The re-signing of Aaron Hill last winter now looks like possibly having been Kevin Towers' smartest move of the off-season. By just about any measure, Hill has been excellent. He played very well after the trade from Toronto late last year, but we thought there was little chance, he'd be able to reproduce that level of production over a full season. However, his OPS for 2012 to date is only three points below that in the small-sample size (33 games) of last year, and in a season where there have been a number of disappointments, Hill has been an outstanding highlight. Inexplicably snubbed for the All-Star Game in favor of Jose Altuve, hopefully Hill will receive the end of season recognition that he deserves.
This one is virtually the definition of a no-brainer, with Hill currently enjoying a lead of more than a hundred OPS points over the next-best NL second baseman. It's a margin which hasn't been matched there, since Ryne Sandberg dominated the league in 1992. And it's not a number powered by a single dimension, such as home-runs. Hill is first in hits, doubles, triples (tied with the Cardinals' Daniel Descalso), home-runs, runs, RBI, OBP, SLO, OPS and OPS+. The only offensive categories in which he doesn't lead are walks. stolen-bases and BA (he's second to Marco Scutaro in the last).
It's also worth putting the season in context for his team. Hill has set franchise records at the position for hits and doubles, and is only two OPS+ behind the monstrous year Jay Bell put up in our sophomore season, when he became the only National League second-baseman since 1990 to reach 38 home-runs. We haven't had a .300 hitter in Arizona since Justin Upton in 2009; Hill just needs to maintain his current pace to get there, and has a good shot at giving us the highest batting average by a qualifying Diamondback hitter since Chad Tracy hit .305 in 2005.
And, of course, if you want highlights, what about Hill doing something no player in over 80 years has accomplished, hitting for two cycles in the same season, only 11 days apart in June
Cycle #1: June 18 vs. Seattle
Cycle #2: June 29 vs. Milwaukee
This one is perhaps more of a stretch, because many defensive metrics - both traditional like errors, and sabermetric ones like UZR - would say the best-fielding second baseman this year has been the Cubs' Darwin Barney. Barney came within three outs of breaking Placido Polanco's record for consecutive errorless games by a second-baseman, until he was charged with an error on his throw to first last night, which skipped away and allowed - ironically - Aaron Hill to score. But his UZR of 11.8 is three more than the second-best, the Dodgers' Mark Ellis (though Ellis has less playing-time, and has a better UZR rate).
But, as we all know, the Gold Glove is not all about actual fielding prowess. That's why Derek Jeter picked up five of them between 2004 and 2010, despite putting up a total of -39.3 WAR, and being among the worst defenders in the AL at his position. over that time. A substantial component is often actually offense, much though it irritates me: for once, however, it could operate to Arizona's advantage, because Barney has been woeful with the bat. as the table above shows, posting a .667 OPS that is over two hundred points (or 41 OPS+) worse than Hill.
Hill certainly has not disgraced himself with the glove. His fielding percentage is .992, which is second to Barney (.997) among those with a thousand innings at the position. Total Zone's Total Fielding Runs Above Average (shown as Rtot on B-R.com) ranks Hill above Barney,. at +15 to +14, and they have very similar Range Factors (Barney just has the edge, 5.18 to 5.12). Admittedly, UZR and BIS's Defensive Runs Saved (Rdrs) do give it to Barney by a substantial margin, and it would be difficult to claim Hill is superior. But will Barney's edge offset his offensive indifference?
I suspect it probably will, but you never know... And there's no doubt that Hill has made his fair share of Gold Glove caliber plays this year. You could put together a very nice Hill-light reel (and I may do exactly that once the season is over), but for now, enjoy his bare-handed dismissal of Hunter Pence against the Giants.