I thought I better get this article in under the wire. Word on the tweets is Rich Hill is expected to sign with a team this week. Now I have no reason whatsoever to believe that team is the Brewers. But I do have some reason to believe he'd be a good fit for this rebuilding club.
I've written about the reasons a rebuilding club might want to sign a player they don't necessarily need with the hopes of trading him for prospect later. I've probably overused the Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta example by now so I won't reiterate that. We at Brew Crew Ball have given you a couple other examples of pitchers that might build some trade value by mid-season. One of my examples was Brandon Beachy. Kyle proposed the idea of signing Jhoulys Chacin--which I personally hope doesn't happen because I can't be bothered to remember how to spell his first name. Today I wanted to take a look at the case Rich Hill presents.
Hill is a bit different from the other two. Beachy--despite the injury--and Chacin have proven they can handle starting duties. Hill kind of proved the opposite. He came to the major leagues as a starter and was actually okay. Not terribly good, but okay. Then injuries just wrecked him.
He missed a lot of 2008 with back injuries. Then in 2009 his elbow started barking before his shoulder went out. He had left shoulder labrum surgery and missed the rest of the year. Then he had Tommy John surgery. Twice (2010 and 2011). That's bad news but the really amazing thing is that he's pitched at least an inning in the majors every year since. However he didn't make a single major league start since 2009. That is until this year.
He began 2015 with the Nationals' AAA team pitching out of the bullpen. He was okay-ish. He struck out a bunch of batters but he also walked a bunch. The Nationals released him and then he actually played for a month with an unaffiliated team: The Long Island Ducks. The Red Sox would then sign him in August.
Rich Hill would receive a major league call-up and on September 13th he would make his first major league start since July 27, 2009. That's not the amazing thing. The truly amazing thing is that he went 7 innings, struck out 10 batters, walked one, and gave up just one hit. He would strike out 10 batters in each of his first three starts, the last of which was a complete game shut out against the Orioles.
All told Rich Hill made four starts in 2015 with a 34.0 K%, 4.7 BB%, 0.66 WHIP, a 1.55 ERA, and 2.27 FIP. He did that at the age of 35 after not starting a game in the major leagues for over six years. Pretty magical. But how much do you pay for that now?
I'm sure I don't need to explain "short sample size" to you anymore in 2015. I don't think anyone expects him to reproduce that stat line over 30 starts. But what if he can even get half way there? That's a solid mid-rotation starter. But with the injury history and the previous mediocrity, serious questions abound.
For what it's worth he apparently changed the side of the mound he pitches off of. Mike Fiers made a similar change and found success. Sometimes it's that simple. But that article also talks up the spin rate and the horizontal movement on his curveball. So who knows? Maybe he really did find something.
But again, how much do you pay for that? I'm not entirely sure though the first article I linked mentions that there's a chance he ends up with a multi-year deal. I haven't a clue if that's true but if it is I bet it's more like a one year guarantee with some kind of option attached.
Given his age, his injury history, the lack of recent success at the major league level I think he's in line for a small guaranteed base salary with incentives for appearances and innings pitched. He's pitched out of the bullpen before so if the base is low enough he could be an asset in that capacity should it become obvious he cannot start.
Hill is a trendy buy-low candidate this year because of his story. It's the kind of story they make into a movie and we pretend not to cry at. But I honestly have no idea if he really has turned a corner. Whatever amount of money he gets it's likely to be low enough that it wouldn't be problematic for the Brewers. They could give him a shot at that 5th rotation spot hoping he has some magic left in him. The hope of course is to trade him for something at some point. If he can't hang as a starter he could be transitioned to the bullpen and his spot be given to Zach Davies. At that point the Brewers would just be out a modest sum of money and that doesn't really matter. I think it's an interesting idea at the very least.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Injury information courtesy of Baseball Prospectus