As we make our way through the off-season, we’ll continue looking at potential Free Agent acquisition candidates. As I was scrolling through the MLBTR’s top 50 thinking through who made sense to profile from a cost, performance, and Astros model perspective as a a target. Today’s candidate?
46. Rich Hill – Dodgers. One year, $6MM. Hill’s three-year deal with the Dodgers went about as well as could have been expected, with a 3.30 ERA in 327 innings and another 37 innings in the postseason. When he’s able to take the mound, he’s produced huge strikeout rates, with the 13th-best overall percentage among starting pitchers during that three-year period. Still, since returning to prominence in 2016, Hill has gone on the IL nine times and missed a total of 322 days due to injuries. Aside from the recurrent blisters that accompany his chart-topping spin rates, Hill missed almost three months this year due to a forearm strain. Hill, who’ll turn 40 in March, seems likeliest to return to the Dodgers or go back to his hometown Red Sox on an incentive-heavy one-year deal.
I do have a feeling that for people, especially who are looking for a direct replacement for Cole will be really disappointed by Hill being a target but he does seem like a low-risk/high-reward signing if you were to just look at past performance and projected cost. The catch is obviously age and injury as Hill will not be available until June of next year due to an elbow surgery.
Rich Hill, Beautiful 66mph Curveball (and tracker). pic.twitter.com/8e7p1C7836— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 5, 2019
Who is Rich Hill
A towering 6’5” 221 Lefty hailing from Michigan, Hill was actually drafted 3 separate times, in 1999 (36th round), 2001 (7th round), and ultimately signing in 2002 as a 4th round draft pick.
His claim to fame was always a devastating curveball, which he could throw in any count. Here was a quote from his catcher while on the cubs, Michael Barrett:
“[Hill’s] curveball is so electric that the first couple of times I caught him, I had a tendency to come up on the curve because it bites so much. You just don’t see a left-handed curveball like that anymore. When he’s good, it doesn’t hang, and it’s nearly unhittable”
Next year, Hill will be coming into his 40 year old season, in which he’s pitched across 15 seasons to the tune of a 65-42 record with a 3.82 ERA. But that doesn’t tell half the story as truthfully Hill’s success really took hold in 2016, although there was always flashes of greatness.
Since 2014, Hill has pitched at a 41-20, 2.92 ERA pace. While his FIP indicates he pitched closer to a mid-3’s pitcher (3.42) than that, he still has been one of the top performing pitchers in nearly every category. Here is how he has ranked in the following from 2014-Present against all pitchers with 400+ IP:
ERA - 2.92 (6th)
FIP - 3.44 (21st)
SIERA - 3.46 (19th)
During that time he’s ranked well as a back end #1/frontline #2, the challenge is simply how often he’s actually been able to be on the field producing these results.
2009 - (2) 15 day IL stints due to Left Shoulder Inflammation
2011 - Left elbow sprain that resulted in Tommy John (out until end of April 2012)
2012 - After returning from TJ, Hill was shut back down in June 2012 for Left Forearm soreness - returning again September of 2012
2014 - Sent to 7 day IL
2015 - Sent to 7 day IL
2016- Sent to 15 day IL for a Left Groin Strain (came back just under a month later), two additional trips to the IL due to Left Middle Finger blisters
2017 - Sent to 10 day IL for blisters on left middle finger
2018 - Sent to 10 day IL for left third digit inflammation, then again later in the year for another blister on middle finger
2019 - Sent to 10 day IL for Left knee sprain (returning a month later), sent to 10 day IL with forearm strain ultimately making it back middle of September.
This off-season, Hill underwent Primary Revision Surgery, which is a similar but less intrusive version of Tommy John Surgery. Estimates put his return to be slotted for June, but obviously given age and injury history none of that is a guarantee.
Rich Hill, 89mph High Fastball (foul) and 66mph Curveball (swinging K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/YJIJ7hoWbl— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 29, 2019
If you haven’t read the Strom Magic Method , it highlights the way the Astros have targeted and changed pitchers over the years. In the shortest summation possible, the Astros have found the most success with pitchers that throw a high velocity, high spin 4-seamer and a high spin breaking pitch - ideally the curve.
Hill is a spin rate lovers dream. Fastball Spin rate naturally increases with velocity, which is not Hill’s strong suit but still he ranks among the top of the leaderboards.
There’s a few things to note here. He’s a spin rate darling across the board. Here is how he stacks up against the competition including relievers
4-Seamer (91st percentile) - ranking 47th just behind Max Scherzer
Curveball spin (95th percentile) - 10th best in baseball
Slider - 16th best in baseball
Truthfully Hill’s combo is the deadly fastball/curveball combo but he does throw a few others pitches effectively throughout his career. Notably, Hill throws an Eephus, one of my all-time favorite pitches. If you don’t know much about the pitch, I found a really great article on the pitch - which I highly recommend the read if you have the time.
MLBTR is predicting a 1-year $6 Million dollar contract, a very minimal sum for the ability to pick up a potential front line starter even if it is for a half of a year. It’d be easily possible that if the Astros were to make a mid-season trade they’d absorb more than that amount of salary for a mid-year rental.
His arsenal would work well with Strom’s tutelage though he does lack from the overpowering velocity that can help make it to the true ace level. With none of his pitches standing out as terrible from an xwOBA perspective, Hill is less of a rebuild and more of a question of can he stay healthy.
For $6 Million, this deal probably has the most potential for an additional ace to fill out your post season roster but it’s definitely just as likely he is unable to throw any meaningful innings and the investment goes down the drain.
With the Astros salary challenges, Hill is an intriguing gamble. What are your thoughts?
Should the Astros pursue Rich Hill?
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