The Dodgers re-signed Rich Hill this past offseason in hopes that he would be the Robin to Clayton Kershaw’s Batman. The season didn’t start out like that, but Hill is starting to shed the “bust” label.
After getting smacked around by the Cleveland Indians on June 15, Rich Hill’s ERA sat at an unsightly 5.14 ERA. To make matters worse, he had missed an extended period for the Dodgers due to two DL stints. Not something you want out of a pitcher making $16 million a year. It got so bad that it was fair to legitimately start panicking and believe that Hill was a $48 million bust.
However, since then (June 21), he has started four games and has allowed a total of five runs in those 26 innings. For the stat lovers, that’s a 1.73 ERA, and during this span, Rich Hill has seen his ERA drop to a solid 3.69 ERA. He has also allowed just 14 hits in this time and has a remarkable 0.77 WHIP and 35 strikeouts (12.11 K/9).
He’s starting to look like the Rich Hill of last year, and that is a total shot in the arm for a rotation that has been susceptible to inconsistencies with both production and health.
Brandon McCarthy was put on the DL on June 26 which almost put the rotation in shambles because he was one of only three reliable starters LA had. Hill stepped it up the next night to put any thoughts of a rotation collapse to ease, which has led to him temporarily replacing McCarthy as the Dodgers’ number three starter.
In my opinion though, what is more impressive than his run prevention and ability to limit hits, are the length of his outings and the return of his control.
Since McCarthy went down, Hill has strung together three consecutive seven-inning outings and has allowed just three walks (1.29 BB/9). In his first nine starts of the season, Hill pitched 40 innings, which averages out to a meager 4.4 innings per start; just terrible for a starting pitcher.
And in these first 40 innings, he allowed an astonishing 23 walks (5.2 BB/9). Compare that to last year’s 1.3 BB/9, and you can see what the biggest culprit of his early struggles was.
The control especially has led to more efficiency per inning, which in turn triggers longer outings. A good number of pitches to be around per inning is 15, but during his first nine starts, he averaged 19.4 pitches per inning. However, in his last three starts, he is at 13.6 pitches per innings. The control is also allowing him to put away batters quickly and preserve his strikeout totals.
You can point to a combination of three things that have led to this mini-resurgence. First and foremost, health. Health has always been the key with Hill because it’s alway been his biggest risk. He dealt with his infamous blister problems twice early in the season, but even when he came back, didn’t seem comfortable. Maybe he just needed time, or he finally adapted. Whatever it is, he seems healthier than he has in a while.
Which then leads to my next point of mechanics. Last year we learned that Rich Hill loves to regularly change arm angles to confuse hitters. It was so effective for him that he even got Clayton Kershaw doing it. However, this constant change of arm slots probably caught up to him and affected his delivery, which wasn’t helped by his blisters either.
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Sometimes simple is better, and that’s what Rich Hill has done with his delivery over his past three to four starts. This has led to a more consistent release point, putting him in a groove, which in turn helps him control his pitches. Compare his deliveries during his outings against the Angels, Padres, and most recently the Diamondbacks, to his struggles vs. the Brewers, Cardinals, and Indians, and the discrepancy regarding consistency is like night and day.
This routine also explains the consistent spin rate he is getting on his pitches, leading to similar movement on all his pitches. The movement in the Angel, Padre, and Diamondback games were all similar and not all over the place like during his previous struggles. It’s hard to pitch when you do not know how much movement you are going to get, but if you do, it’s much easier to gameplan and throw it where you want.
At the same time, Hill has started throwing a newfound pitch. He displayed it for the first time against his start vs. the Mets and has stuck with it since. It is a cutter that is averaging around 86 mph with good movement which is doing some damage against batters. He has gone from a fastball and curveball guy who mixed in the occasional slider to a fastball, curveball, occasional slider guy with an effective cutter, thanks in part to his pal Clayton Kershaw.
When he can control his pitches properly, especially his curveball, is when Hill is lethal. He doesn’t have the overpowering stuff to get away with a lack of control like many others can. However, when he does have control, it seems as if he has overpowering stuff. When his curve is on point, he can throw the high fastball much more effectively because it seems 95+ mph instead of 89-91 mph.
Hill should stick with the basics right now as he works his way into proper form. We don’t know whether this is a flash in the pan or not (I believe it isn’t) so he should stick with what is working for him.
He is pitching like he is supposed to be, and if he can continue to pitch as he is right now, the Dodgers will have a terrific trio at the top, and if McCarthy can come back healthy and pick up where he left off, the Dodgers will have a fearsome four come October.
Alex Wood may be Clayton Kershaw’s partner in crime, although you can realistically argue the way around as well. But that doesn’t mean the 37-year-old needs to be left out. Rich Hill is starting to become the Alfred to Kershaw and Wood’s Batman & Robin.