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The Milwaukee Brewers Third Base Conundrum

Aaron Hill has been BAD, folks.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over the winter, Slingin' David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers completed a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that sent Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the desert. Milwaukee was able to pry away controllable starter Chase Anderson and 19 year old infield prospect Isan Diaz (who is tied for the Midwest League lead with three home runs) in the deal, but only after agreeing to take on the corpse of Aaron Hill and $5.5 mil of his $12 mil salary.

That seemed like a reasonable gamble for the Brewers at the time, who had a hole at third base and only had to take on a rather minimal financial commitment. Though the 34 year old had been a below replacement level contributor from 2014-15, there was still the possibility that Hill could start off the season playing well enough to become a trade candidate. Even if he could only return a lottery-ticket relief prospect like the Brewers got in Yhonathan Barrios for Aramis Ramirez last season, that'd still be something.

Unfortunately, that has not been anywhere close to the case. With one month of the season now in the books, Hill is hitting a meager .208/.256/.273 with one home run in 87 plate appearances. Hill's total offensive contributions as measured by wRC+ have been valued at 36, or a solid 64% below the league average of 100. Some poor batted ball luck might be partially to blame as Hill owns just a .231 BABIP this season, which is well below his career average of .287. However he's also making his lowest percentage of hard contact (28.8%) in any season since 2011, so it doesn't appear that he's due for too much positive regression.

Defensively, Hill hasn't been much better either. His DEF (defense and positional adjustment) of -0.4 runs ranks 17th among 26 qualified third baseman. He's accrued a grand total of zero defensive runs saved thus far in 159.0 innings at the hot corner and UZR values his contributions at -1.9 runs. Those types of numbers aren't killing the Brewers in the field, but average to slightly-below defense isn't enough to make up for his non-existent offense.

Overall, Hill's contributions to the Brewers this season have been valued at -0.4 Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs. Among qualified National League third baseman, only Adonis Garcia of the Braves (-0.6 fWAR) has hurt his team more with his presence on the diamond.

So the question is how much longer do the Brewers stick with the non-performing veteran? At this point it looks like the chances of convincing another club to give up anything of value for Aaron Hill seem almost non-existent. However, the candidates to replace Aaron in the starting lineup aren't exactly setting the world on fire, either:

Colin Walsh
The Rule 5 pick has been doing what he does best so far this season: drawing walks. Walsh has taken a free pass in an astounding 27.5% of his 40 plate appearances and currently boasts a .375 OBP. Thank goodness for that, too, as he's hitting only .107 with a .036 ISO.

Yadiel Rivera
Rivera's got an outstanding defensive pedigree all over the infield, but has never really hit at any level. That's held true this year in the big leagues, as he owns a .189/.211/.270 slash in 38 plate appearances.

Hernan Perez
Of the options at the hot corner, Perez is probably performing the best. He posted an .848 OPS with the Colorado Springs before getting called up to replace the injured Scooter Gennett, and so far in 13 big league plate appearances in 2016 he's hit .385/.385/.846 with two home runs. He did get a long look last year though and he managed just a .646 OPS in 238 plate appearances.

Will Middlebrooks
The former Red Sox third baseman broke out with a 122 wRC+ in 75 games in 2012, though in big league 878 plate appearances since then he's managed only a .213/.258/.363 batting line and was worth -0.4 fWAR with the Padres last season. To make matters worse, he's posted a thoroughly awful .520 OPS in 12 games for the Sky Sox while battling injury.

Garin Cecchini
Another former Red Sox top prospect acquired by Stearns over the winter. Cecchini hasn't been great so far for the Sky Sox, but his .257/.313/.365 slash (87 wRC+) is certainly an improvement over the disappointing 2015 performance that lead to his DFA. He's probably got the highest ceiling of any of the potential third base options and at just 25 years old, there's still a chance that he could perhaps become a big league regular.


With none of the above mentioned options necessarily pushing the struggling Aaron Hill for playing time, the likelihood is that he'll remain the starter for at least a few more weeks. If Hill's poor play continues throughout May, however, he'll probably be replaced in the starting lineup as soon as someone else starts heating up with the bat. Whether that leads to Hill simply being relegated to the bench or ultimately designated for assignment remains to be seen, but there are no shortage of options to take his place on the active roster.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs