Avg Rating (High/Low/Most Common): 26.80 (7/46/26)
Stats with Arizona: 525 games, .273/.331/.439 = .769 OPS, 108 OPS+, 6.2 bWAR
Best Season: 2012 - 156 games, .302/.360/.522 = .882 OPS, 133 OPS+, 5.0 bWAR
Aaron Hill’s career has been one filled with extremes. In each of Hill’s 13 big league seasons, he posted a bWAR that was either less than 1.6 (including four negative seasons) or above 3.9 (including two greater than 5.0). The Diamondbacks were able to get about two and a half years of peak-Hill, but could do nothing but watch as he declined with age in his last three years with team.
Unlike some of the other players on our list, Hill was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and college. One look at his LSU bio will show just that. The second baseman’s high school career was spectacular; while also lettering in football and soccer, Hill batted .521 over the course of four years, including a senior season where he hit .565 with 32 extra-base hits. In 2000, the then-Anaheim Angels drafted Aaron in the seventh-round, but he opted to head off to LSU instead of signing. Hill’s junior year, his final season of amateur baseball, was phenomenal. He posted a triple slash of .358/.467/.592, for an OPS of 1.059. He was named the 2003 SEC Player of the Year, and would be drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 13th overall pick of the 2003 draft. Going by bWAR, Hill has been the 3rd most valuable player of anyone selected in the first three rounds of that draft.
Hill soared through the Blue Jays minor league system, reaching The Show on May 20 of 2005, just two years after being drafted. His first two seasons in the big leagues were solid, as he posted an OPS+ of 91 while playing an above-average second base. Hill’s breakout season didn’t come until 2009, when his power numbers suddenly exploded. The then-27-year-old hit 36 home runs that season en route to his only All-Star Game appearance and first of two Silver Sluggers. Hill was unable to sustain this success for the next season and a half, and was traded to the Diamondbacks on August 23 of 2011 with shortstop John McDonald* in exchange for Kelly Johnson.
Johnny Mac and Hill were just the catalysts the Diamondbacks needed. Heading into the 23rd, the Diamondbacks were on a six game losing streak and in danger of losing first place in the NL West to San Francisco, who had closed the gap to just one game. After the trade, the Diamondbacks rattled off nine wins in a row, followed by a 19-10 September to win their first division title since 2007. The change of scenery for Hill couldn’t have done him any better:
Aaron Hill before the trade: .225/.270/.313 = 58 OPS+
Aaron Hill after the trade: .315/.386/.492 = 137 OPS+
Aaron played fairly well in the NLDS against Milwaukee, putting up an OPS of .838 in 23 at-bats. His solo homer in Game 4’s 10-6 victory remains the only postseason home run of his career.
2012 and 2013 were the two best seasons of the power-hitting second baseman’s career, in which he hit a total of 37 home runs to go along with a .359 on-base percentage. In 2012, Hill posted a club-best 133 OPS+ en route to his second Silver Slugger award. His success with the Diamondbacks in 2012 earned him a 3-year extension which would pay him an average of 12 million per year from 2014 to 2016. This seemed like a solid deal at the time, with 82% of the SnakePit calling the extension either great or good.
*narrator voice* The extension would be neither great nor good. Both Aaron’s offensive and defensive value took a big nosedive, and Hill would post a negative bWAR in both 2014 and 2015. Following the 2015 campaign, the Diamondbacks decided to rid themselves of the aging veteran, in a deal with Milwaukee that sent Hill, Chase Andersen and prospect Isan Diaz to the Brewers in exchange for Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner. The Diamondbacks would be on the hook for only half of Hill’s 12 million dollar salary in 2016. The deal worked out excellently for Arizona, as Jean Segura had a career year following the trade.
Hill also bounced back nicely during the first-half of 2016, posting an above-average OPS for Milwaukee. He was traded yet again in early July to the Red Sox, where he entered a tailspin. In 137 plate appearances for Boston, Hill’s slugging percentage did not exceed .300. Ouch.
The 34-year-old hit the free agency market following the 2016 season, and was signed to a one-year, two-million dollar deal with San Francisco. It wasn’t pretty. Hill posted an abysmal .132/.250/.235 in 80 plate appearances before being cut loose in late June. While he is yet to officially retire, I would be shocked to see Hill offered another contract at age 35.
Despite Hill’s late-career struggles, I will remember his time in an Arizona uniform very fondly. Without the major boost he provided to the 2011 line-up, the Diamondbacks may very well have experienced a 10 year playoff drought. I also don’t recall 2014 and 2015 being as rough as the metrics make his performance out to be.
The most memorable moment of Hill’s career came during the 2012 season when Hill hit for two cycles over the course of 11 games. Interestingly enough, the final piece of his second cycle, a triple against the Brewers, came off of reliever... Livan Hernandez? There’s a fun piece of trivia to impress your friends with. Hill remains one of only two players since 1900 to hit for two cycles in one season.
*Just wanted to add a note in here recommending that you go check out the 2011 Baseball Reference page for the D-Backs and see what memories are triggered. I’d all but forgotten about Johnny Mac. Scrolling down the page, seeing names like Xavier Nady, Wily Mo Pena, Joe Paterson... good times.