Aaron Hill is back to being one of the best second baseman in the American League. As a matter of fact, after a concussion-marred 2008 campaign, he’s even better than he was in 2007, when the Blue Jays stalwart had what The Fielding Bible called, “a defensive year of historic excellence.” While his plate discipline remains less than ideal, Hill’s power numbers have climbed exponentially, as he has more than doubled his previous career-high by banging out 36 home runs. Overall, Hill is hitting .288/.331/.501. Smoothly sidestepping the question of whether he is hitting well enough to win a Gold Glove, Hill shared his thoughts on infield defense and his outstanding season at the plate.
David Laurila: With roughly a month to go, how would you assess your 2009 season?
Aaron Hill: Well, from last year, I think that it’s just nice to be back in a uniform and playing again. Simple as that. I try to keep everything simple because that makes things a little easier.
DL: Are you hitting well enough this year to win a Gold Glove?
AH: I don’t know, because I don’t think I’ve ever been put in that category. I just go out and play ball, and if someone wants to throw me in the mix, that would be great. You just see what happens. I have no control over it, so there’s no reason to worry about it.
DL: According to The Fielding Bible, you deserved to win a Gold Glove in 2007. Do you pay any attention to defensive metrics?
AH: Not really, but I do take a lot of pride in what I do out there. I’m trying to help out the pitcher any way I can, so I love to get to balls, but like I said, I’m just out there doing my job. Whatever ends up at the end of the season, ends up.
DL: Is it meaningful to know that people who study the game analytically, as opposed to subjectively, view you in that light?
AH: I think it’s great. Obviously, it’s great anytime that somebody recognizes what you’re doing, because I know the hard work that I put in. I think it’s amazing to be put into that category, so yeah, it would be great to win a Gold Glove. That’s a great recognition; it’s a great honor.
DL: In 2007, you had the second-highest assist total for a second baseman in over 70 years. What does that mean to you?
AH: In over 70 years? That’s neat. I mean, I think it’s awesome. Obviously, it’s nice to have offensive success, but personally, I love making a big play. It’s fun getting to balls; it’s fun seeing the pitchers get excited about you picking them up, or whatever it may be. It’s a part of the game, it’s a beautiful part of the game, and it’s fun to be out there doing that.
DL: How do you get to so many balls?
AH: You’re always taught, and I’m sure that most everyone is, that you always want the ball and you always expect the ball. We’ve got some guys… I’m fortunate enough that if they throw a fastball outside, if the catcher puts that down, for the most part, a guy like Doc [Halladay] is going to hit his spot. So I can cheat one way or the other, and maybe that’s part of it. I don’t know. Maybe we just have a lot of ground-ball pitchers, I mean, who knows?
DL: Do infielders need to be careful not to cheat too much?
AH: If a right-handed pull hitter is up, and you’re a shortstop or a second baseman, you’re going to move to the pull-side a little bit. But it kind of depends on the count, too. If it’s 0-and-2, or something like that, maybe they’ll be fighting the ball off a little bit and you can’t cheat as much. A lot of it depends on the situation.
DL: In an interview this spring, you said that you expect the ball on every pitch and keep your feet moving. Can you clarify what you meant by keeping your feet moving?
AH: Sometimes people get caught flat-footed; it just happens. You always try to remind yourself to keep it going, so that you won’t get caught off balance or by surprise on a hard-hit ground ball. The balls that you miss by maybe just a hair-maybe if I would have been moving my feet, I would have gotten to it. I know one thing, which is that I want to get to them and not have to have any thoughts as to why I didn’t.
DL: Where are your eyes trained when the pitcher goes into his delivery?
AH: I’m watching the hitting zone. I start with the pitcher, and then I focus my eyes on what the hitter might be doing. Some guys leak sometimes, and maybe you can get a little cheat on the ball. But it’s just one of those things where, hopefully, the pitcher throws the ball to the spot that he wants and where your positioning is, so that you can make the play.
DL: When you said that you start with the pitcher, did you mean that you follow the flight of the ball to the plate?
AH: No, you can’t do that. I’ve never done it, because I’m not comfortable doing that. I’d rather watch… you start with the pitcher and then you’re ready to go. I mean, you can see when the ball is coming because of the batter’s stance. His load and everything will kind of let you know when it’s coming.
DL: How much conversation do you have with your double-play partner over the course of a game?
