in the .800s or in the .600s. Hence, he has not had an OPS in the .700s during a season but his wild fluctuations from year to year have averaged out into the mid .700s.

  6. dondada10 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    The price of a win is near 5 mil (and climbing). If Hill produces 3+ WAR during his extension years, he’ll produce surplus value.

    • paperlions - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      That is only the price of a win in the FA market and Hill wasn’t a FA….plus, that price is skewed because the first 2 wins are cheap, it is the wins from 3-5 that are expensive and the wins above 5 that are hella-expensive. Using the average price of a win in FA for an average player isn’t appropriate. Hill is 31 and he’s had seasons as an above average player in his entire career.

      • dondada10 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:44 PM

        You’re right about the first two wins being easy because they’re positional. I disagree about the price of a win being altered by the previous years contract status. A “win”, according to WAR, is rooted in runs created vs. runs allowed.

      • paperlions - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:46 PM

        The price idea of translating WAR into dollars is based on how much wins cost in the FA market, not how much teams spend in general for a win….it doesn’t include the cost of wins for players under team control or during arbitration years….just the most expensive way to “buy” wins.

      • hackerjay - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        No, the first two free agent wins aren’t any cheaper then any others. Free agent wins have always been shown to be pretty much linear in price. Show me a five win free agent signing, and I’ll show you a guy that’s making about $25 million a year.
        In fact, if anything, the uppermost wins are the cheapest to get since there are so few teams that can afford to pay for them. If Mike Trout were a free agent today, he wouldn’t get $35-$50 million a year, even though he’s as good a bet as anyone to produce 7-10 WAR going forward.

      • paperlions - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:44 PM

        You are right. What I should have said is that paying $5M for the first two wins is stupid because there are a lot of players that can provide those wins and there is no reason to spend so much for them….whereas there are fewer players that can provide 5+ wins, making them a far more valuable asset.

        Last I saw, the FA price/win was going down largely because many teams realized that paying for veterans to get essentially what they could get out of their young guys was foolish….still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the price of wins in the FA market (which is still the worst way to add wins) remained high because the teams that tend to be active in the FA market are not the most efficient or smart franchises.

      • hackerjay - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:51 PM

        Oh, ok. That makes more sense. I agree that teams should be looking within to find those two win players, because spending $10 million a year on a two win guy is definitely not ideal. However, there are definitely situations where it makes sense. If you’re a team with deep pockets, and are really close to competing but you have one black hole position, grabbing a “sure thing” two win player off of the free agent market might be the best use of your money. And since a lot of teams meet that criteria, it does keep the market high, even for two win players.

        Of course, when teams like the Twins pay full price for two win players, it makes me go crazy.

    • jwbiii - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      Actually, the price of a (BRef) WAR hasn’t been near $5M on the free agent market since 2005, when it was $4.9M.
      2004: $3.9M
      2005: $4.9M
      2006: $7.0M
      2007: $11.3M (Contracts for Alfonso Soriano and Barry Zito still open)
      2008: $9.2M (Many contracts still open)
      2009: $7.7M (Contracts for A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira still open)
      2010: $6.3M (Many contracts still open)
      2011: $8.1M ”
      2012: $5.8M “

  7. paperlions - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Towers is just trying to prove that if you start with enough talent in your system, you can make bad trades and bad signings and still have a good team (not as good or cheap as it would have been if he’d taken a 2 month vacation, but still good).

  8. cur68 - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Man. Wish I hadn’t read this. I’m rooting for Hill. Well, he could be the second coming of Ray Durham so there’s still some hope there.

    After reading this though, I can’t help feeling that Diamondback fans should send Towers a care package of road gravel so he stops favouring athletic young smart players for “grit”.

    • paperlions - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      You can still root for the guy, plus enjoy the fact that he scored a nice deal (always nice to see more of the fans money going to players)….but the history of 2B performance after 30 is pretty bad…for some reason they tend to fall off a cliff rather than decline gracefully.

  9. illcomm - Feb 8, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    maybe someone took a trip to the Miami clinic with those abnormal numbers.

    • tuberippin - Feb 8, 2013 at 10:48 PM

      Or maybe, just maybe, someone fully recovered from a major concussion that sapped his skill set in the prior two seasons and was further aided by the summer weather in Arizona as well as the hitters’ advantage of Chase Field.

  10. chacochicken - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    When the old GM is gone the new GM has to clean up the mess.

  11. 13arod - Feb 8, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    what are you talking about he would have won mvp if buster posy wasn’ta candidate

    • jwbiii - Feb 9, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Or not.

  12. studyandwrite - Feb 10, 2013 at 12:43 AM

    fabulous stats. perhaps you could explain marco scutaros’ slash line with the giants in 2012 and why the giants signed him for three years. .362/.385/.473/.859. kevin said if he could sign 25 aarons for his roster he would. i agree. by the way scutaro is 37, 38, 39 in this contract.

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