Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hill Returns To The Big Leagues

Rich Hill has made a couple of starts after being brought off the DL, and his results have been pretty good. A 1-0 record, with a 3.18 ERA in 11.1 IP, 10 H, 6 BB, 1 HR, 12 K. His FIP is a solid 3.78 and his stats make it seem like he's a lot more like the 2007 version (3.92 ERA with 183 K's in 195 IP) than the 2008 version (4.12 ERA but 18 walks in 19.2 IP). Does this mean the O's have themselves a #3 starter?

(These are largely taken from write-ups done after each of Hill's starts.)

From his first start against the Royals (courtesy of FanGrpahs):

Hill pretty much just stuck with the fastball and curveball, as he has in the past. That one red dot - the slider - was I believe the pitch he dropped down on to strike Jacobs out (the release point confirmed that he really did drop down on that one pitch). His fastball doesn't tail in on lefties much at all, but the curveball has some big-time movement and a 17 mph difference in average velocity from the heater. If he could work his 81 mph change-up in more - he only threw a handful - then that might make both the fastball and the curve more effective.

From his second start against the Nationals (also courtesy of FanGrpahs):

I found it amusing that Hill dropped down again, once, to throw that "slider". It was to Adam Dunn, who fouled it off before drawing a walk. While it looks like his movement changed from his last start, the uniform difference of everything moving slightly to the left leads me to believe that it's an issue with the Pitch/FX system calibration on one of the two stadiums.

All six of his K's came on the curveball, with two looking and four swinging. Hill is still having a ton of problems with his fastball command, as only 37% of his pitches (overall) have been in the strike-zone (as opposed to around 50% as the league average) and lot of that is his fastball. The Pitch/FX didn't catch every pitch in his last start - and it's not exact - but it looks like he threw around a third of his fastballs in the strike zone and around 40% of his curveballs. The curve is a great pitch for him, but it will lose a lot of it's effectiveness if opposing batters know that Hill can't get his fastball over.

Statistically speaking, start #2 (5.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 6 K) looked a lot like start #1 (5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K). The walks were up partly as a result of a worse ball-strike ratio (46-53 after 34-54), but he also got more groundballs which allowed him to erase a runner via a double play.

I'm not a scout, but it seems like Hill still has some less than optimal things going on with his mechanics - possibly including that shoulder tilt (which may or may not be an actual problem), crooking his wrist as he takes the ball back out of his glove, and what appears to be a lag in his arm as he rotated his body towards the plate. Couldn't find any slowed down video to check, so I would love to hear what others have to say on the matter.

Despite his solid first couple of starts, Hill still has a lot to work on before he can be counted on as a long-term contributor to the rotation.