Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 Blue Jays Preview: Will Aaron Hill and Adam Lind Bounce-Back?

REUTERS/Mike Cassese
To a degree.

Hill and Lind both had seasons in 2010 that were as strange as they were putrid. Aaron Hill managed a historic .196 BABIP, while Adam Lind countered with the most futile left-handed split in recent memory (.117/.159/.182, .341 OPS).

Some think we can just write off those seasons, as the statistics don't make any sense, and expect Lind and Hill to fully return to 2009 numbers. Hill's BB and K numbers were normal and Adam Lind's peripherals were close to his career norms after all, right?

But those numbers don't tell the whole story. After the 2009 season, I feared Aaron Hill would get too homer-heavy and try to yank everything out of the ballpark following his huge season (I'm worried about Jose Bautista for the same reason), and his 2010 line-drive and fly-ball rates back up my fears.

Aaron Hill's LD% plummeted from 19.6 to 10.6, while his FB% rose to 54.2 from 41.0. If you prorate the 26 homers in 2010 to fill his incredible 734 plate appearances from 2009, you get 32.9. In short, the rate of which Aaron Hill hit home runs remained pretty much constant.

Meanwhile, his batting average (and pretty much any other non-home run stat) took a dive with the rapid decline in line drive percentage. While makes a ton of sense: he just didn't make good contact at anywhere near a respectable rate.

So what should we expect from Aaron Hill in 2011? Somewhere in between the 2009 and 2010. Hill has been injured for the entirety of the Grapefruit League season thus far, but I expect him to be more patient at the plate and try to get back to the batting strategy that he implemented so effectively in 2009.

As far as Adam Lind goes, it's all about hitting lefties. While he didn't hit righties quite as well in 2010 as he did in 2009 (.829 OPS to .991), he didn't exactly hit poorly against them.

So will Lind get past his southpaw woes? To a degree of course, it would be downright absurd to expect his .341 OPS to continue. I believe Lind will manage a .700 OPS in 2011. While I don't like using anecdotes or small sample sizes to predict future performance, it's hard not to think that the sheer talent of lefties in the AL East had to do with Lind's poor performance in 2010. 

It seemed when Jays would face the Rays, Randy Choate would come in to retire Lind once in every game (exact number: 11/18 games between the two clubs did Choate come in to pitch to Lind.). Choate wasn't the only lefty-killer in the AL East. Between CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, David Price and others, it's clear that Lind's at-bats against lefties aren't the same as, say, a left-handed batter in the NL West.

To conclude, there's no real way to dissect Adam Lind's 2010 splits to denote him being lucky or unlucky, or as a harbinger of future performance. It's just tough to expect it to continue to such a degree, as denote by his splits in 2009 and 2008.

BTTN 2011 Projections
Hill: .268/.325/.450, 27 HR, 3.3 WAR
Lind:.271/.332/.465, 26 HR, 2.8 WAR

If you're interested in seeing another topic discussed as part of BTTN's 2011 Blue Jays preview, please leave a comment!

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