AH: [Marco] Scutaro and I love to talk during the whole game. We have fun. But as far as game situations, we let each other know who has the pitcher on a double play, or if there’s a pickoff, who’s got the bag. You just go over game situations to make sure that you’re ready. I think it’s obviously a plus to have a double-play partner who is going to talk to you about the situations, because it keeps them fresh in your mind and keeps you ready to go; it keeps you aware of what’s going on.
DL: Who has most helped you to become an outstanding defensive second baseman?
AH: Oh, it’s Brian Butterfield, without a doubt. He’s our infield guy, and obviously our bench coach now, and he was the third-base coach when I came up. I’d always played short, and making the transition to other side of the field was different, to say the least. I knew that I’d be able to do it, and that it was my chance to be in the big leagues, and to have a guy who was so positive… I think that’s what you need as a young guy in the game. You need someone who is going to be there, to push you, but at the same time support everything that you’re doing. It’s a game of failure anyway, so it’s nice to have somebody on the positive side, helping you out, giving you a pat on the butt, and telling you to keep going. It’s been great, what he’s been able to teach me. He’s worked with some great players, I mean, Orlando Hudson was the second baseman before I got here. He’s seen a lot of good things, and I’m still learning. There are still some things I need to get better at.
DL: Having played different positions, just how difficult is it to be a utility guy and move around the infield?
AH: If you’re comfortable in that, and it’s what you’ve always done, I guess it’s that comfort stage. But it’s still tough. You have to have a lot of confidence, too, because if you’re a utility guy, you never know which side you might be on the next day. Take a guy like John McDonald-he plays second, third, short; he takes fly balls in the outfield, but he takes pride in his defense, and he knows the value of that. He gives the manager a lot of options if something happens.
DL: Your first two games in the big leagues were as a designated hitter. Do you find that to be somewhat ironic?
AH: Yeah, it’s a little funny, but they were just getting me ready. I had two days to learn third base; that’s kind of what the thought process there was. That’s how I broke in, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
DL: How would you describe your hitting approach?
AH: You know what? You have an approach with each pitcher. You try to find a game plan for what he’s going to try to do to you and whatnot. It’s one of those things where you do your homework. You look at what you’ve done against him-how he’s been successful against you, and how you’ve been successful against him. The bottom line is that it just goes back to the basics. I mean, you look for a fastball up; you look for something that you can hit. Like [former Louisiana State University baseball coach] Skip Bertman said in college, “You sit for the express, and adjust for the rest.” A lot of guys do that-you look for a fastball. Sometimes you might cheat and look for some off-speed things every now and then, but I’ve never been the type of guy to guess at pitches. I like to kind of just sit fastball and hopefully see something other than off-speed pitches.
DL: You’ve hit for a lot of power this year. Where has it come from?
AH: I couldn’t tell you. I take a lot of pride in the weight room in the offseason, with Halladay, but it hasn’t been anything crazy in the last couple of years. It’s been the same routine. I think I’ve just been more consistent with the work habit and knowing what I have to do to be ready for a game.
DL: Cito Gaston recently said that he’d like to see you draw more walks.
AH: You know what? I’m at the point where… I don’t know. I’m sure that he would. Obviously, I don’t walk all that much, but does that take away some aggressiveness? I mean, I kind of like where I’m at right now, so I’m not going to change anything, and I don’t think that anyone else wants me to change anything. I swing the bat, and I always have. Yeah, I’ll chase some pitches, because I like swinging the bat and I feel that I can hit everything. Obviously, there’s always something about baseball that you can learn from. After this year, we’ll assess, and I’m sure that walks and seeing more pitches, will be one of them. But right now, I’m just concentrating on my approach and grinding it out until the end of the year. Then I’ll look back on some things and we’ll talk about what I could do better next year.
DL: Marco Scutaro has done a great job of drawing walks this season. How does he do it?
AH: Awesome. I mean, he’s done an unbelievable job this year. He’s kept us in so many ball games, and won a lot of ball games, with the amount of runs he scores and with his on-base percentage. He’s got a great eye at the plate; he does a great job. He’s always getting to two strikes, but battling it out and finding a walk somehow. He’s just… I don’t know. Maybe I should get with him, and he can talk to me how to get on base a little more.
DL: Any final thoughts?
AH: No. I just appreciate you recognizing some of what I’ve done, and it was neat hearing some of those stats. I hadn’t heard them before.