Jays Decline Hill’s Oddly Structured Options

Teams have gravitated toward contract options in recent years in an attempt to better insure themselves against a lack of payroll flexibility. Options allow teams to retain players in future seasons without guaranteeing the salary. Some deals, like the one Aaron Hill signed after a solid 3.5 win season in 2007, include multiple options.

Hill’s contract is particularly interesting as it includes a unique clause related to the options for the 2012-14 seasons. Before their season opener against the Twins, the Jays had the ability to exercise or decline all three of those options at once. They structured the deal in a manner that allowed them to make a decision on the three option years as a cohesive unit before the season while still being able to exercise the individual options for 2012 and 2013 if they so desired at the end of the year.

The move carries little risk. The Jays eliminated the possibility of Hill earning the $10 million his contract called for if the 2014 option were to be picked up, while leaving open the possibility of bringing him back at $8 million each over the next two seasons. It almost seems as if the 2014 option was used exclusively as a ploy to entice Hill into signing the deal. Why else structure a contract in this unique manner?

As fun as the contractual clause is to discuss, Hill’s numbers are even more interesting.

Following the 2007 campaign that earned him a contract extension, Hill has shown flashes of brilliance mixed with extended periods of ineptitude. Add in an injury shortened 2008 season and it stands to reason that even the Jays, a progressive organization, don’t know what to expect from their second baseman.

Since his debut in 2005, Hill has struggled reaching base but isn’t exactly a sinkhole and, as his slugging percentages in 2007 and 2009 indicate, he possesses the ability to knock the ball out of the yard. Add in above average fielding marks at a position where stars are scarce and it becomes easy to see why a four-year deal with the potential for more made sense.

Last season he posted his highest walk rate in five seasons, but finished with a ghastly .205/.271/.394 line in 580 PA. He still hit 26 home runs and 22 doubles, and while his strikeout rate increased, it did not skyrocket to unheard of levels. Given that much of his resume looked the same in 2010 as it has in years past, what the heck happened?

While I hate attributing upticks or downturns in performance to the magical BABIP fairy, Hill’s 2010 cannot be explained any other way. His batting average on balls in play was .196. Mark Reynoldsregular batting average topped that mark. And while Hill’s rate of popping up pitches did not help matters in the BABIP department, his slash line would have remained well below average even with his career popup rate.

What bodes well for the Jays, and particularly for Hill, is the extreme rarity of BABIPs in that vicinity. Of batters with at least 500 PAs in a season, Hill’s .196 is the lowest BABIP since 1950. Further, only one other batter fell below a .200 BABIP in a season: the immortal Curt Blefary in 1968. Aside from Hill, 39 batters have produced a BABIP of .225 or under in a season. In the following season, the hitters that amassed another 500 trips to the dish saw their rates increase by an average of almost 50 points.

Given that many of his other rates did not fluctuate in 2010, Hill’s slash line might have fallen in the vicinity of .250/.325/.440 with an extra 50 points on his BABIP, which wouldn’t put him on the all star team, but may have colored the Jays decision differently.

The projection systems foresee Hill’s BABIP increasing by a bit more than the 50 points my research indicated, agreeing that he is likely to slash right around .260/.320/.440. With solid fielding at a tough position, that would produce three wins, with the upside for even more if his BABIP regressed to previously established levels. The Jays may well have never intended to exercise that option for 2014, but as long as Hill can avoid a repeat of his historically low BABIP last season, he should have no problem earning his keep and providing the Jays with a surplus of value through the 2013 campaign.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

14 Responses to “Jays Decline Hill’s Oddly Structured Options”

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  1. Pauly D says:

    Last night he hit three balls on the nose, but two of them right at a defensive player. Looks like there’s been a concerted effort to get him hitting line drives again instead of hitting everything up. I definitely think Hill is a three to four win player.

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  2. Eric says:

    Did you forget that hill’s LD% dropped by nearly 10 last year?

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    • Benjamin says:

      various xBABIP figures have estimated his luck-neutral BABIP to be somewhere between .250 and .285 – at the higher end that means he missed out on around 35 hits (!) he otherwise would have gotten; and was deserving of an OPS around .800

      here’s a link: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_aMSJnJlp4f8/TLJWqWFjZ7I/AAAAAAAAAGQ/4qUAEAcjQxU/s1600/Screen+shot+2010-10-10+at+7.07.57+PM.png

      that xBABIP seems rather high to me, but I’ve heard other estimates around .250-.260 which sound reasonable

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      • Tom Pinzone says:

        Is there an explanation of how one would arrive at a xBABIP of .282 for Hill last season? I’m not saying it’s out of the question, but frankly, it sounds ridiculous based off his batted ball rate. Not to be a dick, but are you even sure that xBABIP was based on his batted ball rates or just his career numbers previous to 2010?

        I’d seen .250 as an expected BABIP before, but not .282, that’s beyond optimistic for how he hit last year.

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      • Benjamin says:

        @Tom (for some reason it won’t let me reply to you)
        now that you mention it, it does look oddly similar to Hill’s career rate. the link I think I found on BtB but it was back in November or maybe earlier so I honestly don’t remember, I just found the screencap in my pictures folder.

        that said, as optimistic/unreasonable as a .280 xBABIP is, even a 50 point jump in BABIP would have him hitting something like .240/.305/.430 by my rough estimation, which is leaps and bounds better than his .205/.271/.394 he put up in 2010

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    • Ender says:

      LD% also isn’t a stable stat. Hitters obviously have some control over LD% but it still naturally fluctuates a lot year to year.

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      • Tom Pinzone says:

        Fluctuates is one thing, going from 19.6 to 10.6 from ’09 to the next is quite different. Especially when his career rate is 18.6(including last season) and had varied from 17.3 to 23.1 percent previous to 2010.

        Several Jays, intentionally, wound up with career high flyball rates last season. It worked for Bautista, kinda worked for Lind and was a complete failure for Hill. It wasn’t random fluctuation, he changed his swing, got homer, flyball happy and suffered heavily.

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  3. Ryan says:

    Wait, how can you have a higher AVG than BABIP?

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  4. Grant says:

    It’s worth mentioning that Aaron Hill is the poster boy for people who don’t like UZR. The majority of scouts would tell you that he is an elite defensive 2B, maybe the best out there. He won fielding bible’s best defensive player (at any position) twice as well.

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