Aaron Hill has been on a tear since his miserable start to the season. At the end of April, he was batting .195 with zero home runs and one measly walk. Since then, however, he's been one of the most productive middle infielders in the game, offensively speaking.
As a shortstop, he's batted .387/.443/.496. Conversely, as a second baseman, he's batted .251/.297/.335. One theory that might explain the huge disparity is that he can focus more energy on hitting when he's playing a position (shortstop) with which he was familiar throughout his minor league career. However, if that's the case, it's odd that he's much, much better defensively as a second baseman than as a shortstop. He ranks near the bottom of league in zone rating (.819) and range factor (4.45), and dead last in fielding percentage (.953). Moreover, from what I've seen, he's been shaky on plays he's been fortunate enough to convert. Lyle Overbay has saved him time and again from committing even more errors.
It's likely that Hill's April was an offensive aberration and that he'd do fine if he were to revert to second base. On the other hand, his current performance might be out of line with his true abilities, so it shouldn't be expected to continue for the remainder of the season. If J.P. Ricciardi does indeed look for a middle infield replacement for Russ Adams, it would be best to inquire about available shortstops rather than second basemen.
Alex Rios likely won't be back in action until August, which comes as disappointing news. The Blue Jays have been short on offense without Rios, Shea Hillenbrand, and Troy Glaus in the lineup. As a result, John Gibbons hasn't been able to implement the successful platoons that have been in place since April. Eric Hinske, for one, has received playing time against left-handed pitchers, against whom his production has been historically anemic.
One has to wonder (as I do) whether there's more to Rios' injury than has been reported. It's odd for someone to contract a staph infection without actually cutting himself. After all, Rios simply fouled a ball off his leg. Additionally, I'm no doctor, but it seems odd that it's taken him such a substantial period of time to recover.
- The Blue Jays' bullpen situation has been the topic of much recent debate among fans. The bullpen as a whole has pitched 305 innings this season, the seventh highest total in baseball. However, those innings have been distributed relatively evenly, with no particular being all that overworked. And no, B.J. Ryan has not been overworked this season, contrary to what people like Richard Griffin will opine. Relative to other closers, Ryan's innings pitched total seems reasonable (not including yesterday's games):
Player IP Leverage Index (LI)
Mariano Rivera 50 1.91
Jonathan Papelbon 48 1.81
B.J. Ryan 45.2 1.67
J.J. Putz 43.2 1.38
Ambiorix Burgos 43.1 1.90
Bobby Jenks 42.1 1.97
Huston Street 40.1 2.03
Chris Ray 39.2 1.75
Joe Nathan 39 1.51
Akinori Otsuka 39 1.54
Francisco Rodriguez 38.1 1.91
Todd Jones 36 2.11
Bob Wickman 27 2.00
Tyler Walker 20 2.43
If anything, Gibbons should use Ryan in situations of higher leverage. It's fine to pad his saves total by using him to conserve a three-run lead, but not when it jeopardizes his availability in more crucial situations.
In fact, other than his strange habit of using Scott Schoeneweis against right-handed batters, Captain Hook (Gibbons) has done an admirable job of handling his relief corps. For the most part, he uses dreck suck as Brian Tallet and Vinnie Chulk in low-leverage situations while conserving his better pitchers, Ryan and Justin Speier for the later innings. In fact, the bullpen is 17-4 this season, the best mark in the majors this season. I'm of the belief that a bullpen with poor depth but a couple great relievers is superior to a bullpen with very good depth but no standout pitchers. The reason is because the great relievers can throw curcial inning while the remaining pitchers can throw during instances when their performance is of much less importance.