photo © 2007 Jeramey Jannene | more info (via: Wylio)When the Astros signed Bill Hall to play second base, it sounded like a good deal for everyone involved. Hall rejuvinated his career with a solid 2010 season in Boston and was looking for a starting job, while the Astros had a need to fill in the infield. The short porch in left field at Minute Maid Park seemed like something that was made for Hall. He signed for $3 million, which wasn’t a crazy number. My thinking at the time was if he could repeat last year’s success, Houston got a pretty good deal.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way. Houston requested waivers on Hall Friday night, paving the way for his unconditional release. In 158 plate appearances this season, Hall has hit just .224/.272/.340 despite a .341 BABIP. His BB% has fallen from 8.9% last year with the Red Sox to just 5.1% this year. He’s always had trouble making consistent contact, but his K% has spiked to 37.4% this year, up from 30.2% last year. He’s made an out 114 times this year, and 55 of those have been via the strikeout. Defensively he’s been a nightmare, too, playing a large part in his -0.9 WAR so far this year. Yes, he’s been almost a full win worse than your average replacement player.
Through two months, it was a disaster of a signing, and apparently Ed Wade had seen enough to convince himself that Hall has lost it — he even went as far to say it was a “failure in judgment” on his part. Of course, whenever a middle infielder becomes available, the thing most people in Milwaukee are going to ask is “would he be an upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt?”
As a guy who likes Bill Hall both as a player and as a person, it pains me to say that I don’t think he is.
Hall was a bit of a late bloomer, never really finding success until his age 25 season in 2005. He’s 31 now, which isn’t old by any means, but his best days are behind him. Considering that with the exception of last season, he’s been on a downward trend since 2007, that doesn’t leave much hope for production in the future.
If you compare him to Yuni today, though, offensively you’d have trouble telling the two apart. If I hadn’t given you his triple slash line in the second paragraph and put it next to Yuni’s .232/.260/.332, how many people would be able to tell the difference? Granted, those numbers don’t tell the whole story — Hall has walked about twice more often this year, but has also struck out about three times more often than Yuni. Neither has great plate discipline, but at least Hall is willing to take a few pitches before getting himself out.
Defensively, the numbers still tend to be wildly inaccurate 1/3 of the way through the season, but just for the sake of comparison, Hall’s UZR/150 at second base this year is currently at -32.7. Yuni, playing the more difficult position at short, is at -9.9. Breaking down UZR into its individual components, Yuni is 3.3 runs below average when it comes to Range, but has made up for it by being 1.2 runs above average in Double Plays and 0.1 runs above average in Errors. Hall has been below average across the board — -5.0 in Range runs, -1.8 in Double Play runs, and -0.9 in Error runs.
Hall was bad when playing second base for the Red Sox last year, too, but not this bad. He likely isn’t as bad as he’s played in the field so far this year, but even if he played a whole lote better, it wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over Betancourt at short (at least not enough to be worth the cost of cutting Yuni loose mid-season). Considering how lucky Hall has been when he actually does put the ball in play, too, I’m not so sure he would do much better than Yuni with the bat, either.
It’s hard to tell if the clamoring for Hall’s return has mostly to do with people’s distaste for Yuni, or if the fans doing so forget just how frustrated they were with Hall before his departure. He hasn’t gotten any better at hitting right-handed pitching since he left Milwaukee, and he’s striking out even more than he was with the Brewers. The nostalgia is nice, but that would wear out quickly once he starts stranding runners in scoring position with strikeouts.
If the Brewers were to bring him back, the cost would be minimal and we could say he’s at least better than Josh Wilson, but he shouldn’t be counted on to replace Yuni as the everyday shortstop. Still a great guy to have in the clubhouse, but probably not a player worth having on the 25-man roster if you’re a contender.