Koyie Hill: Paul Bako 2.0

Following the leave of Lou Piniella from the Cubs, Mike Quade took over the reigns for the final 27 games, finishing the season with an outstanding 24-13 record (.648), especially when compared to Piniella’s record of 52-74 (.412). Many Cubs fans anticipated/craved Hall of Fame second baseman and Triple-A manager (at the time) Ryne Sandberg to take over as the parent club’s manager, however Mike Quade could be the better manager (especially for the short-term) for one particular reason.

Not nearly enough was said for Lou Piniella’s teeming infatuation with Koyie Hill in 2010, which severely depressed Geovany Soto’s counting statistics. Even though Soto finished with 17 homers last year, he did that in a mere 105 games. The limited amount of games isn’t entirely due to Piniella leaving Soto out of the lineup in favor of Hill, as he was injured for a total of 32 games. Even with Soto’s injury-ridden season, Hill appeared in 30% of the games that Soto was healthy.

Surely there must be a reason, right? Well, no. Hill was absolutely terrible at the plate, hitting .214/.254/.298. That combines for a .552 OPS, similar to that of Cesar Izturis, and ninth-worst among major leaguers with at least 200 plate appearances. Hill, a switch hitter, was also used as a quasi platoon partner for Soto when the Cubs played against a right-handed starting pitcher, however his platoon splits show he’s downright terrible against right-handed pitchers, putting up a .197/.242/.281 line as a left-handed batter.

Hill’s supposed reputation as a defensive whiz is also extremely exaggerated, as he threw out a ridiculously low 17% of attempted base thieves.

Given the provided evidence, one could only wonder why General Manager Jim Hendry decided to re-sign him, even with the emergence of Welington Castillo and the signing of Max Ramirez, two excellent backup catchers. The only reason I could speculate as to why Hendry re-signed Hill was due to the fact none of the other options bat left-handed. Given his left-handed splits, this is surely a misguided judgement.

Thus, the Paul Bako comparison. Hendry brought in Bako for the 2003-04 seasons to be a backup/left-handed bat off the bench, although Bako couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Even against right-handed pitchers, Bako hit .228/.308/.307 during his career. Yes, his career slugging percentage was lower than his on-base percentage. Bako, however, was a pretty good defensive catcher, throwing out 31% of attempted base-stealers, which inevitably the reason he stuck around in the majors for eleven years. I would be surprised if Hill has similar longevity.

The 2011 season will certainly begin with Hill implanted as the Cubs’ primary backup catcher. All Cubs fans should do is hope that Mike Quade has a different opinion on Koyie’s role (he’d make a great Iowa Cub), or at least that a different candidate emerges from spring training, or some time during the season.

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