05 September 2011
It's only been a few weeks, but so far, the Diamondbacks' controversial trade for Aaron Hill (and SS John McDonald) has worked out very well. In fact, at this point, it seems that this trade has been one that has really helped both teams, as both of the key players involved have improved with their new clubs.
When the Aaron Hill trade was made, the theory was that maybe both players needed a change of scenery. Hill had hit well in 2009, but had slumped in 2010, and in 2011 had become of the worst offensive players in the American League. Johnson was coming off a very good 2010 season, but had seen his average plummet to .209 while his strikeouts rose to an all-time high. But since the trade, both players have rediscovered their offensive skills.
Obviously, it is a very small sample size for both players, but the goal for the Diamondbacks was to get improved production from the 2B position over the final six weeks of the season, and that has definitely happened. Hill has hit for both average and power, with 16 Hits (including 6 extra-base hits) in his first 11 games. Could the same production have also come from Kelly Johnson? It seems unlikely, since Johnson had already begun to lose favor with Manager Kirk Gibson, seeing his playing time reduced to a platoon role and being pinch-hit for in key situations. Defensively, Hill has been impressive with the Diamondbacks as well. In fact, Hill has played so well in Arizona that speculation about picking up his $8M option for 2012 has already begun. When the trade was made, it seemed almost certain that Hill was just a short-term rental, and there was no chance that anyone would pay him $8M/year. But after two weeks, Hill has played so well that it is being considered.
Looking at the two players from a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) point-of-view, both teams have clearly benefited from the trade. Again, it's a very small sample, especially for the defensive stats, but the WAR calculations fromBaseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus all agree that both teams have received improved production.
All of the systems agree that both teams have obtained over half of a Win from their new acquisitions, in just around 11 games, which is a tremendous amount of value in such a short period. Could this have happened without the trade? It's certainly possible, but seems unlikely given that Johnson had struggled for almost 500 plate appearances, and Hill had been slumping for over 1000 PAs.
What is the explanation for the turnaround? One factor could be the hitting styles of the two teams. Under hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, the Blue Jays have become a home-run hitting team, led by 3B/OF Jose Bautista. But since Murphy took over, Hill really struggled in Toronto, and had actually seen his power disappear. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have become an offensive team that emphasizes making contact, which fits into Hill's batting style a little better, but not into Kelly Johnson's. So the offensive philosophies of the two teams could be a factor, but is it reasonable to expect the transformations to occur so quickly? Probably not, and what we have seen over the last two weeks could just be a sample-size fluke or the boost that sometimes happens from a change of scenery, when players work even harder to impress their new teams.
The other player that came to the Diamondbacks, SS John McDonald, has not hit well in his new home so far, going 3 for his first 20. But his presence has allowed Willie Bloomquist to get some more rest, and Bloomquist has responded by going 9-23 (.391/.462/.522) since the trade. And McDonald does give the club an excellent defensive shortstop who can at least be used in the late innings as a defensive replacement. In fact, McDonald earned a Web Gem in his first start with the Diamondbacks.
After two weeks, the Aaron Hill trade has worked out better than anyone could have hoped. Hill has shown an excellent bat along with solid defense for the Diamondbacks. While he obviously won't maintain an OPS over 1.000 the rest of the way, it does seem likely that he will provide a positive contribution from the 2B position, something the team was not getting before the trade. McDonald has not made as large a contribution so far, but his defense makes him a more useful player to have on the bench than the previous choice of Cody Ransom. Meanwhile, for Toronto, Kelly Johnson is also off to a hot start with the bat. So far, it does seem like both Hill and Johnson have benefited from a change of scenery, and that this is a trade that has really helped both teams.