The End Of The Koyie Hill Era In Chicago

Koyie Hill of the Chicago Cubs scores past catcher Michael McKenry of the Pittsburgh Pirates after Starlin Castro hit an infield single at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Early Monday evening, Carrie tweeted the news:

#Cubs have tendered contracts to arb eligibles Baker, DeWitt, Garza, Soto, Stewart, Wells, but not Hill
Dec 13 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

And with that, the Chicago Cubs career of Koyie Hill has ended. More on this epoch in the history of our favorite team after the jump.

Let's face it. Koyie Hill was not a very good major league baseball hitter. The run you see him scoring in the photo at the top of this post was a rare event -- one of only 15 such events during the 2011 season. Offensively, his contributions diminished with each year he was backup to Geovany Soto:

2009: .237/.312/.324
2010: .214/.254/.298
2011: .194/.268/.276

Those numbers range from bad to awful to pathetic; since 1961, only 20 other Cubs players have had as many or more PA (153) as Hill did in 2011 and have an OPS (.544) as low. Almost all of them were backup catchers (although you'll surely remember Aaron Miles' .466 OPS in 2009).

The value, according to those in the prior regime, of Hill was his defense. That wasn't very good either; though he caught 20 of 50 runners stealing (40%) in 2009, that ratio dropped to 18% (8 of 45) in 2010 and 24% (8 of 33) in 2011. But he's good with the pitching staff, management said. Cubs pitchers posted a 4.31 ERA with Hill catching in 2011; 4.33 with Geovany Soto. Um, well, pitchers like the way he calls a game. That's something we don't have numbers for.

Oddly enough, maybe there's something to that, in spite of all the other bad numbers. Check out the Cubs' record in games Hill started while he was with the team:

2011: 22-16
2010: 24-36
2009: 42-27
2008: 1-1
2007: 17-8

That's a 106-78 (.576) record. From 2007-2011, the Cubs were 305-319 (.489) in games not started by Hill. If you have an explanation for the difference, feel free to post it in the comments. It's completely inexplicable, more likely creditable to the pitchers rather than Hill's presence, although there were quite a few different pitchers over the five seasons.

Don't think I'm making this post as some sort of plea that he should have been kept. Far from it, his time was long ago past; he hit .208/.270/.295 overall as a Cub, with seven HR and 63 RBI in 795 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Henry Blanco, who was unceremoniously dumped after backing up Geovany Soto quite well during the 2008 97-win season, has hit .233/.308/.394 with 16 HR and 36 RBI in little more than half the PA (488) in the three years since then and was a capable backup for the division champion Diamondbacks in 2011.

The Cubs should have kept Blanco. Hill made $800,000 last year, which was the source of considerable angst around here. Could the Cubs have done better for the league minimum? Probably, but $400,000 wasn't going to break the bank. Clearly, there were other issues with the Jim Hendry regime that forced its end.

So the Cubs will have a new backup catcher in 2012. Steve Clevenger seems the likely choice if the Cubs stay in-house; he hits well, and is also lefthanded, something MLB moguls seem to like in a backup catcher if the main guy hits righthanded.

Koyie Hill, for his part, seems like a good guy, and someone who, like a lot of catchers who can't hit much in the major leagues, might make a good coach or manager someday. He'll be 33 in March; if Koyie wants to stay in baseball, I hope Theo & Jed can find a place for him in the organization to begin a coaching career.

I'll finish by saying that only on this site could we have nearly 800 words written about the non-tender of a .200-hitting backup catcher. Onward.

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