Aaron Hill Extension: An Analysis

Norm Hall

The Diamondbacks ticked another thing off their "to-do" list this morning, locking up their second-baseman Aaron Hill with a three-year contract extension. Was this a wise move?

Let's start off by updating the chart we posted after the Upton trade and Prado extension, to reflect the fact that Aaron Hill is no under Diamondback control through 2016. We still don't currently have a yearly breakdown for the extension, so I'll update that, and the totals, when we get that information. Salary info, per Jack Magruder.

2013 2014 2015 2016
C Montero $10m Montero $10m Montero $12m Montero $14m
1B Goldschmidt min. Goldschmidt min. Goldschmidt Arb1 Goldschmidt Arb2
2B Hill $5.5m Hill $11m Hill $12m Hill $12m
SS Pennington $1.75m Pennington $3.25m Gregorius min. Gregorius min.
3B Prado $7m Davidson min. Davidson min. Davidson min.
LF Kubel $7.5m Prado $11m Prado $11m Prado $11m
CF Eaton min. Eaton min. Eaton min. Eaton Arb1
RF Ross $6.5m Ross $9.5m Ross $9.5m Ross $9.5m
Tot $39.25m $46.25m $46m+Arb1 $47.5+Arb1+Arb2

As someone mentioned in the signing thread, this means that Kevin Towers could take the next four years off, and the Diamondbacks line-up would more or less take care of itself. There are a couple of less-certain aspects, such as the arrival of Matt Davidson at third. We also need one of the spaghetti Western prospects to become a major-league player (so called, because Kevin Towers is apparently working on his trilogy, A Fistful of Shortstops, For a Few Shortstops More, and The Good, The Bad and Aaron Harang). But, really: three-quarters of the 2016 starting line-up could be the same as what we'll see on Opening Day? That's remarkable stability.

There aren't many directly comparable contracts this off-season. Among second-basemen, the only signing which has been for more than $4 million per year is Marco Scutaro (three years, $20m). Robinson Cano is the big name left, and will likely get a contract to match, despite his record-setting 0-for-29 slump in the postseason last year. Here, with some help from Cot's, is where Hill's new deal puts him among second-basemen with current (or in Cano's case, just expired) contracts. It excludes his pre-existing deal, which pays him $5.5 million this season, but you could throw that in, and the resulting four year, $40.5 million contract would rank Hill in the same spot.

  1. Ian Kinsler, $15m (2013-17)
  2. Robinson Cano, $14m (2012)
  3. Dan Uggla, $12.4m (2011-15)
  4. Chase Utley, $12.1m (2007-13)
  5. Brandon Phillips, $12.1m (2012-17)
  6. Aaron Hill, $11.7m (2014-16)
  7. Brian Roberts, $10m (2010-13)
  8. Rickie Weeks, $9.7m (2011-14)
  9. Dustin Pedroia, $6.8m (2009-14)
  10. Marco Scutaro, $6.7m (2013-15)

Last year, Hill trailed only Cano in terms of fWAR among second-basemen, so on that basis, it would seem to be a decent deal. We'd be looking for nine or more wins in the next four years for Hill to be a worthwhile investment, and he put up 6.2 in 2012 alone. However, if extend the sample size to the length of team control - four years, covering 2009-12 - things look rather different. Hill's fWAR isn't even ranked in the top ten, although at a total of 12.3 fWAR, would still represent a solid return on investment, if he matches that going forward. The key word is "if": the contract runs through his age 34 season, so how plausible is that?

I have to switch metrics here, because bWAR allows crunching by age far easier than Fangraphs. With that caveat, how often do second-basemen put up 10+ WAR over their age 31-34 campaigns? Here are those who have done it over the past 25 years.

1 Jeff Kent 22.1 1999 2002 2328 386 720 115 440 .309 .383 .546 .929 13.3
2 Craig Biggio 21.9 1997 2000 2281 459 690 66 277 .302 .399 .471 .870 20.0
3 Roberto Alomar 19.7 1999 2002 2338 435 721 74 362 .308 .387 .480 .867 14.1
4 Lou Whitaker 18.6 1988 1991 1854 300 482 81 278 .260 .366 .446 .812 16.3
5 Ryne Sandberg 18.4 1991 1994 1876 307 550 66 256 .293 .364 .464 .828 19.5
6 Bret Boone 17.9 2000 2003 2316 378 674 115 439 .291 .353 .505 .857 -0.1
7 Placido Polanco 15.4 2007 2010 2339 353 719 33 249 .307 .352 .415 .767 13.5
8 Julio Franco 14.1 1990 1993 1810 308 552 42 239 .305 .381 .433 .814 13.0
9 Jay Bell 13.9 1997 2000 2276 387 626 97 339 .275 .361 .473 .834 11.9
10 Chase Utley 12.3 2010 2012 1124 177 297 38 154 .264 .367 .433 .800 31.6
11 Mark Loretta 10.9 2003 2006 2248 311 687 37 245 .306 .368 .416 .784 2.6
12 Ray Durham 10.1 2003 2006 1876 302 540 63 253 .288 .361 .474 .836 13.3

So, it does happen: it's not common, admittedly, but neither is it out of the bounds of possibility. The last column, pWAR is the amount of bWAR the player in question posted over the previous four years, when he was aged 27-30. As you can see, there is a wide variation, from Bret Boone, who was truly a late bloomer, to the awesomeness which was Chase Utley [who has made this list without even having had an age 34 season yet!]. Oddly, nine of the 12 above put up better numbers after the age of 30 than before it. But the majority were in the 12-14 WAR range going in: while Hill is a little lower, at 10.2, it's certainly not implausible.

If I'd to speculate, this feels like a slight overpay, but not an exorbitant or unrealistic one. My main concern would likely be blocking the likes of Chris Owings from getting a roster spot, but if that comes to pass, it wouldn't exactly be the worst problem in Diamondbacks' history!

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