Something I've been keeping an eye on this season and haven't seen posted about much on here is the success that Aaron Hill has found in Arizona. Despite the title of this post, I think most fans wouldn't wish failure on any former Jay, and are happy that Aaron has been able to turn things around with his new team. However, I, and perhaps other fans, might wonder how such a complete turnaround happened.
I didn't want to make this post until enough time had passed to accurately judge if Aaron's new found success is sustainable or simply a fluke of small sample size. Now that a full year has passed I think it is safe to judge his performance since leaving the Blue Jays and review how successful he's been. A quick look at Aaron's stats this year show a slash line of .295/.348/.483 with an OPS of .831. Combine that with the last 31 games of last year that Aaron played with Arizona where he had an OPS of .878 and you have almost a full year of sustained success. Looking at more stats, Aaron's WAR per Baseball Reference this year is 2.3, and last year in his very limited time with Arizona he put up a 1.5 WAR.
Quickly, as a point of reference, I'd like to look at Aaron's numbers with Toronto the two years before being traded. In 2010,after putting up a great season for us the previous year, Aaron struggled to the tune of an OPS .665 and a WAR (again, per Baseball Reference) of 0.6. We all assumed at the time that this was somewhat of a fluke and Aaron would be able to bounce back, if not to his 2009 levels, at least to a useful MLB player. 2011, however, found Hill putting up truly abysmal numbers, with his OPS at the time of his trade to Arizona at an incredibly low .584 and a WAR of -1.0. This is of course, not new information, but summed up here to show how drastically Hill's performance bottomed out, and his subsequent return to productivity with his new team.
Which brings me to the point of this whole post. How is such a complete and utter turn around possible? How can a player go from all-star level performance, to being an absolute black hole offensively for nearly two years, then immediately find success again upon being traded? The most cliche and common explanation is that "change of scenery" was all the player needed. Although I think there can be a degree of truth to this explanation, I find it hard to believe that a simple change of team can cause a player to find sustainable success after two years of mediocre or worse play. What I would suggest though, is that Hill's two year decline (generous to call it that) and subsequent success with Arizona suggests some sort of flaw with the Blue Jays system or mishandling on their part of the player. One person who perhaps deserves some of the blame is Dwayne Murphy. Coupled with Hill's turnaround, it often seems that many of our players are sent to AAA and come back with a more refined or successful swing (Snider always seemed to do well after coming up from Las Vegas for a couple weeks, then would start swinging wildly, Lind as well). Similarly, I believe I remember hearing that Encarnacion was able to finally tap into his power and hit consistently this year after working with a non-Blue Jay hitting coach this offseason. Now obviously, Murphy has been key to unlocking the potential in some of our best offensive threats (Bautista and Rasmus at least) but perhaps with certain players his approach to coaching isn't as effective. I don't think it would be fair to point to one coach for any one player's complete lack of success, this is just one possible way in which Hill was mishandled.
So, to sum all this up: I think that Hill's terrible performance for two years with the Blue Jays and subsequent success this year with Arizona points to some flaw with player handling within the Blue Jays organization. One possible place to look is at the hitting coach, however this may be only one part of the reason for Hill's failure here in Toronto. Clearly, in writing this I didn't used advanced stats beyond WAR, which I'm sure others here could expand on. This post is more to generate discussion and hear other's opinions and theories rather than for me to claim to know the reasons for Hill's problems with the Jays. Finally, I'd like to add that I am not a huge Aaron Hill fan and I'm not writing this as an apologist to make up excuses for his poor play with the team, only because I am troubled by the fact that a player would immediately play much better once leaving our team.