Oakland A’s Preview 2016: Rich Hill, Left Handed Starter
The Oakland Athletics scooped up a bargain of a free agent starter in Rich Hill this offseason. This southpaw has all the making of a rebound veteran, much like Scott Kazmir. For one year and $6 million, Oakland acquired nothing but upside in Hill. Let’s take an in-depth look today (which happens to be Rich Hill’s birthday!) at what Hill has done and will do for the A’s.
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Rich Hill is a journeyman lefty who has spent time with the Cubs, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels and Yankees. His best success as a starter occurred in 2007, when he pitched 195 innings for Chicago with an 11-8 record and a 3.92 ERA. Hill also pitched in the playoffs that year. In 2011, he suffered a torn UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery. Following his return, he bounced between several teams at various minor league levels, as well as appearing out of the bullpen in the majors. He was released in June 2015 after signing a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals. Soon after, he signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.
In August last year, the Red Sox came back to Hill in dire need of starting pitching. Boy, did they get it. Hill demolished hitters in the four starts he provided for his former team. In 29 innings, Hill pitched a 1.55 ERA with a 2.29 FIP (fielding independent pitching) against some strong teams. He pitched against the Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles and Yankees, and his performances include shutting out the O’s in a complete game two-hitter and allowing just 5 total runs. Thanks to this performance, he was rewarded with a contract that guaranteed him a spot in the Oakland Athletics’ starting rotation.
Hill has had a true comeback story. Not only did he return from surgery and escape the minor leagues and independent baseball, but on a personal level, his son Brooks was born in 2013 and, tragically, passed away in early 2014. Hill has overcome much adversity throughout his career.
Hill demonstrated in his 2015 performance that he has a high ceiling. His strikeout rate last year was 34%, good for 11.2 strikeouts/9. Couple that with his low walk rate (just five walks total – he allowed as many runs as he did walks!), and he is a perfect fit for the Oakland A’s and their famous pitchers’ park. Hill will also be reunited with pitching coach Curt Young, who coached him in Boston in 2011, and he is set to be the #2 starter behind Sonny Gray. He has the perfect name for a pitcher in his situation: Rich Hill, like the hill he pitches on, given that the $6 million he is earning is one of the top-eight contracts the A’s are doling out this year.
Hill’s effectiveness is best explained by the pitcher himself. In an interview from December last year after he signed with Oakland, Hill talked about his newly developed change-up: “I just want to show it so the hitters can’t sit on the curve ball. I’m learning to throw it to left-handed hitters. And I thought it was very effective…It’s all about disrupting the hitters’ rhythm.” He will throw a cutter, change, and a curve alongside his 91 mph fastball.
Now for the present:
His performance in Spring Training, so far, has been awful. On Thursday, as reported by my colleague, Samantha Riley, Hill allowed seven runs in 2.1 innings. This makes for an ERA of 19.64 in the 3.2 innings he has pitched. In addition, he has six walks vs. three strikeouts, the polar opposite of his strong 7.2 strikeout to walk ratio from last year.
Still, David Forst, Billy Beane, and the A’s have great faith in Hill, given his strong performance last year. The A’s will milk every ounce of value from Hill that they can get. Worst case scenario, they can always use him as a left-handed reliever – but he was hired in November to pitch in 32 games. Plan to see him start every fifth day this year.
Will Rich Hill perform for the A’s as well as he did last year? What do you think?