When most baseball fans think of elite second baseman in the game, there are a group of usual suspects whose names are likely bound to emerge.
There’s Robinson Cano, who is the best in the majors. Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler might make up the next tier. If you like super-utility men, there’s Ben Zobrist, and for young, emerging stars, one might look to Jason Kipnis or Jose Altuve.
One name that is unlikely to come up, however, is Aaron Hill.
And that would be perfectly understandable, considering that Hill was easily one of the worst second baseman in the game, at least offensively, through 2010-11. Toronto Blue Jays fans are well aware of this, of course, having watched his apparent decline after a breakout 2009 season.
But, a trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks changed all of that.
Hill had become a lightning rod of criticism among the fans in Toronto by the time he was traded, and you couldn’t blame them for it – the second baseman was hitting just .225/.270/.313 through 104 games when he was effectively chased out of town.
Since then, however, he’s been one of, if not the best second baseman in the league. The 30-game stretch in 2011 where he put up .878 OPS turnaround might have been an impressive sign that Hill could emerge from a two-year long slump in 2012, but what he did wasn’t so much emerging as busting out of it.
There were the two cycles, of course, which were impressive enough. But Hill was a complete player who offered good defense (4.6 fWAR), a career-best .882 OPS and 0.60 BB/K, as well as double-digit speed on the basepaths (14).
Oh, there were the 26 homers, too, so it’s not as though the power went away either.
A major part of his success had to do with a renewed approach at the plate that saw Hill avoid his most damaging vice, infield fly balls, as he cut the rate at which he hit them from 13.9 percent with the Blue Jays in 2011, to 9.9 percent with the Diamondbacks in 2012.
Put that together, and what the Diamondbacks ended up with was the second-best second baseman in the majors in 2012, whose 6.2 fWAR trailed just behind Cano’s 7.8.
Not very many people really acknowledged that, however. Not while the Diamondbacks faded from competitiveness last season, and not where there’s a chance that Hill could just be a one-year wonder.
But, that’s just the thing – he’s not a one-year wonder.
Playing in Arizona has turned him into a player that not even the Blue Jays thought they’d get when Hill broke the franchise record of homers by a second baseman with 36 in 2009.
Sure, his BABIP inflated batting average will probably come down a bit, but Hill’s power-speed combination, and his competitiveness (even in the face of abject failure) is perfectly suited for the club that manager Kirk Gibson wants to put out in Arizona.
So, while Hill won’t get the love that the usual suspects will get in the pre-season rankings of second baseman, it may not be very much longer before that changes in 2013.